Obama’s Lesson From Cory Booker-gate

The Newark, N.J., mayor might have gone rogue, but here's why the president should heed his advice.

Michael Nagle/Getty Images
Michael Nagle/Getty Images

It’s the difference between a CEO and the Commander-in-Chief, and it’s the case that Obama so far hasn’t succeeded in making to the public — which gets in the president’s way when he tries to convince voters that he’s pro business.

And he is pro business.

In his last meaningful vote as a senator, Obama voted for the TARP bailout that saved the financial industry on which our system — including private equity — relies. It was a vote, it’s worth noting, that Romney supported at the time. But Obama can’t win the war of words over market principles until he’s able to put his efforts to protect the system in context.

Obama’s best bets were the GM and Chrysler bailouts — saving those companies and their subcontractor supply chains in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. But he hasn’t done a good job explaining that while both he and Romney favored structured bankruptcy, unlike Romney — the professional investor — Obama guessed correctly that government would be the only willing investor at the time.

And with arguably the best horse trade of his presidency, Obama extended Bush-era top marginal income tax rates that congressional Republicans — and professional investors — wanted in exchange for a grab bag of Democrats’ priorities, including an extension of benefits to unemployed Americans — otherwise known to businessmen as “customers.”

The deal was a win-win on economic stimulus and underscores Obama’s point about what presidents do that private equity, investment banks and wealth-management funds don’t: They have to factor in more than just profit and can’t just look at the bottom line.

Which means that Booker is right: Obama’s best case isn’t attacking Romney or his firm, Bain Capital. He should say, “Romney made money for investors, and he was good at it.”

But that’s not all there is to being president.

David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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