Paul Krugman is, I think, right to be amazed by Obama's embrace of the $17 million bonus given to JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon and the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
If Obama's idea of moving to the middle politically is to embrace Wall Street's too-big-to-fail banks, he's crazy. Usually Republicans are the party of Big Business and Democrats of Big Government, and the public's hostility to both more or less evens the politics out. But if Obama now becomes the spokesman for Big Government intrusiveness and the apologist for Big Business irresponsibility all at once--good luck with that.
And look at the tone-deafness of Obama's comments about the bonuses:
"President Barack Obama said he doesn't 'begrudge' the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay. The president, speaking in an interview, said in response to a question that while $17 million is 'an extraordinary amount of money' for Main Street, 'there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don't get to the World Series either, so I'm shocked by that as well.'
'I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen,' Obama said in the interview yesterday in the Oval Office with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. 'I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system."
First of all, as Krugman points out, "irresponsible behavior by baseball players hasn't brought the world economy to the brink of collapse." Nor has the federal government spent billions (trillions?) bailing out baseball owners after they signed foolish contracts. Nor does it guarantee baseball owners'--or players'--future solvency.
And second, doesn't Obama realize how creepy this statement is? "I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen."
This confirms the suspicion that we now live in a world of crony capitalism, where if Obama knows and thinks well of you, then you don't get criticized--but if you're some guy who hasn't spent a lot of time cozying up to government leaders, then you could easily be the object of demagogic assault by politicians.
What's more, the truth is Obama doesn't have a clue whether Dimon and Blankfein are in fact "very savvy businessmen," or whether they're simply skillful corporate-political operators, or just big shots who happen to have risen to the top of big institutions. In fact, the adjective "savvy" is itself revealing--because in a world of crony capitalism, "savviness" is the key quality business leaders need to have.
Conservatives and Republicans should not--as some seem to be tempted to do--praise Obama for being friendlier to business in this interview than he has been in the past. They should point out that he's friendly to big businessmen who are friendly to him, and to businessmen whose businesses are enmeshed in an unhealthy way with big government--and that he remains hostile to markets and indifferent, at best, to businessmen who are actually trying to make it without depending on the goodwill of politicians and favors from the government.