Working to reaffirm his commitment to creating jobs and to reassure Americans that his administration is a friend of the private sector, President Barack Obama addressed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Monday. But while taking time to address the group may seem like an olive branch offering from the Obama administration, the president’s remarks seemed to demonstrate a continuing divide between the president and the business community.
Throughout the course of his speech, the President stressed that businesses owe certain responsibilities to the nation. “I understand the challenges you face. I understand you are under incredible pressure to cut costs and keep your margins up. I understand the significance of your obligations to your shareholders and the pressures that are created by quarterly reports,” Obama said. “I get it.”
In return, Obama suggested the government’s responsibility is to “encourage American innovation.” The president also used his speech to garner support for his investment priorities, including infrastructure development and education reform.
At times, he was more direct in demanding businesses take on a more charitable role, suggesting that corporate profits “be shared by American workers”:
Of course, your responsibility goes beyond recognizing the need for certain standards and safeguards. If we’re fighting to reform the tax code and increase exports to help you compete, the benefits can’t just translate into greater profits and bonuses for those at the top. They should be shared by American workers, who need to know that expanding trade and opening markets will lift their standard of living as well as your bottom line.
We cannot go back to the kind of economy – and culture – we saw in the years leading up to the recession, where growth and gains in productivity just didn’t translate into rising incomes and opportunity for the middle class.
While he continues to try and move toward the ideological center in the run up to his 2012 reelection bid, his liberal base may not be as supportive as he hopes.
“Two weeks ago the President promised that he would work to rebuild people’s faith in government – meeting with the biggest lobbyists in the country is hardly a step in the right direction,” said Erica Payne, the founder The Agenda Project, a 501(c)4 that works with progressive organizations to coordinate messaging.
The group launched this online ad condemning Obama’s decision to even speak to the Chamber:
“Go talk to whoever you want to, but let’s not have a lot of illusions about who you’re going to talk to,” Payne added. “Obama went to meet with lobbyists for the biggest 45 corporations in the country, all of whom are opposed to very basic reforms, environmentalism, all of it.”
“Let’s just not lie about it,” she said.
In addition, several protesters gathered outside the Chamber building — joined by Ralph Nader — and accused Obama of turning his back on labor unions:
Will the president’s outreach to the business community win him favor with the American public? If the last two years are any indication, this meeting of the minds will likely be short-lived.