After watching a few minutes of President Obama’s appearance on the townhall style “Investing In America” forum held on CNBC yesterday, you couldn’t help but get the feeling that Obama was being made to play the role of Bad Santa, because just about everyone in the audience who had a question for him sounded like they were complaining to the mall Santa Claus that they didn’t get anything they wanted last Christmas.
Except the president isn’t Santa Claus.
Nor is President Obama anywhere as powerful or as omnipotent as the CEO’s of the nation’s largest companies. The tag line CNBC chose to advertise yesterday’s meeting—“our nation’s CEO, face to face with his shareholders”—was as inaccurate as my Santa Claus analogy. Corporate CEO’s have much more control over the corporate governance process than the president of the United States has over America’s government.
For people like the black woman, a self described CFO of an unnamed company who tried to put President Obama on the spot yesterday because an endless supply of turkeys hadn’t magically appeared in her pot after he was sworn in, I would have to assume that she is just suffering from a temporary case of historical amnesia. Many of the economic changes that occur in this country happen gradually, not suddenly. Paradigm shifts usually depend on the confluence of multiple factors, only one of which would be direct influence from the White House.
You would think that a CFO would have a better grasp of macro economic trends than the typical man on the street.
The black woman’s question, “is this my new reality?” at the end of her statement is much more relevant than the “I'm exhausted of defending you” soundbite she uttered at the beginning, a soundbite that TV producers will replay over and over all the rest of this week. Being angry at the president is meaningless if the fundamentals of how our economic system works escapes even people like our friend the CFO.
The owner of Susquehanna Glass, an audience member who spoke to the president later on in the broadcast, did a better job than most of the blow dried, blow hard analysts on CNBC who do nothing more than chortle the same old worn out economic chestnuts—“higher taxes prevent job creation”, “regulation costs business owners too much”, and my personal favorite, “the uncertainty caused by this administration make corporations wary of making new investments in their businesses”—day after day, frightening many of their Everyman viewers who believe anything someone on TV tells them.
“I believe you are investing in this country, as small businesses invest. And yet for some reason the public just doesn’t get it. I need you to help us understand how you can regain the political center, because you’re losing the war of sound bites, you’re losing the media cycles.”
"Help us understand how you can regain the political center."
This is actually the sixty four thousand dollar question, but it is the one that our fluff and innuendo driven political talk shows will ignore in favor of the lines like “I'm exhausted of defending you” that have more of an emotional hook. Our media is much more interested in portraying President Obama as “Bad Santa” than actually dealing with the fact that our consumer driven economy is currently tapped out, with no fresh appreciation in home equity to borrow to maintain the depth and breadth of consumption our nation enjoyed during the late 1990’s through the middle of the next decade.
The president’s toolbox that he can use without dealing with Congress is very limited. So many jobs and economic depend on the federal budget that he can’t even propose sweeping cuts without an outcry from Congress, who have to approve his proposal.
I believe that this increased presence of people who were formerly outsiders looking in at the process of government bodes well—it means we have more people who are poised to begin to have an understanding of their vested interests in the outcomes of public policy decisions. But one of the bad things about the binary nature of the political discussion in this country is the way it can often elevate terrible ideas to prominence, in a way that confers some sense of legitimacy to poor public policy choices.