Issue of the week: Is Obama anti-business?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched a “Campaign for Free Enterprise,” an effort that reveals the concern of business leaders about the Obama administration's expanding presence in the marketplace.

“The business backlash against government is well under way,” said Theo Francis in BusinessWeek. As the Obama administration moves to tighten oversight of banks and financial markets, nationalize the U.S. auto industry, regulate tobacco as a drug, and rein in executive pay, business leaders are starting to grouse about Washington’s “harmful meddling” in the capitalist system. Leading the charge is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “perhaps the business lobby’s most persistent voice against government regulation.” It has launched a “Campaign for Free Enterprise,” which the chamber says aims “to defend and advance America’s free enterprise system in the face of rapid government growth and attacks by anti-business activists.” Congressional Republicans have already chimed in, of course, some likening Obama to Vladimir Putin and the U.S. economy to that of the old Soviet Union. This new stridency contrasts sharply with the tone last fall, when “business and policymakers alike were calling for Uncle Sam to step in and stop the bleeding.”

That was then and this is now, said Kenneth Walsh in U.S. News & World Report. Business leaders are starting to worry more and more that the president has it in for them. Many went ballistic over Obama’s proposal to tax foreign profits, for instance, arguing that it would hinder their ability to compete overseas. The growing clash threatens to shatter “the informal truce” between business and the administration. If business thus far has mostly refrained from using the incendiary language preferred by GOP politicians, it’s only because “corporate leaders didn’t want to be excluded from discussions of important legislation.” But now many are second-guessing that strategy.

As well they should, said Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard. President Obama likes to claim that he’s “a free-market guy who ‘hates meddling in the private sector.’” But “his appointments, his policies, his decisions, and his own words” tell a different story. Not one of his Cabinet officers or senior staff members has ever run a business, “hired or fired workers, or was an entrepreneur.” The bailouts of Chrysler and GM punish the carmakers’ bondholders and reward their unions. And Obama’s rhetoric is “suffused with animus toward the profit motive.”

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If Obama is trying to destroy capitalism, he’s doing a terrible job of it, said Steven Pearlstein in The Washington Post. Since he took office, 10 of the country’s biggest banks have repaid their federal bailout money, and some have tapped the private markets for new funds. Chrysler and GM have been forced into “the radical downsizing and restructuring” that conservative politicians have demanded for years. And amazingly enough, the stock market has risen 35 percent from the winter lows. This “little miracle” didn’t occur as a result of “the free market’s natural self-correcting process.” It took an “extraordinary amount of government intervention,” and the Obama administration functionaries who were willing to “take risks, twist arms, and even bend a few rules” deserve “a pat on the back.” Instead they’ve been subjected to “second-guessing and recrimination” from “political ankle-biters.” Whether or not these are really anti-business policies, let’s have more of them.

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