Is Obama 'Co-Opting' or Caving With Big Business?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

President Obama is widely considered to be pivoting to a business-friendly approach, which pundits say means adopting more centrist policies and liberals fear means capitulating to corporate scum. Not to worry, The New Republic's Noam Scheiber writes: big business is getting played.

Sure, Obama pleased the business world when he hired ex-banker Bill Daley as his chief of staff, but at the same time he appointed the Gene Sperling to head the National Economic Council. It's Sperling, with his "center-left bona fides," who'll have the greater say in policy. Then, Obama said he'd review all federal regulations to weed out bad rules. Businessland cheered. But the "real story," Scheiber writes, "was how little substantive ground Obama was giving." For example: No changes to regulations put in place by health care or financial regulatory reform--it's all gonna be small potatoes. Finally, Obama tapped GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to lead the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Applause from Businessland again. But that panel of outside economic advisors is a replacement for the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which was marginalized. Immelt isn't likely to be very influential in that position.

How was big business duped? Scheiber says that corporate America's two complaints--that Obama was fostering economic uncertainty and that he wasn't reverential enough to business--became fused into one in the business world's mind. So Obama merely had to deal with the second criticism--by sending the political equivalent of chocolates and flowers--to smooth over the first.

Recommended Reading

  • Hello Cynicism! Reason's Matt Welch writes in response to this argument.
Scheiber's data points: Daley is a powerless sop, Obama's ballyhooed regulatory re-think is 'likely to be quite trivial,' and [Immelt's appointment] was another cheap way to draw businessy applause for empty symbolism. ... Scheiber is positively dripping with cynicism... Remember, this is from an Obama supporter. And not just any Obama supporter, either. Back in March 2008, this very same Noam Scheiber was trying to reassure the world not that Obama was pulling a fast one on Corporate America while staying true to left-of-center economic and regulatory policy, but something closer to the opposite..."
  • That 'Move' to the Center  People are saying Obama's emphasis on "competitiveness" means he's getting more middle of the road, writes The Washington Post's Greg Sargent. "But if Obama's new 'centrist' agenda is about getting rid of unnecessary government regulation--something no one supports to begin with... his speech will be less about moving to the center than about redefining what we call the center."
  • By the Way: Daley and Immelt Don't Have Great Gov't Records  "That is not surprising, inasmuch as government is not a business," National Review's editors write. " And with no apologies to those conservatives who occasionally fall into sloppy rhetoric, government should not be run like a business. Government, at its best, creates the conditions under which entrepreneurs can thrive and business can be done. It is not--nor ought not to be--an operator in the business sphere. .... It is true that government would do well to practice the shopkeepers' virtues of thrift and husbandry, but these are not qualities much associated with the Obama administration or its economic advisers."
  • Master Manipulator, The American Spectator's Andrew B. Wilson writes. For the SOTU, Obama will "show off his new business-friendly persona and bona fides," after spending two years bashing big business. "To borrow John Ehrlichman's phrase from the Nixon and Watergate era, he is seeking 'a modified, limited hangout' with free-market capitalism in the run-up to the 2012 general election. ... The president can (and no doubt will) jabber on about business and his businessman friends. ... Just don't expect him exhibit any real sympathy for, or even any basic understanding of, free-market capitalism."
  • Liberals Have to Fight This, Michael Brenner writes at The Huffington Post. "Wall Street's takeover of the Obama administration is now complete. The mega-banks and their corporate allies control every economic policy position of consequence. Mr. Obama has moved rapidly since the November debacle to install business people where it counts most. ... What is to be done? Liberals' hopes have been dashed. ... Our one remaining hope is that the chaotic disintegration of the American political system goes even further. That out of this maelstrom emerges someone with the fire and honest conviction to shed a sharp light on our national predicament; to generate a sense of outrage." We think he means a primary challenger.
  • Walking the Walk  That, Tory Newmyer writes at Fortune, is how many business leaders see Obama's recent moves. Aside from the recent hires, business likes Obama's proposal to let "long-haul Mexican trucks on American highways despite protests from labor, or the huddle that Treasury Department officials convened earlier this month with a group of chief financial officers to discuss corporate tax reform." Johanna Schneider, an exec at the Business Roundtable, is cheered by the end of populist rhetoric. "You haven't heard criticism of industry groups or CEOs as a class. There's a sense that we're in it together," she told Newmyer.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.