Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Tone-Deaf President

For someone who thinks of himself as (and at times is) a great communicator, Barack Obama has rather badly botched communications the one audience he needs to mend the economy: the business community. Let us count the ways.

First, he instinctively talks using terms that he thinks will register with his base. That was fine when he was in campaign mode, but once he was elected President, he should have changed his default manner of speech. Calling bankers “fat cats” may have brought knowing nods to his community-organizer public, but business people began to wonder what business he would target next.

They soon found out. He sold his health-care plan by demonizing the insurance industry. If the American people didn’t watch out, he warned, the larcenous insurance industry would steal their socks without removing their shoes.

Next came the pharmaceutical industry, or “big pharma,” as he liked to think of them. (Little pharma is apparently okay, as are little banks and little insurance companies. It is only when a business dares to become big that it invites attack.)

Two weeks ago, on the campaign trail, the President visited a small steel company in the rustbelt to “show and tell” how much he was doing for business. “Without these programs,” he boasted, “Stromberg’s workers wouldn’t have been able to compete with foreign companies or non-union firms.”

How’s that again, Mr. President? Don’t you realize that Apple, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, and most of the fastest-growing companies in America are non-union? Are you tone-deaf? Don’t you understand that your comment, televised on CNBC, was a loud message to business that your heart is still with your base, and your base doesn’t include the most dynamic part of the American economy?

A business-savvy communications adviser could have warned Obama that he was sending all the wrong signals, but there is no such person on the White House staff. There will be cosmetic changes, but the President will have to work much harder to convince business leaders that he really understands the machinery of free-enterprise and entrepreneurism, and that he has been converted to Cheerleader-in-Chief.