Billionaires against Obama

Canadian-born Mort Zuckerman is leading a charge against America’s ‘divisive, anti-business’ leader

Billionaires against the Prez

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Canadians in America do a lot of things very well, including Obama-bashing. Real estate and publishing tycoon Mort Zuckerman (New York’s Daily News, U.S. News & World Report) supported Barack Obama for president in 2008, but he’s become the leading spokesman for an aggrieved minority: billionaires who feel Obama is treating them badly. Or, as the Montreal-born Zuckerman put it on the CNBC network: “There is a sense in the business community, not just for big business but for business all over, that this is an anti-business administration.”

Zuckerman, a McGill graduate who moved to the U.S. in 1961, has been worried about Obama since 2009, even while claiming that he “helped write” one of Obama’s speeches (White House speech writers denied they’d ever met Zuckerman). He wrote that Obama was creating “a country of ‘born-again budget hawks’ who will rise up if taxes are boosted to pay for it all,” and commemorated the first year of the administration with an article entitled, “He’s done everything wrong.”

In the last month, the 74-year-old Zuckerman has laid out a harsher case: it’s Obama’s fault the economy isn’t recovering. “Those who might help us escape,” he wrote in the Financial Times, “are now being held back by the anti-business policies of President Barack Obama.” The biggest drag on business, he says, is Obama’s criticism of “fat cats”: “this perceived hostility,” wrote Zuckerman, “saps the animal spirits required for taking risks on expansions and start-ups.”

Zuckerman even found a way to blame Obama for the Occupy Wall Street movement that is making wealthy New Yorkers feel uncomfortable. “The door to it was opened by the Obama administration, going after the ‘millionaires and billionaires’ as if everybody is a millionaire and a billionaire and they didn’t earn it,” he told James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal. “To fan that flame of populist anger I think is very divisive and very dangerous for this country.”

Not a lot of pundits have been impressed by Zuckerman’s conversion. Ed Morrissey of the conservative site scoffed that “Zuckerman was one of those who didn’t recognize the obvious when it counted.” Liberal commentators point out that Zuckerman was a supporter of George W. Bush; Alex Pareene of Salon wrote that he is “not really politically compatible with Obama.” But Obama received much of his 2008 campaign support from wealthy donors, including Wall Street donors, and Zuckerman’s anti-Obama crusade could be a sign of things to come from that segment of the population. Zuckerman certainly suggests that he’s speaking for a larger class: he told Reuters that he has spoken to a lot of “former supporters who are very upset and feel alienated,” and on MSNBC he declared that his fellow billionaires will no longer be “contributing big dollars to class warriors and demonizers.”

After seeing what the Democrats have done to tear down the reputation of his fellow billionaires, Zuckerman has even considered going into politics to fight for their cause: last year he reportedly flirted with the idea of challenging New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand for a Senate seat, only to decide he didn’t have “the necessary time.” But this year, he’s sounded more urgent about the need for “a triple-A president to run a triple-A country.” He told Freeman that he chose to leave Canada because of the “sheer openness and energy of life in America,” and now he’s worried that if the U.S. economy continues to decline, he may have bet on the wrong horse: “I don’t want my daughter telling me, ‘Dad, I want to move back to Canada because that’s the land of opportunity.’ ”

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