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An Anti-Business President

An Anti-Business PresidentProfit is without honor in Obama's view.

Jun 22, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 38 • By FRED BARNES
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And now that troubled banks are paying back some of the bailout money, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was asked recently by Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina if those funds would be saved. Not quite, Geithner said. The administration retains the right to use an equal amount in future bailouts, he said.

Finally, what has Obama said as president about business and free markets? Not much that's favorable. In Green Bay, he said doctors who order more tests for patients because they get paid more reflect "a business mentality"--a comment that suggests what Obama thinks of business in general. By contrast, he spoke of "a mentality of, how do we make patients better?" Weeks ago, he denounced Chrysler creditors as "speculators" who refuse to sacrifice as they should.

As best I can tell, Obama loathes the profit motive or at least what he thinks it causes. He's often referred to the years prior to his election as "an era of selfishness and greed." It's not surprising he's capping the pay of CEOs whose firms took bailout money. But he's also studying "the ways in which the means and manner of executive compensation contributed to a reckless culture and quarter-by-quarter mentality that in turn have wrought havoc in our financial system." To decipher that, Obama thinks high CEO pay spurred the economic dip.

The president's commencement address at Arizona State University in May, largely ignored by the media, was suffused with animus toward the profit motive. He said those who seek "short term gain" display "a poverty of ambition." And he characterized "the formulas for success that have been peddled so frequently in recent years" this way:

You're taught to chase after all the usual brass rings; you try to be on this "who's who" list or that top 100 list; you chase after the big money and you figure out how big your corner office is; you worry about whether you have a fancy enough title or a fancy enough car     through material possessions, through ruthless competition pursued only on your own behalf--that's how you will measure success.

That's a brutal caricature of the way most people seek to get ahead in life, support a family, and gain financial security. Obama did tell business majors to "go start a company," then quickly added, "Or why not help our struggling nonprofits find better, more effective ways to serve folks in need." It's clear which path Obama prefers.

Given the evidence, rendering a verdict on Obama and business is easy. Anti-business may be too crude a label. But this we can conclude: Obama doesn't trust free markets, he prefers government over business, he thinks Americans are too concerned about money, and he has a dark view of profits. A follower of Adam Smith, he's not.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.