America's seriously wealthy step up the pressure on Obama

David Usborne reports from Florida's secluded beach clubs, where discontent is growing ahead of next month's midterm elections
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The Independent US

No, agrees Phil McCarthy, a former Titan among big-money venture capitalists in America, it might not be a good idea to drive in here with Obama stickers on your car. But his Mercedes, with a secret remote on the sun visor, has not a Democratic logo in sight. And so the barriers to the St John's Island Beach Club rise obediently to let us in.

Just north of Vero Beach on the Atlantic side of Florida, St John's Island is a gated community for people of serious means. And, if we are honest, Republican leanings. For Mr McCarthy, settling in for dinner on a patio beside the club pool, this is a rare evening. Eschewing the old Wasp conventions of discretion on matters of politics, he means to speak his mind about Barack Obama.

It is his duty to speak up, McCarthy explains. "What good does it do me to write a Letter to the Editor?" he asks, surveying a plate of oysters. He had asked some buddies to join him in offloading about the President. Jim Broadhead, a former chief executive of Florida's electric company and one-time Delta Airlines director, has enthusiastically agreed. But others, he said, proved more wary of a British reporter.

That America, preparing in two weeks to elect a new House of Representatives and replace a third of the Senate, is riddled with conservatives who consider Obama a socialist horror show is hardly a secret. But if some dismiss disciples of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party as ignorant "wing-nuts", they should know this: their views are but nothing compared to what wealthy, highly educated conservatives think.

It might not be surprising that America's wealthy would vote against the country's left-wing party. But what is striking is that Mr Broadhead and his ilk are having a real impact on this election, and proving a significant drag on the President, who has been repeatedly hammered by Republicans for failing to help entrepreneurs. These are people who have access to politicians, and the money to influence them. Mr Broadhead, 74, who belongs to a possibly even posher beach club south of here called Lost Tree, admits coyly that he has been giving generously ahead of the 2 November elections.

The outsized influence of the rich has provoked howls of anger amongst the left-wing commentariat. "The craziness has gone mainstream," Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times last month. "When it comes to defending the interests of the rich, it seems, the normal rules of civilised (and rational) discourse no longer apply... A belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it's their money, and they have the right to keep it."

But that viewpoint has not really gained much traction. And what the better-off have to say – rarely offering examples or evidence – is also a reminder of a broader perception that this White House has allowed to fester: that it is anti-business.

When Mr Obama went this year to explain his financial reform bill to Wall Street, he got a cold reception. When the legislation was passed, tongues wagged when he declined to invite the heads of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan to attend the signing.

Famously, Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder of the Blackstone Group, the giant private-equity fund, was caught earlier this year likening some of Mr Obama's tax-reform proposals to "Hitler invading Poland in 1939".

Fortunately, we are talking only left-wing labels tonight. "I think he is somewhere between a socialist and Marxist," muses Mr McCarthy, who also served as an adjunct business professor at Columbia University. "He is definitely not a capitalist. To his core, his value system is basically socialist." My host then recalls approvingly a recent article in Forbes magazine that argued that Mr Obama inherited an anti-colonialist mindset from his Kenyan father.

"He hates imperialism and he thinks that people who make money are imperialists," he says.

Mr Broadhead thinks that this explains why Mr Obama is struggling. "His philosophy is really out of step with the vast majority of Americans. Most Americans believe strongly in the free enterprise system, and believe that this is the gift of America. But Obama is spouting all these Marxist things."

Mr Broadhead, now retired, says he is offended by Mr Obama on many levels. There was the returning to the British Embassy of a bust of Winston Churchill that had sat in the Oval Office since after the 9/11 attacks. And he dislikes his habit of blaming things on George Bush. It's plain "ungentlemanly".

He also singles out what he says is Mr Obama's habit of doing press conferences without the US flag as a backdrop. "Americans tend to be very patriotic and they think that America is an exceptional place. But Obama seems to want to almost dispel that view."

While healthcare reform, the bailouts and Obama's perceived patriotism deficit come easily into our conversations, the Obama plan to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for the richest Americans do not. The debate on that, certain to be incendiary, has been left to the lame-duck Congress that will convene after the elections. If the cuts for the richest Americans were to be extended, it would cost the government about $680bn over the next 10 years. But asked if he was ready to pay higher rates again, Mr Broadhead is terse.

"I would rather not. We are the ones who are supporting the economy, and we are the ones who are investing in new businesses."

Mr McCarthy, whose partnership once owned Morton's Steakhouse of Chicago, answers by accusing Democrats of seeking to end the tax cuts for the rich while at the same time protecting low tax rates for equity-fund profits on Wall Street. "The tax proposals are completely hypocritical," he complains.

Everyone does want to be clear about one thing: the animus against Obama is not personal.

"I am not a bigot," Mr McCarthy says, noting that the election of a black President was a step forward. "Obviously I am not a great admirer of Mr Obama, but I don't hate him," Mr Broadhead insists.

But with friends like that ... Mr Obama might want to apply elsewhere for beach-club membership.

A national divide

$311,279 Average salary on Wall Street in 2009. Median US income was $50,221



$680bn Cost of making Bush era tax cuts permanent for the richest, over the next 10 years



6.3% Share of American house- holds surviving on income below the poverty line ($10,977 a year)



20% Share of Americans earning more than $100,000 – nearly 50 per cent of the country's entire income

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