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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?: Cronyism and Collusion in the Obama Administration

As commentators grapple with the rhetoric and content of the president’s big jobs speech, few will take notice of his invited guests. Chief among these attendees are GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. At first glance, Obama’s guest list seems conciliatory and inclusive; after all, both big business and big labor will be defining factors in a lasting economic recovery. Unfortunately, though, there is more than meets the eye. There is a history of ties, too close for comfort, between the leader of the free world and General Electric’s head. Obama’s appointment of Immelt to the head of his economic advisory panel is certainly suspicious, given that Immelt’s company benefited handsomely from the TARP bailout program. While GE was given the green light to raise money at artificially low interest rates, and lend government-backed debt, they were able to avoid bailout restrictions imposed on other TARP recipients. As Immelt himself has said, the actions of the Obama administration have been "powerful and helpful" to General Electric. The CEO also spelled out his troublesome view of the government as a “industry policy champion” and a “key financier.” Immelt’s praise of crony capitalism should come as no surprise because GE shares many goals with the present administration. Chief among these shared interests are the adoption of a cap-and-trade system: GE could expand its market share through government guarantees, while Obama could appease the influential “green lobby.”

The environmentalists, however, are not the only constituency Obama must appease in order to win support for his agenda. The AFL-CIO, which lies at the vanguard of the powerful union movement, must also be won over by the president’s carefully-chosen words. The pandering to union interests is nothing new, but at a time when top union officials are employing violent rhetoric to achieve their goals, Obama’s close ties to the AFL-CIO should be scrutinized. Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO president whom the president invited to his address, has a history of using over-the-top rhetoric against all who stand in his way of combatting private industry. Just the other night, he wrote an article equating opposition to the Obama administration to racism, and characterized his opponents as the “extremist small government posse.”

This appears friendly, however, when you compare the AFL-CIO leader’s words with fellow union leader James Hoffa. A few days ago, in the lead-up to an Obama rally, Hoffa railed against the tea-party, declaring the need for a “war” against the small-government group. Even profanity wasn’t out of bounds for the Teamster’s president, who exclaimed, “Let’s take these sons of bitches out and take America back to where America we belong.” Trumka, for his part, refused to condemn his fellow provocateur, and even reiterated that he supported the gist of the speech. As Trumka implores President Obama to “go to the mat” for labor, we can only guess what the union boss has in mind. Will the leader of the free world resort to extreme rhetoric to advance an expensive, union agenda of sluggish growth and zero job growth? Or will he embrace the “Immelt” side of the equation, which will allow corporations to seize taxpayer money and get favored treatment? It is too early to tell, but we would be fortunate to steer clear of either outcome.