Naivete, Entitlement, or Both?

I missed it when it went up a couple days ago, but Noam Scheiber had a great post about the relationship between Wall Street’s denizens and Obama.

He pulls out this nugget from a piece in today’s Times Magazine:

For the next hour, the [Wall Street] donors relayed to Messina what their friends had been saying. They felt unfairly demonized for being wealthy. They felt scapegoated for the recession. It was a few weeks into the Occupy Wall Street movement, with mass protests against the 1 percent springing up all around the country, and they blamed the president and his party for the public’s nasty mood. …

One of the guests raised his hand; he knew how to solve the problem. The president had won plaudits for his speech on race during the last campaign, the guest noted. It was a soaring address that acknowledged white resentment and urged national unity. What if Obama gave a similarly healing speech about class and inequality? What if he urged an end to attacks on the rich?

Yes, it would be a historic speech—a powerful person finally standing up for other powerful people!

Scheiber explains:

The source of the problem between Obama and Wall Street is, in a word, naivete. Back in 2008, the article notes, Obama’s Wall Street backers considered him “a reflection of their imagined best selves: brainy, self-made, above the mewlings and histrionics of partisan politics.” Obama, like them, believed deeply in empirical evidence and rational argument. If elected, they assumed, he’d make decisions the way they did: purely on the merits.

Obama’s spurned Wall Street lovers are outraged by his occasional fulminations against high finance. But measured against the historical record, or the anger of the average American, they’ve been strikingly mild.

Why do so few Wall Streeters see this? As I say, naivete. As sophisticated as they are about financial markets, they have a remarkably crude sense of the constraints a president faces, and the extent to which a president—even the most earnest and well-intentioned—can wriggle out of them. A lot of these donors—especially the hedge fund managers—were new to politics. Obama was the first politician they fell for. The source of the attraction was that he didn’t seem to observe the laws of politics.

I agree with all of this, but it’s also a particularly sympathetic take. Isn’t another, simpler part of this that these are very powerful people used to getting what they want, and who were pissed off to find that despite their contributions, despite having gotten their foots in the door of the Oval Office, they couldn’t always have their way?

I don’t mean to reduce everything to entitlement, but surely that’s a big part of the story here. Just read some of the quotes from Gabriel Sherman’s February story on this subject in New York magazine.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.