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When Walter
Schubert Met Barack Obama

When Walter
Schubert Met Barack Obama


Walter Schubert, founder of the Gay Financial Network and chairman of the board of the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, gets an audience with President Obama to talk all things stimulus.

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 to offer his tales from the frontline. 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?'

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.

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