Will Obama’s Wall Street anti-rhetoric backfire?

Great piece by Kim Strassel in the Wall Street Journal recently.

The problem with fires is that they can blow in any direction. Consider the White House, which is seeing a backdraft from the anti-Wall-Street flame it has been dousing with gasoline.

His agenda on the ropes, President Obama made a calculated decision to pivot to populism. The Massachusetts Senate race highlighted a fed-up public. The White House strategy: Channel that anger away from itself and to easier targets. Its opening shots were a new tax on banks, new restrictions on banking activities, and Mr. Obama roaring, “We want our money back!”

The president fed the fire with his State of the Union address. Americans are angry at “bad behavior on Wall Street.” It is time to “slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas.” Lobbyists are trying to “kill” financial regulation. American “cynicism” is the result of “selfish” bankers, CEOs who “reward” themselves “for failure” and lobbyists who “game the system.” (No mention of Cornhusker Kickbacks or backroom union deals, but never mind.)

For an administration that claims to know its political history, the White House appears to have misread at least one decade. FDR was re-elected in 1936 for many reasons, but among them was his fiery denunciations of “economic royalists,” “economic tyranny,” and “economic slavery.” Business knew it was in the president’s crosshairs and put its capital on strike. The economy didn’t recover until the war.

Team Obama is already witnessing a repeat. The U.S. economy ought to be flying out of recession. Yet bank lending is sluggish. Companies refuse to hire. Business is going elsewhere to raise capital: China last year outstripped the U.S. as a center for initial public offerings. The market gyrates on Washington’s latest political drama.

A venture capitalist recently remarked to me that the uncertainty the administration has created is “nothing short of paralyzing.” Nobody will invest in an industry that might be the next to be overtaxed, overregulated, or publicly disemboweled.

Add to that uncertainty the administration’s new populist bent, and it’s a recipe for a continued capital freeze. “People in the economy are thinking about whether to invest or take risks when what they are seeing are early signs of Hugo Chávez economics,” says Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan.

Will this anti-rhetoric backfire?  I would say yes, because Americans don’t want socialism.

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