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Sadly Barack Obama, Like Mitt Romney, Is an Apologist for the 1%
It may be to a lesser extend than the Republican candidate, but the US president is a frontman for financial interests
Poor Mitt Romney. Despite defeating a weird and wacky line-up of candidates in a grueling Republican primary race, and despite selling himself as "the CEO president", he can't seem to shake off his image as a slash-and-burn private equity boss, a modern-day incarnation of Gordon Gekko.
It hasn't escaped his opponents' attention. In 2008, Romney's then rival for the nomination, Mike Huckabee, mocked him for looking like "the guy who laid you off". Last year, during his own brief and bizarre bid for the presidency, the billionaire entrepreneur Donald Trump ridiculed Romney as "a funds guy" who would "buy companies … close companies [and] get rid of the jobs". And, last week, Team Obama released a campaign ad attacking Romney's private equity firm, Bain Capital, and referring to the Republican candidate as a "vampire".
In a show of co-ordinated faux outrage, Republicans have since called on the president to disown such attack ads. But drawing attention to Romney's record as a corporate raider is fair game. As co-founder and chief executive of Bain Capital, Romney did make hundreds of millions of dollars from private equity deals, and did lay off hundreds of workers in the process.
Banks such as Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley have poured tens of thousands of dollars into Romney's campaign coffers. Key members of his fundraising team include the hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer and three JP Morgan executives. Is it any wonder, then, that Romney responded to the recent news of JP Morgan Chase's $2bn trading blunder by blaming the "market" and saying he didn't "want to punish companies"?
The Republican nominee is a shill for big business and, in particular, big finance. But – and here's where it gets tricky for the Democrats and depressing for the rest of us – so is President Obama. Yes, I know, it's to a lesser extent than Romney, but the fact is that Obama has been a shameless apologist for Wall Street.
The inconvenient truth is that, whichever candidate is elected in November, Wall Street wins.
Take the case of JPMorgan Chase. Official records show that the bank's chief executive, Jamie Dimon, a major Obama donor, has made at least 18 visits to the White House since the start of 2009, meeting the president himself on at least three separate occasions. So should we have been surprised when Obama heaped praise upon the bank and its now-disgraced boss, in an interview with ABC last week? "JP Morgan is one of the best-managed banks there is," he said. "Jamie Dimon, the head of it, is one of the smartest bankers we've got, and they still lost $2bn and counting."
Like Romney, Obama ascribed the JP Morgan debacle to a failure of the free market, rather than to the recklessness and greed of its bosses, prompting the influential economist Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary under Bill Clinton, to respond: "Bain Capital and JP Morgan are parts of the same problem. The president should be leading the charge against both."
He won't – and it is worth noting that, despite the drop in financial support for him from the financial sector, the president and his party still managed to secure $152,000 from employees of – wait for it – Bain Capital. Such is his love affair with the guys who work on Wall Street – "very savvy businessmen", to borrow a stomach-churning line from Obama – that each of the three men who has filled the role of White House chief of staff during the president's first term has been an investment banker.
Perhaps the most shocking moment in the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job is when director Charles Ferguson – extracts from his book of the same name have appeared in this week's Guardian – draws the viewer's attention to the revolving door between the White House and Wall Street, including Obama's appointment of Mark Patterson, a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist, to be chief of staff to the treasury secretary, Tim Geithner; of Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs executive, to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; of Mary Schapiro, the former chief executive of Finra, the investment-banking industry's self-regulation body, to run the Securities and Exchange Commission. This is government of the bankers, by the bankers, for the bankers.
In his defence, Obama's supporters point to his overhaul of US financial regulation in 2010. But those reforms have since been denounced as weak and ineffective; they did little to regulate credit-rating agencies, restrict financial lobbyists or curb bank bonuses. The Obama administration has also refused to go after banks and bankers in the courts. As Yale University's Bruce Judson pointed out in October 2011, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests: "So the tally to date: 2,511 people arrested for disturbing the peace and related activities; no arrests for any of the financiers who broke the law and plunged millions into untold misery."
Upon taking office, Obama spoke grandly of the need "to change Wall Street's culture". It hasn't changed at all. Banks are still too big to fail (and, for that matter, jail) and bonuses continue to rise uncontrollably.
The choice in November may not be, in the immortal words of the Rev Jesse Jackson, a choice between "Republican" and "Republican lite". That would be to ignore the sheer extremism of the modern Republican party on a whole host of issues, from healthcare reform to the Israeli occupation. However, it will be a choice between a pair of frontmen for financial interests, two nominees of the 1%. The inconvenient truth is that, whichever candidate is elected in November, Wall Street wins.