President Barack Obama based his candidacy in part on the promise to set a new tone in Washington. But we saw a much older tone emerge with his demonization of hedge funds over the Chrysler bankruptcy. Reports the Washington Post:
President Obama's harsh attack on hedge funds he blamed for forcing Chrysler into bankruptcy yesterday sparked cries of protest from the secretive financial firms that hold about $1 billion of the automaker's debt.
Hedge funds and investment managers were irate at Obama's description of them as "speculators" who were "refusing to sacrifice like everyone else" and who wanted "to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout."
"Some of the characterizations that were used today to refer to us as speculators or to say we're looking for a bailout is really unfair," said one executive who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. "What we're looking for is a reasonable payout on the value of the debt . . . more in line with what unions and Fiat were getting."
George Schultze, the managing member of the hedge fund Schultze Asset Management, a Chrysler bondholder, said, "We are simply seeking to enforce our bargained-for rights under well-settled law."
"Hopefully, the bankruptcy process will help refocus on this issue rather than on pointing fingers at lenders," he said.
I won't claim any special expertise to parse who is responsible for what in the crash of the U.S. (meaning Big Three) auto industry. However, attacking people for exercising their legal rights and trashing those who make their business investing in companies hardly seems like the right way to get the U.S. economy moving again.
During the Depression, FDR's relentless attacks on business and the rich almost certainly added to a climate of uncertainty that discouraged investment during tough times. Why put your money at real risk when the president and his cohorts seem determined to treat you like the enemy? While President Obama need not treat gently those who contributed to the current crisis by acting illegally or unscrupulously, he should not act as if those who simply aren't willing to turn their economic futures over to the tender mercies of the White House are criminals.
We've just lived through eight years of bitter partisan warfare. The president shouldn't replace that with a jihad against businesses that resist increased government direction of the economy.