Obama Pushes Back Against Big Business

Barack Obama may turn out to be the most anti-big-business president in decades. His gentle bank bailouts are obscuring a get-tough stand on corporations, particularly abroad. Obama's choice for U.S. trade representative was the mayor of Dallas, with scant trade experience, suggesting the administration has little real interest in pushing the corporate case for free trade. The Justice Department has vowed to aggressively prosecute companies for bribing foreign officials, even though global money flows are falling and few other nations go after foreign bribery with anywhere near the zeal of the United States. Obama trumpets his ability to prioritize, but personally announced a crackdown on corporate abuse of overseas tax havens like the Cayman Islands. In doing so, he was making good on a campaign promise to rein in what he called "the biggest tax scam on record," but it is hardly a key to the global crisis. And last week his administration signaled plans to go out and break up monopolies, the way the Europeans do. In laying out the Justice Department's strategy, its new antitrust top cop, Christine A. Varney, said Americans were led to believe that markets should be allowed to "self-police" and that they will correct themselves, but that has not happened. Government, she said, "cannot sit on the sidelines any longer." It may be that Obama needs to show a tough side to Americans worried about the trillions he's spent to save the banks. Or it may be that America has not seen a president this skeptical of big business since Teddy Roosevelt first started busting trusts.