Jack Lew, One More Anti-Business Obama Appointee

lew-obamaRepublicans and various right-wing commentators have had a thing for talking about the supposedly “anti-business” tilt of the Obama administration. It’s never made much sense–but that doesn’t mean they’re going to stop any time soon.

Take the news that Obama will tap his current chief of staff Jack Lew to be his next Treasury secretary. On the PBS NewsHour (1/11/13), David Brooks said that Lew was like other Obama nominees–“people of integrity,” sure, but too insular; and the real problem: “Nobody from business. I really think it would have been useful to have somebody from the business community.”

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson (1/14/13) wrote that since Lew has “worked for Democratic politicians as far back as House Speaker Tip O’Neill, he is also a fierce defender of liberal goals–notably, protecting Social Security benefits.”

He doesn’t mean that in a good way.

To Samuelson, the Treasury secretary is supposed to be “the president’s chief economic adviser while representing the views and interests of the business and financial community inside the administration. Lew qualifies for the first job, and Obama doesn’t seem to care much about the second.” That point is somewhat undercut by Samuelson’s next sentence, where he notes that Lew “had a brief stint as a Citigroup executive from 2006 to 2009” and was “also was the chief operating officer of New York University (2001-06).”

Samuelson goes on to argue:

The question about Lew is whether he encourages cooperation and bolsters confidence–or becomes an instrument of conflict. Obama’s anti-business attitudes are politically convenient but economically destructive.

It has never really mattered what was happening with the Obama White House–the point was always that they were making this or that industry unhappy, or that they should be meeting with CEOs they had already met with. If the idea that Lew isn’t close enough to “business” seems absurd–he worked at a major bank at one of the most intense moments in financial history–than one need only recall that back in 2008 there were complaints that former hedge fund director Larry Summers was still not Wall Street enough to make Wall Street feel good about Obama.

For a take on Lew that would seem to be more grounded in reality, one can tune in to Democracy Now! (1/11/13), where co-host Juan Gonzalez said: 

Lew was an executive at Citigroup from 2006 to 2008 at the time of the financial crisis. He served as chief operating officer of Citigroup’s Alternative Investments unit, a group that bet on the housing market to collapse.

Lew has also long pushed for the deregulation of Wall Street. From 1998 to January 2001, he headed the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton. During that time, Clinton signed into law two key laws to deregulate Wall Street: the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000.

And one of the show’s guests, University of Missouri-Kansas City professor William Black:

On financial matters, Jack Lew has been a failure of pretty epic proportions, and he gets promoted precisely because he is willing to be a failure and is so useful to Wall Street interests.

It makes you wonder how these pundits would react if the Obama White House really did ever get tough on corporate America.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.