Barack Obama Denies Vilifying Business

The president maintains that he wants government to “get out of the way” of innovation and job creation.

President Barack Obama points to a member of the audience at a town hall style meeting in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, May 14, 2009
President Barack Obama points to a member of the audience at a town hall style meeting in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, May 14, 2009 (White House/Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama denied vilifying businesses at a CNBC town hall event in Washington DC on Monday. He praised the free-market system instead, claiming that he wants government to “get out of the way” of innovation and job creation.

The president has been criticized fiercely in recent months from both within the business community and the Republican opposition about his apparent war on capitalism. On health care and financial reform as well as BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, Obama used strong language to denounce private health insurers, banks and the embattled energy conglomerate. He alleged that medical insurance companies were driven by a “business mentality” that supposedly prevented them from caring about patients. He complained of “fat cat bankers” on Wall Street who awarded themselves “excessive” bonuses while knowingly perverting the financial system and leaving the country on the brink of economic collapse. And he publicly lambasted BP’s Chief Executive Tony Hayward. Indeed, the president interpreted the Gulf oil spill as the result of “of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility — a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves.” The lesson to be learned, he said, “is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement.”

On Monday, the president reiterated this sentiment, noting that “basic rules of the road” have to be in place so that “consumers, workers, ordinary folks out there aren’t taken advantage of by sharp business practices.” He added: “I don’t think there’s anything in there that’s inherently anti-business.”

The administration previously urged businesses to stop complaining. After passing a health care reform bill that puts insurers at a disadvantage and is expected to cost business dearly; after threatening the high tech sector with antitrust investigations in spite of it being nearly the only profitable and certainly the only free market left in America; after using BP’s oil spill last April to impose an unlawful moratorium on deepwater drilling throughout the Gulf of Mexico and launch an attack on Big Oil altogether; and after hammering out a financial reform scheme that leaves the prime instigators of the recession, the semi-government entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac untouched at the cost of multibillion dollar tax hikes and regulation on the part of private banks, the president and his administration are evidently trying to assure businesses by saying — it could have been a lot worse. “There’s a big chunk of the country that thinks I’ve been too soft on Wall Street,” said Obama.

Wall Street isn’t convinced. Nearly half of financial workers polled recently by CNBC said that increased regulation under the Obama Administration is bad for the economy. Just 34 percent believes that the new regulations have had a positive effect.

The president knows though that “what sets America apart” is that it has “the most dynamic free-market economy in the world. And that has to be preserved,” he believes.

We benefit from entrepreneurs and innovators who are going out there and creating jobs, creating business. Government can’t create the majority of jobs. And, in fact, we want to get out of the way of folks who’ve got a good idea and want to run with it and are going to be putting people to work.

That’s not how things look for the average businessman however, no matter the president’s championing of small business. Instead, a government knows best mentality appears to pervade in Obama’s America and although the president can hardly be blamed for it entirely, his party is largely responsible for implementing superfluous regulations on every level of government. Companies of any size and character are confronted with an array of laws and taxes throughout the country so dazzling that no small businessowner can reasonably be expected to know which apply to his field of work and how.

The president may not be to blame entirely for this positively anti-business environment but it is the very notion that he professed last Monday — that some “rules of the road” are necessary to protect the common man from ferocious business practices — that inspires lawmakers in every state to enact laws that limit the entrepreneur’s freedom and his ability to innovate and create jobs.

When government believes that it is morally empowered to regulate people’s business activities, its willingness to do so will be limited by political expediency alone. In the wake of the recession, the Democrats in power have had the political capital to extend regulation in many, indeed major sectors of the US economy. A majority of American voters now appears to realize that government simply can’t micromanage the nation’s economy nor spend it into recovery. The president, for one, has already begun to adopt a more conciliatory tone.

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