Vegas Folding

If you want to know how Barack Obama pays back favors, ask a member of Nevada’s Culinary Workers Union or Service Employees International Union. A year ago, those organizations gave Obama high-profile endorsements before the Nevada caucuses (in which Obama ended up doing very well). So last week, naturally, President Obama warned Americans against spending their money in Las Vegas. Sermonizing to some invisible Wall Street Greedsters at a town hall meeting on Monday, Obama said:

You are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you’ve paid taxpayers back, you can’t get corporate jets, you can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers dime.

But the waiters, housekeepers, and kitchen hands of Las Vegas are also taxpayers, and somehow Obama thinks it’s okay to do a little populist grandstanding on their dime. Wall Street Greedsters may not have been in attendance, but they were in ear-shot: Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo pulled the plug on their Las Vegas junkets, sending Las Vegas’s ailing service industry into a tailspin. According to this report:

The president took particular aim at Las Vegas’ convention business, but the ripple effect of his comments could stretch far beyond the convention floor.

You can detest poker, desert heat, and congested hotels, but Las Vegas is a dazzling symbol of American-style free markets and second only to Hollywood as the soft power capital of the U.S. That’s why formerly constricted countries look so Vegas-like when they loosen the reins on private sector competition.  I was in Moscow ten years ago, when it seemed the Russians had a shot at something more than a comma between nightmares. Vegas-style billboards filled the sky and every block hosted some kind of casino or casino-hybrid.  Nor is the global impact of a Vegas sensibility purely about the marketing of sin. Dubai is an Arab Emirate whose Westernization is largely modeled on Las Vegas — but with little or no gambling and even less exposed flesh. That’s because Las Vegas is, above all else, a blaring testament to the possibilities of free markets.

And President Obama is having none of that.

On the campaign trail, the question arose whether Barack Obama was some sort of democratic socialist or just an opportunist who spoke like a democratic socialist when it suited him. It turns out, as president, the distinction is moot. When you’re in the White House words really do matter, and if you address a financial crisis with lectures on class warfare instead of affirmations of economic dynamism, it has an effect. Conventions are cancelled and workers are laid off. With his moral posturing on “Wall Street greed,” President Obama ended up kicking a Las Vegas service industry already on its knees.