When I come to work each day, whether as a commentator for TheStreet.com or a host of Mad Money With Jim Cramer, I have only one thought in mind: helping people with their money.
I fight to help viewers and readers make and preserve capital. I fight for their 401(k)s, for their 529s and their IRAs. I fight for their annuities and for their life insurance policies. I fight for their profits, trading and investing. And in this horrible market, I fight to keep their losses to a minimum by having some good dividend-yielding stocks from different sectors, some bonds, some gold and some cash.
The lines are drawn pretty clearly: If you can help people make money to be able to retire, enjoy life, pay for college, pay down debt, etc., you are a "good guy," so to speak. If you take the other side of the trade, you are, well, let's say, a less favored fellow. And if you gun for the gigantic investor class that is out there that includes 90 million people in one form or another, whether it be 401(k)s or individual stocks or pension plans, then you are on my enemies list.
Now some, including Rush Limbaugh, would say I am on another enemies list: that of the White House. Limbaugh says there are only a handful of us on it, and if I am on it for defending all of the shareholders out there, then I am in good company. Limbaugh -- whom I do not know personally, but having been in radio myself, know professionally as a genius of the medium -- says, "They're going to shut Cramer up pretty soon, too, but he'll go down with a fight."
Limbaugh's dead right. I am a fight-not-flight guy, so I was on my hackles when I heard White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' answer to a question about my pointed criticism of the president on multiple venues, including the Today Show.
"I'm not entirely sure what he's pointing to to make some of the statements," Gibbs said about my point that President Obama's budget may be one of the great wealth destroyers of all time. "And you can go back and look at any number of statements he's made in the past about the economy and wonder where some of the backup for those are, too."
Huh? Backup? Look at the incredible decline in the stock market, in all indices, since the inauguration of the president, with the drop accelerating when the budget plan came to light because of the massive fear and indecision the document sowed: Raising taxes on the eve of what could be a second Great Depression, destroying the profits in healthcare companies (one of the few areas still robust in the economy), tinkering with the mortgage deduction at a time when U.S. house price depreciation is behind much of the world's morass and certainly the devastation affecting our banks, and pushing an aggressive cap and trade program that could raise the price of energy for millions of people.
The market's the effect; much of what the president is fighting for is the cause. The market's signal can't be ignored. It's too palpable, too predictive to be ignored, despite the prattle that the market's predicted far more recessions than we have.
Gibbs went on to say, "If you turn on a certain program, it's geared to a very small audience. No offense to my good friends or friend at CNBC, but the president has to look out for the broader economy and the broader population."
How much I wish it were true right now that stocks played less of a role in peoples' lives. But stocks, along with housing, are our principal forms of wealth in this country. Only the people who have lifetime tenure, insured solid pensions and rent homes but own no stocks personally are unaffected. Sure that's a lot of people, but believe me, they aspire to have homes and portfolios. If we only want to help those who have no wealth to destroy, we are not helping the majority of Americans; we are not helping the broader population.
You can argue, of course, that Obama inherited one of the worst hands in the world. I had been a relentless critic of the Bush administration's "stewardship" of the economy, calling repeatedly for changes to avert the disaster that I saw coming, although perhaps Gibbs hasn't seen my CNBC meltdown. Seemed pretty prescient to me.
I, like everyone else, have made less authoritative and wrong statements in the past, but that rant still stands as something that I am sure everyone in the Bush administrations' Treasury and Fed listened to. My calls to sell 20% of your stocks in September at Dow 11,000 and then all of your stock if you need the money for the next five years at Dow 10,000 in October, might have eluded Gibbs, too.
But Obama has undeniably made things worse by creating an atmosphere of fear and panic rather than an atmosphere of calm and hope. He's done it by pushing a huge amount of change at a very perilous moment, by seeking to demonize the entire banking system and by raising taxes for those making more than $250,000 at the exact time when we need them to spend and build new businesses, and by revoking deductions for funds to charity that help eliminate the excess supply of homes.
We had a banking crisis coming into this regime, but now every area is in crisis. Each day is worse than the previous one for this miserable economy and while Obama's champions cite the stimulus plan, it's really just a hodgepodge of old Democratic pork and will not create nearly as many manufacturing or service jobs as we hoped. China's stimulus plan is the model; ours is the parody.
Sure there's going to be some mortgage relief, but the way to approach that problem is to eliminate the overhang, which a $15,000 tax credit for existing home sales could have dented if not consumed. I have offered a comprehensive plan of 4% refinanced mortgages for all by the government, not just those many considered deadbeats, to eliminate moral hazard. I have come up with a novel plan to cut the principal and spare the banks regulatory problems by offering them a certificate of equity, making them whole over time when the house appreciates in value, which will happen if demand is stoked and supply is shrunk.
I have offered a comprehensive bank plan to solve a systemic problem -- could all bankers really be malefactors of wealth, Mr. President, or given the endemic nature can't we just presume that it's an epidemic and finger-pointing is a worthless endeavor until things get better? Like after Pearl Harbor -- let's win the war and then investigate, and even try and convict the bad actors, instead of demonizing everyone who works at a bank right now, when we need them to right themselves without too much taxpayer help.
Which leads me to the true irony of not being political: I don't like talking politics. It is personal, but some things are a matter of public record, including my substantial six figure donations to the Democratic Party before I was no longer allowed to contribute by contractual agreement. I regard two Democratic governors as my friends, and helped back one of them in a major financial way and spoke and campaigned directly for the other.
I also made it clear in a New York magazine article that I favored Obama over McCain because I thought Obama to be a middle-of-the-road Democrat, exactly the kind I have supported all my adult life, although I will admit to being far more left-wing during my teenage years and early 20s.
To be totally out of the closet, I actually embrace every part of Obama's agenda, right down to the increase on personal taxes and the mortgage deduction. I am a fierce environmentalist who has donated multiple acres to the state of New Jersey to keep forever wild. I believe in cap and trade. I favor playing hardball with drug companies that hold up the U.S. government with me-too products.
But these are issues that we have no time for now, on the verge of a second Great Depression. This is an agenda that must be held back for better times. It is an agenda that at this moment is radical vs. what is called for. I am proud to have voted for the Obama who I thought understood the need to get us on the right path, and create jobs and wealth before taxing it and making moves that hurt job creation -- certainly ones that will outweigh the meager number of jobs he's creating.
Most important, I believe his agenda is crushing nest eggs around the nation in loud ways, like the decline in the averages, and in soft but dangerous ways, like in the annuities that can't be paid and the insurance benefits that will be challenging to deliver on.
So I will fight the fight against that agenda. I will stand up for what I believe and for what I have always believed: Every person has a right to be rich in this country and I want to help them get there. And when they get there, if times are good, we can have them give back or pay higher taxes. Until they get there, I don't want them shackled or scared or paralyzed. That's what I see now.
If that makes me an enemy of the White House, then call me a general of an army that Obama may not even know exists -- tens of millions of people who live in fear of having no money saved when they need it and who get poorer by the day.