By Charlie Gasparino
Four years ago, I was dining with two Wall Street CEOs at Sistina, a high-end restaurant on the upper east side of Manhattan, and the subject of then-candidate Obama came up.
It was weeks before the 2008 presidential election; the financial crisis had yet to enter DEFCON severity. Lehman was still alive and candidate Obama was still neck and neck with his Republican challenger John McCain. I was lamenting how this guy Obama could actually win, and just how bad it would be for the economy and the country if a candidate who thinks it’s a swell idea to raise taxes even during a recession becomes president.
Plus I said this guy is one of the most liberal politicians in the country—which is usually bad for business.
“Baloney,” snapped one of my dinner guests, “Obama is a moderate.” This CEO said he had met Obama, contributed to his campaign, and said there’s nothing radical about wanting to do the things he wants to do such as reforming health care.
“And what’s wrong with paying some more taxes?” shot the other guy, whose regular salary was many multiples higher than the $250,000-a-year threshold where those Obama tax increases kick in at. “And by the way, have you ever seen him give a speech?”
What a difference four years of President Obama makes for those two guys, and many others from Wall Street who supported his successful 2008 campaign only to find themselves with a wicked case of buyer’s remorse.
These days it’s almost as if you can’t go to any high-end eatery in Manhattan and not hear at least some grousing from financial types about President Obama and his policies. Republican nominee Mitt Romney is raking in the vast majority of the financial industry’s campaign cash, and top bank CEOs who swooned over Obamamania now spit when they hear his name.
Is Wall Street going becoming a bastion Tea Party politics? Not by a long shot; most Wall Street guys are fairly moderate in their political views. If I had to guess, pre-Obama the street would be divided pretty evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
But the “fat cats” have plenty of reasons to more fully embrace the Republicans in this presidential election aside from President Obama’s name calling. The president has endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement, which takes banker bashing to a whole new level. His financial reform bill is squeezing both bonuses and high end jobs in New York as banks are forced to announce layoffs to pay for increased regulatory costs.
And one other thing: Now that they’ve gotten to know president Obama, many people on Wall Street say they just don’t like him. “He’s kind of arrogant,” is the way another bank CEO who endorsed Obama four years ago recently described the president to me.
There is a bright side for Wall Street if President Obama wins a second term: Now that he’s thoroughly trashed the financial industry he can soon move on to other targets. Not soon enough, however, for the fat cats. •