It WAS a shakedown

I remember when I first realized the federal government under President Obama had crossed the Rubicon. It was the weekend of March 28-29, 2009, and the news was starting to trickle out that the White House forced the chairman of General Motors, G. Richard Wagoner, Jr. to step down after nine years in the role and 32 years as an employee of GM.

One word described my reaction to the news: speechless. I didn’t know what to say, but I knew instinctively that something very wrong had taken place. I never excused Mr. Wagoner’s failed management of the embattled auto manufacturer, but the President of the United States couldn’t fire the chief executive of a private company – or so I believed until that weekend.

The Washington Post called Wagoner’s forced resignation “an extraordinary intervention of the federal government into the management of a private company.” I remember thinking it was this president’s first overtly socialist act.

Since that time, President Obama has slowly but steadily revealed an innate hostility to the private sector and free enterprise. In a May 13, 2009 commencement speech at Arizona State University, he declared the pursuit of happiness a “poverty of ambition.”

Free enterprise has created more jobs, generated more wealth for families, lifted more people out of poverty, and bettered more lives than any government program in recorded history. The only “poverty of ambition” apparent to me is President Obama’s lack of experience making a payroll, producing goods or services that people want to buy, and raising the quality of life for employees, customers and the community.

On April 28, 2010, President Obama told an audience in Quincy, Illinois, “I do think at a certain point you've made enough money.” Putting a ceiling on the value of a corporate executive, and that person’s leadership of and contribution to the growth of a great enterprise, makes perfect sense to him.

I’m willing to wager, however, he’d never impose the same standard on his friend Oprah Winfrey (net worth over $2.3 billion), or his favorite sports figures like current Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb (over $9.5 million a year). He isn’t questioning whether Scarlett Johansson, a 25 year old actress, deserves to make $14 million a year  when the median income for a woman of her age and educational attainment is a mere $21,117 a year.

Do I begrudge these celebrities and sports figures their success? No. Whether they are successful businesspersons like Ms. Winfrey, or highly coveted entertainers like Mr. McNabb or Ms. Johansson, they are being paid based on the value they bring to customers or their employers.

Inexplicably, a person who leads a multi-national firm worth billions of dollars, with thousands of employees around the globe, producing goods and services that people buy willingly, has the President of the United States chiding him and declaring, “you’ve made enough money.”

Then there is the recent announcement that he has secured $20 billion from BP to help pay out claims related to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. No one is suggesting that BP not be held financially accountable for the outcome of this terrible accident but, as Congressman Tom Price of Georgia said, “there is no legal authority for the President to compel a private company to set up or contribute to an escrow account.”

Interestingly enough, Rep. Price called the action, “Chicago-style shakedown politics.” When Congressman Joe Barton of Texas apologized to the BP executives at a subsequent congressional hearing for the “shakedown” to which the White House subjected them, he was met with a firestorm of criticism from both sides that led him to later apologize for his statements. I’m still not clear on why it was OK for Dr. Price (yes, he is a medical doctor) to use the word “shakedown” but it’s not OK for Rep. Barton to utter it at a congressional hearing.

Congressman Barton, I hope you get to read this. You were right – it WAS a shakedown. President Obama’s actions are reminiscent of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s raids on corporate treasuries, threatening to howl “racism” unless they forked over big dough. Your colleagues are cowards for not standing up for you.

BP is already paying damages, and will continue to do so because their livelihood going forward depends on making this right. I don’t think they needed the added humiliation of being taken to the woodshed by the President to the tune of $20 billion.

I can’t recall another instance in history where an industrial accident led to the government ordering a private firm to put billions of dollars aside for potential claims.

The escrow account represents $20 billion of revenue that’s out of circulation and not being invested in the business. Rather, it’s being invested in the political fortunes of a President who’s trying to show his constituents he’s tough enough.

The whole performance, from him looking for someone “whose *** to kick” to the $20 billion shakedown, is reflective of a President grasping for the right message to placate the American people before the November election.

The fact he believes he has the authority to make private firms do his bidding demonstrates he learned his lessons about free enterprise from Oliver Stone and Michael Moore, rather than Adam Smith and Milton Friedman.

He may declare “I am not an ideologue”, but don’t watch his lips move. You’ll be deceived. His actions, beginning with that March weekend in 2009, speak volumes.