President Barack Obama strongly denied vilifying businesses at CNBC's Town Hall event on Monday.
"I do believe that we’ve got to make sure that the basic rules of the road are in place. And that consumers, workers, ordinary folks out there aren’t taken advantage of by sharp business practices – and I don’t think there’s anything in there that’s inherently anti-business," Obama said.
Obama praised the free-market, saying he wants the government to "get out of the way" of innovation and job creation.
"In every speech, every interview that I have made, I've constantly said what sets America apart, what has made us successful over long term, is we've got the most dynamic free-market economy in the world. And that has to be preserved. We benefit from entrepreneurs and innovators who are going out there and creating jobs, creating business. Government can't create the majority of jobs. And, in fact, we want to get out of the way of folks who've got a good idea and want to run with it and are going to be putting people to work," Obama said.
Obama dropped the harsher rhetoric he has employed against Wall Street.
"The only thing that we’ve said is that we’ve got to make sure that we’re not doing some of the same things we were doing in the past that got us into this mess in the first place. When I mention changes in the financial services industry, it is very important for us not to find ourselves in a position in which banks get too big to fail, and if they make bad decisions, taxpayers have to bail them out or we let the entire economy collapse. That’s not a choice that I want any future president to have to make," Obama said.
Gone were the references to "fat cats" and the "battalions of financial industry lobbyists descending on Capitol Hill." Instead, Obama talked about partnering with Wall Street to get the economy growing again.
“It’s a two-way street. If you’re making a billion dollars a year after a very bad financial crisis, where eight million people lost their jobs and small businesses can’t get loans. Then I think that you shouldn’t be feeling put upon. The question should be how can we work with you to grow the economy?”
The kinder, gentler Obama comes less than a week since Obama appointed Elizabeth Warren to oversee the formation of the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. Many on Wall Street believe Warren takes too much of an oppositional stance toward banks and the financial sector.
Obama faces a difficult challenge when it comes to Wall Street. On the one hand, critics say that Obama's harsh words for the financial sector may be inhibiting growth by creating an anti-business climate. Forty-seven percent of respondents in a recent CNBC poll said that increased regulation under the Obama administration is bad for the economy. Just 34% said the regulations were good for the economy.
On the other hand, the public is still angry about the financial bailouts and concerned that Capitol Hill is overly influenced by Wall Street and the nation's largest financial institutions.
Obama appeared to thread that needle today by praising the free-market while criticizing "reckless decisions" that he said had "brought the economy to the verge of collapse" by the time he took office.
"The only thing that we’ve said is that we’ve got to make sure that we’re not doing some of the same things we were doing in the past that got us into this mess in the first place," Obama told the Town Hall audience.
Later, Obama was asked by Skybridge Alternatives hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci "when are you going to stop wagging at the Wall Street pinata?"
"I have been amused over the last couple of years by this sense of me beating up on Wall Street. Most folks on main street feel like they got beat up on. There's a big chunk of the country that thinks I've been too soft on Wall Street," Obama said.