Obama: Don't Call Me Anti-Business

In a photo taken from a video screen, President Barack Obama answers questions on jobs and the economy during a town hall-style gathering hosted by CNBC, Monday, Sept. 20, 2010, at the Newseum in Washington.
President Barack Obama answers questions on jobs and the economy during a town hall-style gathering hosted by CNBC, Monday, Sept. 20, 2010, at the Newseum in Washington.

President Obama today stressed that he is not "extremist" or "anti-business" despite the perceptions of some in the business community.

The president was repeatedly questioned during an hour-long CNBC town-hall style forum focused on jobs about why he appears to have lost the backing of many in the business community, who have complained of being vilified by a president who once deemed Wall Street bankers "fat cats" while urging passage of financial reform legislation.

He said the complaints that he is "beating up on Wall Street" have been a source of frustration.

The president was asked specifically about a critical (and questionable) cover story in Forbes magazine and comments by Wall Street billionaire Steven Schwarzman, who suggesting the administration's tax proposals are reminiscent of Hitler invading Poland.

"If you're making $1 billion a year after a very bad financial crisis where 8 million people lost their jobs and small businesses can't get loans, then I think that you shouldn't be feeling put upon," the president said.

He then directly addressed Schwarzman's comment.

"A big source of frustration, this quote that you just said, this was me acting like Hitler going into Poland, had to do with a proposal to change a rule called carried interest, which basically allows hedge fund managers to get taxed at 15 percent on their income," he said. "Now, everybody else is getting taxed at, you know, a lot more. The secretary of the hedge fund is probably being taxed at 25 percent, 28 percent, right? And these folks are making -- getting taxed at 15 percent."

"The notion that somehow me saying maybe you should be taxed more like your secretary, when you're pulling home $1 billion or $100 million a year, I don't think is me being extremist or being anti-business," he added.

Mr. Obama said he knows and went to school with many hedge fund managers, adding that he respects "their business acumen." But he also stressed that many are among the highest-earning Americans and suggested they had little to complain about compared to average Americans.

"I have been amused over the last couple years, this sense of somehow me beating up on Wall Street," he said. "I think most folks on Main Street feel like they got beat up on."

He also said the criticism that he is too hard on Wall Street is far from universal.

"There's a big chunk of the country that thinks that I have been too soft on Wall Street," he argued. "That's probably the majority, not the minority."

Earlier in the interview, the president was asked if "it's possible that because of your style or the unusual things about your background -- your racial heritage, where you grew up, Ivy League education -- that the fearful voters who are about to go to the polls in November think, 'Yes, I hear him, he may get it intellectually, but he doesn't feel what I'm feeling.'"

He responded that his background didn't really matter in light of the state of the economy.

"Well, you know, here's my suspicion," he said. "I think that, when the unemployment rate is still high and people are having a tough time, it doesn't matter if I was green, it doesn't matter if I was purple."

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Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.