It's easy enough to gauge the state of President Obama's relationship with the American people--just check the midterm-election results. Obama's relationship with the business community also seems strained by the tussle over regulation, stimulus and whether government bailouts have worked.
But Charles Gasparino, a Fox Business Network correspondent, makes the improbable argument that Obama is in cahoots with Wall Street to fleece the American populace. "When you strip away the name-calling and class warfare coming from the Obama Administration, and when you ignore Wall Street's gripes about the new financial reform legislation that will put a crimp in some of its profits, these two entities are far more aligned than meets the casual eye," writes the author. "They coexist to help each other--in an unholy alliance against the American taxpayer."
His reasoning? The Democrats' propensity toward Big Government means big bucks for Big Business. Business favored Obama, believing he wouldn't rock the (prosperity) boat. It's a head-scratcher, given the venom with which corporations are now attacking Obama's party, but Gasparino makes a readable, if not necessarily compelling, argument.
More probable is the scenario presented by the Administration's former car czar, Steven Rattner, in his surprisingly modest account of having snatched Chrysler and GM from the auto junkyard. A former New York Times correspondent and later an investment banker, Rattner has a journalistic talent for the telling detail, resulting in a memorable tale of life in the middle of the economic meltdown.
As the fates of Chrysler and GM were being plotted, Rattner was telling his former media colleagues, "Bankruptcy is not our goal." In fact, says the author, "all the while we were preparing for it." Chrysler was a basket case, whereas GM was strong enough to survive, assuming it had a new, forward-thinking CEO. Writes Rattner: "We never contemplated letting GM fail, and because of the company's enormous size, no merger or alliance could save it." There was never any doubt, either, that GM CEO Rick Wagoner had to go. He was seen as too steeped in the automaker's dysfunctional culture to lead a "shiny new GM."
Rattner deftly draws portraits of the inhabitants of "the Oval" and the West Wing. He fell immediately under the Obama spell. ("On a par with the best CEOs I had spent time with on Wall Street ... He was decisive when his advisers were divided, supportive when they were not.") Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and senior economic adviser Larry Summers were harder to pigeonhole. ("Tim was organized and low-key, although given to occasional bursts of profanity and odd fits of giggling. Larry was more chaotic. He seemed oblivious to time or dress.") Most unpredictable: chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, whose outburst "F___ the UAW," about one of the Administration's biggest union backers, astonished even those used to his profanity.
Rattner's rep has been fouled too: he has a $6 million settlement pending for an SEC case involving his former firm's pay-to-play scheme to manage pension money for New York State. That may also force him to the sidelines of the investing world for a while. At least he has something else to fall back on: wearing his authorial hat, Rattner has proved himself a gifted chronicler