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Jewish World Review
Nov. 12, 2009
/ 25 Mar-Cheshvan 5770
Obama should heed his own lofty words
"I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together. ..." — candidate Barack Obama, March 18, 2008
There was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, minding its own business — or rather the business of its 300,000-plus members. It was about to launch the Campaign for Free Enterprise, a multiyear, multimillion-dollar effort to focus on the power and unlimited potential of free markets and entrepreneurship. The chamber wanted to remind Americans that these longstanding cornerstones of business are what made the country an economic powerhouse, and that the nation needs them if it is to climb out of the recession and create jobs.
But the first round of the upbeat, nonpartisan, avoid-specific-issues, dream-big ad campaign had barely hit the airwaves when the White House declared war.
Not a shooting war, obviously. Political warfare. A full-bore, scorched-earth attempt to stifle dissent and punish all those who dare challenge the man who once talked of Solving Problems Together.
The chamber wasn't alone in this Axis of Effrontery. Democrats have tried to silence health insurers for pointing out the costs of health-care reform, including the cuts planned for Medicare. Fox News is so feared that the administration has warned other media outlets not to repeat what they hear on it.
"That is the true genius of America, a faith ... that we can say what we think, write what we think ... that we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution. ..." — Illinois state Sen. Obama, July 27, 2004
Don't get the wrong idea. The Chamber of Commerce is not led by some quiet, new-to-Washington naif. In his 12 years as president, Thomas J. Donohue has transformed it into a lobbying powerhouse, increasing its membership and budget. He will speak up on behalf of his members "with integrity and absolutely good manners," he told a gathering of local and national chamber leaders in Philadelphia on Oct. 30. At the same time, he said, they should always be prepared for a "barroom brawl."
What has upset the administration is Donohue's outspokenness on some of its pet issues, especially health care and climate change. The chamber leader believes the White House is overreacting.
First, he points out, Americans have the right to petition their government, and he plans to do that on behalf of his members. Second, he and his members support some health-care and environmental legislation. But they are against job-killing, regulation-heavy efforts that could weaken already struggling businesses.
Third, the White House has a short memory. It had the chamber's support on Cash for Clunkers, the auto bailouts, the stimulus, and even the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Donohue points out that some of his members were not happy with those stands, but on TARP and the stimulus package, he says, "The nation was at risk. What was the message we wanted to send to the world?"
"What is called for is ... that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. ... Let our politics reflect that spirit as well." — candidate Obama, March 18, 2008
Donohue thinks Americans are ready for positive messages about improving the economy, such as his Campaign for Free Enterprise.
"We have to remind people what worked and think about it as we look to new approaches coming out of the recession," he says. "And we want to put pressure on the business community to do what we desperately need to do: create 20 million new jobs in the next 10 years."
What worked includes open capital markets, free trade, reasonable taxation and regulation, and "the right to fail," Donohue says. "Many business people failed the first time and then came back and succeeded."
Donohue may get his chance to accentuate the positive, since the administration may be ready for a cease-fire. On Wednesday, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel spoke to the chamber's board of directors. The off-the-record session was later described by a chamber official in terms normally used for diplomatic summits between wary adversaries: "We had a productive and robust exchange on a wide range of issues."
Chances are, after Tuesday's election results, there are some robust exchanges within the White House itself. Perhaps that will lead to a politics of listening, reaching out, and solving problems together.
Or maybe not.
"I don't want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them to just get out of the way. ..." — President Obama, Aug. 6, 2009
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Kevin Ferris is commentary page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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08/05/09: A few words, and then some, from the Obama Center
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© 2008, Philadelphia Inquirer Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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