Hedge Fund Man for President

Diana West
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Posted: May 08, 2009 11:05 AM
Hedge Fund Man for President

I have seen the future of conservatism and ... he is a hedge fund manager.

I refer to hedge fund manager Clifford S. Asness, and I'm only halfway kidding. Or maybe I'm not kidding at all. The fact is, Asness this week launched the single most lucid and inspiring counter-attack against the Obama administration's brazen assault on capitalism as seen in its Chrysler bankruptcy shakedown.

Basically, the White House Chrysler plan picks economic losers and winners according to a naked political calculation that penalizes bondholders and rewards the union bosses of the United Auto Workers. It's that simple, that appalling, and that anti-capitalist. The hedge funds, seeking not to surrender the protections afforded their investors by the bankruptcy court process, quite naturally balked at the Obama administration's blatant power grab on behalf of what amount to union cronies. As Asness explained, "Some bondholders thought (the White House plan was) unfair. Specifically, they thought it unfairly favored the United Auto Workers. ... So, they said no to the plan and decided, as is their right, to take their chances in the bankruptcy process."

Their "right"?

Hah. With a remarked-upon display of anger, President Obama publicly castigated bondholders for opposing his plan, deriding them as "speculators" who refused "to sacrifice like everyone else," and who only opposed the White House deal to "hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout."

It was after this that Asness penned what stands as the first post-Obama capitalist manifesto, now making the rounds on the Internet.

"I am indeed fearful writing this. It's a really bad idea to speak out," Asness admits in a preamble that reads like a bulletin from capitalism's trenches where white-shoe comrades, as Asness writes, remain "anonymous for fear of going on the record against a powerful president." Possibly, Asness was also thinking about bankruptcy lawyer Tom Lauria's recent charges that the White House had pressured the firm Perella Weinberg to "withdraw its opposition to the (White House) deal under threat that the full force of the White House press corps would destroy its reputation if it continued to fight." (The White House denies the charge; Perella Weinberg says economic considerations compelled it withdraw its opposition.)

Asness, whose $20 billion company AQR Capital Management is not involved in the Chrysler mess, went on to describe the bankruptcy process ("the rules of the game lenders know before they lend") which the president's plan upends, along with the fiduciary obligation money managers have to manage their clients' money apolitically. Then he gets to his bottom line: "The President's attempted diktat takes money from bondholders and gives it to a labor union that delivers money and votes for him. Why is he not calling on his party to 'sacrifice' some campaign contributions, and votes, for the greater good? Shaking down lenders for the benefit of political donors is recycled corruption and abuse of power."

I don't know who Asness is aside from being a highly successful hedge fund manager -- an occupation for which I don't even know how to pack a briefcase. But he is speaking truth to power, which is exactly what the American people need to hear. "The President screaming that the hedge funds are looking for an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout is the big lie writ large," he writes. "Find me a hedge fund that has been bailed out. Find me a hedge fund, even a failed one, that has asked for one. In fact, it was only because hedge funds have not taken government funds that they could stand up to this bullying. ... The President's comments here are backwards and libelous. Yet somehow I don't think the hedge funds will be following ACORN's lead and trucking in a bunch of paid professional protestors soon. Hedge funds really need a community organizer."

Contrast this fiery defense of capitalism -- the latest cause of the "culture war," according to Arthur Brooks, the new head of the American Enterprise Institute -- with the gag-inducing mush almost simultaneously offered by Jeb Bush, Eric Cantor and Mitt Romney during a political event during which, as the Washington Post noted, these proto-presidential hopefuls "did not directly attack President Obama, rarely used the word 'Republican,' and engaged in a healthy dose of self-criticism."

"You can't beat something with nothing," burbled former-presidential brother Jeb Bush during this GOP-lite squish-o-rama. "And the other side has something. I don't like it, but they have it, and we have to be respectful and mindful of that."

The "other side" has something, all right -- possession of the economy, which is nothing to "respect." It is something to oppose.

As Asness does. "This is America," Asness concludes. "We have a free-enterprise system that has worked spectacularly for us for 200-plus years. When it fails it fixes itself. Most importantly, it is not an owned lackey of the Oval Office to be scolded for disobedience by the President."

Could there be a pulse in the body politic? Be still, my political heart. This is the vital spirit of rebellion that just might lead conservatives to declare: Hedge Fund Man for President.