CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Democrats shrewdly paired their argument in favor of Wall Street reform Wednesday with a message that President Obama has delivered results for U.S. small businesses.
For each speech about lauding the president for reining in the big banks, the Democratic National Convention delivered another set of remarks about his administration cutting taxes and red tape for small businesses. At key moments, the two messages were delivered back to back.
The effect was designed to blunt the Republicans charge – seemingly repeated on a loop last week in Tampa – that Obama is choking the economy through overregulation.
The speaker called to deliver the week's most high-profile defense of the Dodd-Frank Act was Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who came up with the idea for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She cast the fight over Dodd-Frank in David vs. Goliath terms.
"I had an idea for a consumer financial protection agency to stop the rip-offs," she said. "You know, the big banks sure didn't like it, and they marshaled one of the biggest lobbying forces on earth to destroy the agency before it ever saw the light of day."
"American families didn't have an army of lobbyists on our side. What we had was a president – President Obama leading the way. And when the lobbyists were closing in for the kill, Barack Obama squared his shoulders, planted his feet, and stood firm. And that's how we won."
Elsewhere in her speech, Warren delivered her trademark brand of populist indignation with a dash of sympathy for small business owners.
"Wall Street CEOs – the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs – still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them. Does anyone here have a problem with that?" Warren asked, drawing big applause.
"I do, too. I talk to small business owners all across Massachusetts. And not one of them – not one – made big bucks from the risky Wall Street bets that brought down our economy."
Warren's message about regulating Wall Street was softened by her warm-up act, Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal, who sought to undermine the Romney campaign's claim that Obama doesn't understand the private sector.
"Some of my friends in corporate America say that they need a government that gets off the backs of businesses, and that's why many of them are supporting the opposition, with donations of hundreds of thousands of dollars," Sinegal said. "But I think they've got it all wrong. Business needs a president who has covered businesses' backs. A president who understands what the private sector needs to succeed."
Earlier, California Attorney General Kamala Harris also made a forceful case for why regulation is necessary, focusing on the financial sphere.
"I've seen all that happens when you roll back those rules," Harris said. "What happens are rows of foreclosure signs. What happens are mountains of family debt. What happens is a middle class that's hurting. That's what we've seen in towns across California and across this country."
Harris, who rose to national prominence for driving a hard bargain with the big banks in the multi-billion-dollar mortgage servicing settlement, accused Republican Mitt Romney of seeking to roll back financial regulation.
"Loose regulations and lax enforcement – that's not leadership. That's abandoning our middle class," she said.
But the context for Harris' remarks came in the two speeches that preceded hers. Both of those speeches subtly confronted the GOP argument that new rules for financial institutions are ultimately hurting small business.
First, Karen Mills, head of the Small Business Administration, said that when Obama took office, credit was frozen, and businesses were thinking about their survival.
"The president knew that one of the most important things he could do was give small businesses a fighting chance," Mills said. "So he took action. Right away, President Obama cut small business taxes – not once or twice, but 18 times. He put a record volume of guaranteed loans into the hands of America's small businesses."
The next speaker, who two years ago founded a brewery in Alexandria, Va., argued that Obama's reelection will give entrepreneurs the best possible chance to succeed.
"I remember what it was like to go to bank after bank after bank hearing 'No,'" said Bill Butcher, the founder of Port City Brewing, recalling the early days of his business. "We may not have ever gotten to 'Yes' if it wasn't for President Obama and the SBA loan program he started."