Obama’s Call To The Bullpen

In major league baseball, most teams reserve a spot on their 25-man roster for a guy whose workday usually lasts only a few minutes: the left-handed relief specialist.

Most of the time, the left-handed specialist’s job is simply to be on call. But when a left-handed hitter comes up to bat in a crucial situation late in the game, the left-handed pitcher gets called to the mound. As soon as the batter is done, so is the pitcher.

William Daley, President Barack Obama’s newly selected chief of staff is, I think, a left-handed specialist. He’s being brought into the game in the seventh inning to handle a very specific situation, and once his job is done, he’ll head back to the bench.

Daley’s job is to convince American businesses that the president can be trusted and that they should put their money into hiring new workers.

Whatever faults he may have, Obama is a skillful field manager. His first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was a legislative heavy hitter. A former House member, Emanuel had the skills necessary to help the president leverage his political capital to move his agenda forward. Now, with the House in Republican hands, Obama’s chances of significant legislative progress aren’t very good, with or without help from his chief of staff. Meanwhile, unemployment rates are at reelection-threatening levels.

Obama needs someone capable of speaking directly to businesses to get them to increase hiring. Daley, a JPMorgan Chase & Co. executive and a board member for Boeing Co. and Abbott Laboratories, fits the bill. Daley was an economic adviser for Obama’s presidential campaign and a co-chairman of his transition team, but has been on the sidelines ever since.

In addition to bringing in Daley, Obama is also moving Gene Sperling, now a counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, into his inner circle by making him the Director of the National Economic Council.

Daley and Sperling’s joint task won’t be easy. So far, Obama’s attempts to win over the business community have been largely overshadowed by his history of using executives as targets and scapegoats. The president won few friends on Wall Street with his talk of “fat cats” and “speculators.” And his Justice Department’s attempt to prosecute Bear Stearns hedge fund managers for, basically, not predicting the global credit crisis showed that his administration was willing translate nasty words into actions. Then, in the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Obama administration put its disregard for businesses’ rights on full display with its decision to coerce BP into handing over $20 billion before anyone had time to determine the extent of the damages or BP’s responsibility for them.

But some in the business community seem willing to accept the president’s latest overture. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable have both endorsed Daley. Thomas Donohue, the Chamber’s president, said in a statement, “This is a strong appointment. We look forward to working with him to accelerate our recovery, grow the economy, create jobs, and tackle America’s global challenges.”

After a bruising two years of battling the president, first over the health care reform and then in a bid to help Republicans in the fall elections, the Chamber may be ready to make nice for awhile. I would not bet that most business executives, and especially small business owners, are necessarily ready to follow suit.

This is still the Obama administration, not the Emanuel administration or the Daley administration. This president has made it abundantly clear that he is no fan of business except to the extent it suits his purposes, which usually means generating tax revenue to finance the rest of the Obama agenda. At the moment, taxes are a lower priority – witness the president’s two-year tax cut deal with congressional Republicans – than getting people back to work before next year’s elections. But this situation is inherently temporary.

Daley is almost unique among Obama’s high-level players in having serious business experience. Team Obama does most of its recruiting in the government, academic and non-profit spheres in which the president is most comfortable. Daley’s appointment reflects a tactical maneuver rather than any change in philosophy.

The president and his team haven’t changed. They’ve just brought in a guy who pitches from the other side of the plate for awhile.

About Larry M. Elkin 525 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

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