When Walter Schubert Met Barack Obama

By Matthew Link

Originally published on Advocate.com February 11 2009 12:00 AM ET

Walter Schubert
established the Gay Financial Network in 1998
and is chairman of the board of the National Gay
and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
,
founded in 2002, but he was still floored
when he was recently asked to meet with President Obama in
the White House. Along with about 50 of
America’s top CEOs (from companies including
Honeywell, IBM, Google, and Aetna) and business leaders,
Schubert was invited to offer ideas about how to get the
United States out of its economic woes.

Schubert sat down
with Advocate.com to offer his tales from the
frontline.

Advocate.com: What was it like to get the call from the White House?Walter Schubert: I was surprised when I got the
call on Tuesday [January 27] saying that it was the White
House inviting me down to D.C. the next day. I
wasn’t expecting anything like that. I know the
National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has grown
in its reach and stature over its six years, and that Obama
has expressed the desire to reach out to various
groups, and I guess we fit the profile… I had
been invited to the White House once when Reagan was
president and twice when Clinton was president, but for
completely different reasons. I was shocked since the
guy hadn’t been president for even two full
weeks. I thought he would have plenty of other things to do
besides calling and having us show up.

Describe what the meeting with Obama was like. After a short briefing, we were taken to the
White House. There was a very attractive Marine in
dress uniform playing a 300-year-old piano in the
Grand Hall -- nice treat for sure. It was really nice. We
went to the East Room of the White House where the
president gave some remarks to a live TV audience on
the importance of the stimulus package and getting the
support of corporations and the business community. It was
funny because friends of mine saw me shaking
Obama’s hand on TV and they were like,
‘What’s going on here?’ We had to have
our cell phones off but there were six or seven texts
for me afterwards. ‘Was that really you on TV
or did you have a double?’

 Walter Schubert x100 (Publicity) | Advocate.com

What did you think of Mr. Obama? I think he was kind of what I expected him to be
-- very down-to-earth. He didn’t have an
air of pretense; he was very genuine, very authentic.
He obviously knows he’s the president of the United
States and he could make people very uptight if he wanted
to, but he was very at ease with himself, and thus
made us all feel comfortable in his presence.

What advice did you give him? I had read Goldman Sachs's research on the
current state of the economy. I agreed with Goldman
Sachs that the current stimulus package wouldn’t
have a quick enough effect on the economy, and that a
capital gains tax cut of any type would have a
profound and immediate stimulative effect,
particularly a capital gains tax cut targeted at the TARP
assets. Valerie Jarrett, the senior advisor to the
president, and Sam Palmisano (CEO of IBM), whom I
shared my ideas with, really liked the idea -- they realize
that without encouraging private investment, especially with
regard to those assets, the possibility of the
government being the steward of 100% of those assets
would be very high.

What do you think the chances are of your ideas
being implemented?
I talked to [out congressman and chairman of the
House Committee on Financial Services] Barney Frank
the next day, and he also liked the idea, but said the
first draft of the bill had already gone through the
House, but maybe it could get into Senate version. [But] it
could take a lot longer since it’s a major
idea. At the end of the day, though, I felt privileged
to be there, and to be able to participate in the process.
Whether it’s my idea or someone else’s that
helps solve the crisis, I don’t care. I think
the American people don’t either -- they just want
the problem solved.