NEW YORK - On the mental list of slights and outrages that just about every major figure on Wall Street is believed to keep on President Barack Obama, add this one: When he met recently with a group of CEOs at Blair House, there was no representative from any of the six biggest banks in America.
"If they don't hate us anymore, why weren't any of us there?" a senior executive at one of the Big Six banks said recently in trying to explain his hostility toward the president.
"It's not so much just this one thing,” he said. “Who cares about one event? It's just the pattern where they tell you things are going to change, that they appreciate what we do, that capital markets are important, but then the actions are different and they continue to want to score political points on us."
Still, the executive understands that it makes political sense for the White House to stiff-arm Wall Street, if not bash it with a massive sledge hammer.
After all, polls suggest most Americans believe Obama has handled the titans of Wall Street with an exceedingly light touch. He supported the deeply unpopular $700-billion bank bailout, pushed a financial reform package that stopped short of breaking up the biggest behemoths and, just this month, signed off on tax cuts for the wealthiest and continued low rates on capital gains and dividends.
And, of course, big-time bonuses at bailed-out banks are back, even as average Americans continue to get tossed out of their homes, corporate America has turned in its most profitable quarter in history and the stock market is at a two-year high.
Yet the executive dislikes Obama with, what seems like, an almost irrational passion. And he is not alone.
Along the gilded corridors of Manhattan's largest banks, hedge funds and private equity firms and inside Washington's financial lobby shops, Obama and the rest of his administration are regarded with a disdain so thick it often blurs to naked loathing, a fact that has significant implications for the president's reelection campaign and his ability to operate over the next two years.
In an effort to understand such animus POLITICO interviewed a dozen senior Wall Street denizens, including C-suite executives, investment bankers, traders and financial lobbyists, who were promised anonymity in return.
Their complaints fell along similar lines: Obama and the White House don't understand how capital markets work, don't like people who make a lot of money and relish using Wall Street as a whipping boy to score points with the left.
"He whipped everyone into a frenzy against us," said one banker.
"It's a bunch of academic lefties down there," said another.
"You say something to them and it just goes into a black hole," said a lobbyist.
There’s a precedent for this kind of antagonism – former President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"You would really have to go back to 1934 to find a time when Wall Street was this angry at an administration following a crisis that was largely of Wall Street's own making," said Charles Geisst, a financial historian and professor at Manhattan College. "Back then, Wall Street basically went on strike and would not issue bonds for corporations. They stomped their feet like little kids. The same thing is happening now."
But, as Geisst noted, this is not 1934. Not even close. Big banks are not getting broken up. Nothing Obama has done equates to having created the Securities and Exchange Commission.
A senior Wall Street lobbyist explained his feelings: "This president came into office in the midst of an economic crisis and started off by demonizing insurance companies and then going after Wall Street banks. Never did he try to bring together CEOs and say, 'We are in this together, we are Team America and we are going to go out and get things done.' That's the power you have as president. Instead this White House pushed people away and they did it consciously and they are still doing it."
But if Obama and the White House don't "understand" business and are, in fact, hostile to it, how do you explain rising markets, the huge increase in corporate profits, the fact that the economy is slowly pulling out of a terrible recession and that job growth, while tepid, is showing signs of growth?
And what about the fact that "community organizer" Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate, rammed through an extension of all the Bush tax cuts over howls from the left and is just as much a card-carrying member of the bohemian bourgeoisie as any Wall Street banker?
"It's true that markets aren't in the crapper and the tax-cut thing was very encouraging. The guy is not a socialist," the lobbyist acknowledged. "But there is still not a lot of capital investment. It is the exception. People are hoarding cash. And the profits are attributable to all that cash-hoarding and big spending cuts and employment cutbacks. It's not sustainable. The new track has got to be about inspiring growth and encouraging risk-taking, and this White House hasn't done much on that front."
To many inside the White House and the Treasury Department, these complaints ring less than hollow and, in fact, border on the incomprehensible. They are widely dismissed as the private tantrums of the grossly overpaid and, until now, dangerously under-regulated whiners on Wall Street.
"If the president says we are going to put in place a [new rule] that prevents inappropriate subsidies going to the banks ... that is not demonization, that is an important policy change," said Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and one of a few administration officials, along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who people on Wall Street say they generally like.
"If the president says that hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of unregulated derivatives that nearly brought the world to its knees must be regulated, and people say that demonizes them, I don't think that's true," Goolsbee said.
Several financial executives interviewed for this story acknowledged that it may seem odd -- perhaps even galling -- that they would complain when many believe bankers like them nearly toppled the global economy.
"You have to understand, it is very personal. He raised money from us," one executive at a top bank said. "Then he started calling us bad people. So forgive us for not wanting to buy him a drink after getting punched in the eye."
Geisst and other observers see the animus differently. They see it as a product of Wall Street's profound and persistent narcissistic disorder. Bankers with the disorder have an innate inability to handle even mild criticism coupled with an unshakable belief that whatever they do is the smartest and best possible thing.
