by rfahey22, Mon Jun 30, 2008 at 06:39:41 PM EDT
Tonight I attended a financial panel in lower Manhattan (SoHo) chaired by Sen. Dodd and sponsored by the Obama campaign. The panelists included Robert Wolf (President, UBS), Mellody Hobson (President, Ariel Capital Management), Steve Mandel (Founder, Lone Pine Capital), and Eric Mindich (Founder, Eton Park Capital Management). The topic of discussion was the current state of the U.S. economy and the need for a Democratic president to address the problems that it faces. At the outset I must apologize if my summary is a little fuzzy on specifics - I do not work in the financial industry, to which the discussion was tailored, and so some of the policy specifics were outside of my comfort zone.
Sen. Dodd began by highlighting the commitment of those assembled to defeat the Republicans in November and expressed his deep admiration for the historic candidacy of Sen. Clinton, leading the room in a loud round of applause. He then discussed recent meetings with foreign leaders in Ecuador and Brussels and their optimism that an Obama administration would restore competence to the Executive Branch. He stated more than once that even though there might be troubles along the way (i.e., Obama's not perfect), this particular election, in his opinion, would be one that people told their children and grandchildren about and that would define U.S. policy for much of the current century.
At that point Sen. Dodd turned the microphone over to Mr. Wolf, who warmly praised Obama's economic policy. Mr. Wolf focused first on Obama's stimulus plan, which among other things would address the current mortgage crisis (he noted that Obama is a strong supporter of Sen. Dodd's mortgage bill, which should come up for a vote in the Senate within the next week or so). Mr. Wolf then discussed Obama's long-term policy, which was intended to increase the wealth of the middle class. Mr. Wolf was not afraid to engage in a little "straight talk," and noted that it was absurd that Bush, McCain, and the Republicans pretend that the U.S. can conduct a war without having to pay the taxes for it. Obama's plan would raise taxes for those making over $250,000 and ultimately peg the capital gains rate at about 20% (Mr. Wolf's personal prediction, not speaking for the campaign). At the same time, the middle class and small business owners/entrepreneurs would receive a number of tax breaks.
After Mr. Wolf finished speaking, the panel was opened for discussion. Topics included the need to diminish the income gap between the middle and upper classes, the need for improved securities regulation, and tax reform. Ms. Hobson made an excellent point that, even though some people in the room may have felt a little bit of a financial pinch, that was nothing compared to many people throughout the country who are currently living paycheck to paycheck. She argued that the minimum wage needed to be transformed into a true living wage and expressed confidence that this would be possible under an Obama administration, having known Obama since he was a state senator.
Sen. Dodd used the discussion of tax reform to make the broader argument that the Democratic Party needed to focus not only on the short-term benefits of various policies, but on how those policies affect voters' dreams and aspirations. He related an anecdote about legislation he once supported (tax?) affecting beachfront homeowners. Sen. Dodd assumed that his support of the legislation would antagonize those homeowners, but he later learned that the only people upset by his position were inland Connecticut citizens. The reason for this, according to him, was that the beachfront homeowners knew that the legislation would not affect thir home ownership, but some inland citizens dreamed of owning beachfront homes and they perceived that he (inadvertently) had set an obstacle in their path. Sen. Dodd's point was that the Democratic Party needed to once again become the party that promotes people's dreams, and that its policies should be cast in that light. With regards specifically to tax policy, Sen. Dodd noted that the framing should not be so much about dry facts such as the amount of revenue generated but on how these policies can help grow personal wealth.
The discussion ended shortly thereafter and a reception followed. Sen. Dodd again praised all of the assembled Democrats, stating that we are all a single family and that the divisiveness of this race was nothing compared to '68. He lauded Sen. Clinton's candidacy and promised that she and Bill Clinton would play a large role in the Democratic victory in November and beyond. I had hoped to speak briefly with Sen. Dodd about the issues of the day, but that was not possible - there were about 150 people crammed into the apartment where the reception was held and it was extremely loud. Sen. Dodd left shortly after the reception began, and I left soon after he did.
Say what you will about Sen. Dodd, but he is an incredibly effective advocate. It is clear that he is just as excited about an Obama presidency as an official member of the campaign staff, and if a lifelong politician of his stature can be so energized, I have to believe that we're fighting the good fight, even if our standard bearer is not perfect.