President Obama appeared on CNBC for an hour today for what the cable channel billed as a "town hall."
It featured the president at his solipsistic finest and also offered a look at the case Mr. Obama will be making going into November's midterm elections.
"The whole reason I ran is that my life is a testament to the American dream," Mr. Obama said, departing from his claim ten days ago that "I ran because I felt that we had to have a different economic philosophy."
Mr. Obama tried to explain to an initial questioner all the things that his administration had done to protect her from profiteering credit card companies, mortgage brokers, health insurers, and student loan providers.
CNBC's John Harwood challenged the president: "You talk about them like dogs," Mr. Harwood said, showing a clip from Kenneth Langone — identified as a "billionaire" — advising Mr. Obama not to make people in business feel like they are villains or criminals. Asked Mr. Harwood, "Are you vilifying businesses?"
"Absolutely not," Mr. Obama insisted.
Mr. Harwood pressed him on whether, "deep down," Mr. Obama felt that "working for a profit" is "morally inferior" to working as a community organizer.
Mr. Obama did not answer directly, but said that government can't create the majority of jobs.
Asked about the chance of extending the Bush tax cuts for those earning between $250,000 and $1 million a year, Mr. Obama said, "I can't give tax cuts to the top 2% of Americans and lower the deficit at the same time….At some point the numbers just don't work." Again, the language is telling — "I," not "we," and the tax cuts — allowing people to keep the money that they earned — as a "give" from the president.
One small business owner who sounded like an Obama supporter expressed frustration that "for some reason the public just doesn't get it." The darned public.
Mr. Obama sounded as if he shared the questioner's puzzlement. "If you look back at the past two years, it's very heard to find evidence of anything that we've done that's designed to squash business as opposed to help business."
Mr. Obama expressed similar disbelief in response to a question from a hedge fund manager from Skybridge Management who asked the president when he was going to stop whacking the Wall Street piñata. "There's a big chunk of the country that thinks I've been too soft on Wall Street. That's probably the majority," Mr. Obama said. He said the top 25 hedge fund managers had taken home an average of $1 billion a year in 2009.
"If you are making $1 billion a year after a very bad financial crisis, then I think that you shouldn't be feeling put upon," Mr. Obama said, going on to call for increasing taxes on the "carried interest" of hedge fund managers. "The notion that somehow maybe you should be taxed more like your secretary I don't think is me being extremist or antibusiness."
In response to a question about whether the government had exceeded its authority under the Constitution, Mr. Obama replied, "The federal government is probably less intrusive now than they were 30 years ago." He claimed that taxes are lower now than they were under Reagan (actually, by the end of Reagan administration, the individual income tax rate at the top was 28%, which is lower than it is now and lower than President Obama proposes), and that while there may be more regulations, they are necessary to make sure that the mortgage industry doesn't cheat borrowers and that the food industry doesn't serve food contaminated with e. coli or salmonella.
Never mind that as Reagan left office federal outlays were about $1 trillion, while this year they will be about $3.7 trillion, meaning Mr. Obama is spending more than triple the money (double if you use inflation-adjusted dollars rather than nominal dollars) for this "less intrusive" government.
"My entire focus right now is to make sure the private sector is growing, is thriving," Mr. Obama said, while also trying to "make sure that consumers, workers, ordinary people aren't taken advantage of by sharp business practices."