But Geisst also suggested the shock and disdain is something of a pose, a feint to fight off greater re-regulation.
"Their best defense here has been incredulity," he said. "Wall Street just pretends they don't understand what all the fuss is about and can't believe how they are being talked about and hope that their incredulity will translate into softer treatment, which is exactly what happened here."
Christopher Whalen, investment banker, author and cofounder of Institutional Risk Analytics, said the distaste isn't policy-related, it's personal.
"Wall Street disdains Obama," Whalen said. "Hate is too strong a term. Obama is publicly disrespectful, thus Wall Street complains."
Brad Hintz, former Lehman Brothers chief financial officer and now an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, said Wall Street did not like getting all the blame for the financial crisis. "No CEO on Wall Street expects to be loved. Since the founding of our republic, there has been a steady flow of vitriol against bankers and money interests. It goes with the territory. It's healthy," he said.
But Hintz added that "the 2009 vilification of the entire financial-services industry by the political powers went beyond the pale and struck at the self-image of the leaders of Wall Street."
"Remember, Wall Street is dominated by Ivy-League-educated bankers who studied liberal arts at good schools, read the right papers and magazines, donated to good causes, advised their employees to perform community service, counseled their partners to live understated lifestyles, voted for the 'right' candidates and who live in populist suburbs of liberal blue states. It's not the oil industry."
But even many of those in the financial industry who supported Obama over Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election now view him as a pariah, someone who distrusts the profit motive and always favors government over the private sector.
Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase and a supporter of Obama in 2008, has been among the more outspoken critics of the White House's anti-Wall Street rhetoric. "It's harmful, it's unfair and it leads to bad policy," Dimon recently told The New York Times Magazine, adding that he told Obama: Former "President [Abraham] Lincoln could have denigrated all sSoutherners. He didn't."
At a public forum this year, Morgan Stanley Chairman John Mack, who typically backs Republicans but supported Obama in 2008, expressed frustration with what he viewed as the demonization of the industry.
"I'm not here to bash the administration, but I'm really disappointed," he said. "Every decision can't be a political decision. Whatever happened to doing what's right?"
Former supporters of Obama on Wall Street say he scored cheap political points by roasting "fat cat" bankers, pushing draconian financial reforms that could jeopardize U.S. competitiveness and stocking his administration with financially illiterate political hacks.
"You go down to the White House now and sit down to talk with members of the inner circle and the issue is no longer so much hostility as it is sheer incomprehension," said one senior private equity executive. "You wind up talking about things they are not at all interested in and are generally outside their area of competence."
Beyond its Mars-vs.-Venus-on-steroids quality, the question of whether the White House and Wall Street can get along has significant political and policy ramifications.
The industry is a dominant campaign contributor and steered $15 million to Obama in 2008 compared to $8.7 million for McCain, breaking its traditional tilt to the GOP, which generally favors lower taxes and less regulation. And Obama enjoyed strong public support from the likes of Dimon, Mack and Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein.
Neither Mack nor Dimon is likely to support the president again. Blankfein, a lifelong Democrat, probably falls into the camp of Masters of the Universe who will quietly continue to support the president but won't make many public comments or host big fundraisers.
While the landscape could change if the economy continues to improve, Wall Street is expected to line up heavily behind the GOP nominee in 2012, provided that person is not a populist, Federal-Reserve-System-bashing, tea-party-friendly candidate, such as Sarah Palin or Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. Still, even the prospect of such a candidate emerging from the GOP field should go toward tempering ay full financial industry revolt against Obama.
"The people who feel intellectually committed to the Democratic Party will continue to be supportive," one senior banker who is deeply plugged into Washington said. "You've seen a swing to the GOP but people are quite worried about the divisive effect of the tea party. There is certainly a devil, you know, factor that could help the president."
A more pressing issue for the White House is the fact that Obama must navigate the next two years with the GOP in control of the House and a smaller Democratic majority in the Senate. And he needs to push past possible gridlock to enact policies that will further the nascent recovery and boost his electoral hopes.
And it is here the White House hopes that the self-interest of the financial industry could trump its ongoing pique.
"As we get out of the heat of the moment of passing financial regulatory reform, I think a lot of people are taking a step back and adjusting to what the president is saying about the private sector as the critical engine of growth and finding there a lot of policies they agree with," said Goolsbee.
But despite recent White House efforts to reach out to Wall Street, bankers believe Obama is much more worried about perceptions on the left.
As evidence, bankers point to recent White House meetings with labor leaders, Geithner's dinner with the heads of progressive groups and Vice President Joe Biden's recent pledge to fight the top-rate tax cuts again in two years.
And it is this, as much as anything, that gets under Wall Street's collective skin.
"All that people in this White House seem to worry about is what The Huffington Post is going to say if they do something, anything, remotely probusiness," one financial executive said. "They really don't care what we think at all."
Wow. So, basically, Wall Street recognizes why they are hated, and they still are crying about it. This is really, really sad and funny at the same time.