Michael Barone

From what I know, Dimon and Blankfein are in fact first-rate CEOs, as able in their way as Henry J. Kaiser. Their banks soured on mortgage-backed securities before most of their competitors and started unloading them early or, in Goldman's case, getting them insured by AIG (and getting the government to pay 100 cents on the dollar for them, thanks to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, then head of the New York Fed). They paid their TARP money back as fast as they could, with interest.

But the savviness that Obama handsomely acknowledged has been evident not only in their business judgment but in their politics. Goldman employee contributions to Democrats in 2008 ranked second only to those employed by the University of California. JPMorgan Chase's employees ranked No. 7. The stereotype of Wall Street being Republican is decades out of date.

Crony capitalism is now the order of the day in the United States. The government and the United Auto Workers own General Motors and Chrysler, which aren't likely to pay back their billions in TARP money anytime soon, if ever. Meanwhile, the government tells Americans to stop driving Toyotas.

The government was going to remake the health care sector, and so Billy Tauzin and other health care industry lobbyists were busy in the White House cutting deals to keep their clients above water. The government was going to remake the energy sector, and utility CEOs and lobbyists have been busy flaunting their green credentials.

As my Washington Examiner colleague Timothy Carney has been documenting, Big Business has been busy lobbying Big Government for "reforms" that serve big companies' interests. Wal-Mart backs a health care mandate, Philip Morris shapes tobacco regulation, General Electric is setting up a joint venture to trade carbon offsets (wasn't that Enron's line of work back in the day?).

The picture is not pretty. Government's pets -- or, in the president's words, "savvy businessmen" -- use government to get policies that will give them competitive advantages and stifle smaller competitors. Pleasing their masters in government is now absorbing the psychic energy of CEOs who used to concentrate on meeting consumers' needs in order to make profits.

Back in the 1940s, there was an excuse for crony capitalism -- there was a war on. And FDR had a gift for picking people who, like Kaiser, delivered the goods. Today, that excuse is not available, and it's far from apparent that Obama has that gift.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM