Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama isn’t a socialist and is a ‘natural’ chief executive officer, the president’s former auto task force head Steven Rattner said in an interview with CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”
Rattner, 58, the former head of the U.S. government’s Automotive Task Force and co-founder of New York-based private-equity firm Quadrangle Group LLC, was asked about polls showing that some voters, both Republican and Democrat, think Obama is a socialist. Obama has had to deal with the political reality that has followed the 2008 financial crisis, Rattner said.
“He’s not a socialist, that’s for sure,” he said. “The president does believe that Wall Street was a significant part of the problem, more of a problem than Wall Street believes it was. I think Wall Street is a little bit in its own little bubble and doesn’t really get what’s going on out in the country.”
Rattner recalled a meeting about a year and a half ago at which Obama told a group of bankers “I’m the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks.”
Faced with midterm elections Nov. 2, the Democratic president and Democratic-controlled Congress are being buffeted by voter complaints about tax dollars having gone to firms paying million-dollar bonuses, concern over budget deficits and voter objections that it was unfair for the government to rescue banks that caused the crisis, which has pushed the jobless rate to almost 10 percent.
“One of the things I say often to my Wall Street friends, who are very upset with the president to a person, is you’ve got to deal with the climate that’s out there, and this is a country that is angry,” Rattner said.
Obama “did his homework” and was willing to make decisions, Rattner said.
“I thought he was a natural and I have been around a lot of CEOs over the years,” Rattner said during an interview taped Oct. 7 and scheduled for broadcast today. “I came away with a lot of respect for his CEO qualities.”
“I would probably concede that Obama is maybe less comfortable with business” than former Democratic President Bill Clinton, Rattner said. Clinton “some appreciation or fondness for business that was maybe a little bit unusual, but it was there,” he said.
Rattner directed Obama’s auto task force from February 2009 until July last year, after General Motors Co. emerged from a bankruptcy backed by $50 billion in government aid. He has since written a memoir of the process called “Overhaul: An Insider’s Account of the Obama Administration’s Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry.”
The administrations of Obama and his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, committed a total of $85 billion to rescue the U.S. automakers, aid suppliers and prop up the financing arms of GM and Chrysler. About $67 billion in loans and equity investments are still outstanding, according to administration figures. GM is 61 percent owned by the U.S. Treasury.
The decision to save Chrysler was the most difficult because it was the number three company, had no global business and closing it down would help General Motors and Ford sell more cars, Rattner said on CNN.
“I think in any normal economic time, many of us would have voted to let it go,” Rattner said. “But we were not in a normal economic time,” he said. “The economy was in freefall. The stock market was in freefall. We didn’t know if the financial markets were going to recover or not.”
The decision to rescue Chrysler was made primarily to save 300,000 jobs; unemployment at Chrysler would have added two tenths of a percentage point to the unemployment rate, he said.
“That was a social experiment that we didn’t really want to take, if we thought Chrysler could be saved,” Rattner said.
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