The Elite Turn Against Obama
by Lloyd Grove
You’d think the well-heeled and enlightened eggheads
atthe Aspen Ideas Festival—which is running all week in this fashionable resort town with heady panel discussions and earnest disquisitions involving all manner of deep thinkers and do-gooders—would be receptive to an intellectually ambitious president with big ideas of his own.
In a way, the folks
attending this cerebral conclave pairing the Aspen Institute think tank with the Atlantic Monthly magazine might even be seen as President Obama’s n atural base.
Apparently not so much.
Obama’s top economic adviser, Larry Summers, and his departing budget director, Peter Orszag, can expect heavy we
ather when they land in l Aspen ater this week to make their case to this civic-minded clique of wealthy skeptics.
“If you’re asking if the United St
ates is about to become a socialist st ate, I’d say it’s actually about to become a European st ate, with the expansiveness of the welfare system and the progressive tax system like wh atwe’ve already experienced in Western Europe,” Harvard business and history professor Niall Ferguson declared during Monday’s kickoff session, offering a withering critique of Obama’s economic policies, which he claimed were encouraging laziness.
“The curse of longterm unemployment is th
atif you pay people to do nothing, they’ll find themselves doing nothing for very long periods of time,” said. “Long-term unemployment is Ferguson atan all-time high in the , and it is a direct consequence of a misconceived public policy.” United St ates
was joined in his harsh Ferguson attack by billionaire real est ate mogul and New York Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman. Both lambasted Obama’s trillion-dollar deficit spending program—in the name of economic stimulus to cushion the impact of the 2008 financial meltdown—as fiscally ruinous, potentially turning America into a second-r ate power.
“We are, without question, in a period of decline, particularly in the business world,” Zuckerman said. “The real problem we have…are some of the worst economic policies in place today th
at, in my judgment, go directly against the long-term interests of this country.”
Zuckerman added th
athe detects in the Obama White House “hostility to the very kinds of [business] culture th athave made this the gre atcountry th atit is and was. I think we have to find some way of dealing with th ator else we will do gre atdamage to this country with a public policy th atcould ruin everything.”
Ferguson added: “The critical point is if your policy says you’re going run a trillion-dollar deficit for the rest of time, you’re riding for a fall…Then it really is goodbye.” A dashing Brit,
added: “Can I say th Ferguson at, having grown up in a declining empire, I do not recommend it. It’s just not a lot of fun actually—decline.”
called for wh Ferguson athe called “radical” measures. “I can’t emphasize strongly enough the need for radical fiscal reform to restore the incentives for work and remove the incentives for idleness.” He praised “really radical reform of the sort th at, for example, Paul Ryan [the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee] has outlined in his wonderful ‘Roadmap’ for radical, root-and-branch reform not only of the tax system but of the entitlement system” and “unleash entrepreneurial innov ation.” Otherwise, warned: “Do you want to be a kind of implicit part of the European Union? I’d advise you against it.” Ferguson
This was greeted by hearty applause from a crowd th
atincluded Barbra Streisand and her husband James Brolin. “Depressing, but fantastic,” Streisand told me afterward, rendering her verdict on the session. “So exciting. Wonderful!”
Brolin’s assessment: “Mind-blowing.”
In a session Tuesday morning,
Silicon Valleyguru Michael Splinter piled on. “From an industry standpoint, it’s below wh ata lot of people in industry have viewed as the solution to the jobs problem,” Splinter, president of the Applied M aterials solar energy company, complained about Obama’s economic performance. He was speaking to an agreeable audience in an interview with Atlantic Media owner David Bradley. “When I talk to venture capitalists, their companies are starting to move their manufacturing oper ations out of the …Our corpor United St ates ate tax r ate, on a worldwide competitive basis, is just not competitive. Taiwanis lowering their r ate to 20 to 15 percent in order to stay competitive with . These countries have made it their job to Singapore attract industry. You don’t get th atsense here in the .” United St ates
The consensus was similar in an afternoon panel discussion on the decline of the American middle class. “He said jobs were going to be his No. 1 priority—there’s a huge disconnect between
and wh Washington at’s going on out in the country,” nominal Obama supporter Arianna Huffington said. “The president’s economic team kept talking about a ‘cyclical’ problem. Larry Summers said jobs were a lagging economic indic ator. All these things are simply wrong. The president put all his trust in the wrong economic team—an economic team th atdidn’t understand wh atwas happening.”
Lloyd Grove is editor
atlarge for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to th New York at, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects. Washington