At Obama fundraiser, no one mentions private equity

May 15, 2012, 8:15 PM UTC

FORTUNE — At a Democratic Party fundraiser, I guess it’s inappropriate to mention the elephant in the room.

President Obama last night spent time at the Park Avenue apartment of Blackstone Group (BX) president Tony James, to press the Wall Street flesh and collect $35,800 per plate. It came just hours after his campaign launched its first formal attack on Mitt Romney’s record running Bain Capital — a private equity firm not terribly dissimilar from Blackstone. Talk about awkward!

While an Obama spokeswoman had been careful to say “no one is… questioning private equity as a whole,” she also added that “it’s legitimate to question whether those are the values America needs in a president.” That’s right private equiteers: Obama isn’t questioning your right to make money. He’s questioning your adherence to American values.

To his credit, at least Obama’s Bain bomb came before the dinner. That way, he wouldn’t be able to avoid questions from supporters who happen to make their living by using massive amounts of debt to acquire companies (some of which fail, causing layoffs, etc.).

But here’s the thing: A source tells me that not only did Obama not specifically mention private equity during his prepared remarks, but none of the attendees asked about it during a question-and-answer session.


Look, I agree with some of Obama’s broader critiques of private equity (particularly of dividend recaps, whereby PE firms can profit on companies they help destroy). But he made some very questionable claims yesterday morning, and no one called him on it when given the chance last night.

Even if such reticence was born of not wanting to fight with the guest of honor, such give-and-take could only make Obama a stronger candidate vs. Romney come the fall. Or maybe the private equity faithful were simply awe-struck by how Obama could bash them one moment, and take their money the next. Kind of like sweet-talking a company into a leveraged buyout that might later leave it penniless.

Either way, it was an opportunity lost. For everybody.

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