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If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.
More than an old adage, that’s a crucial operating principle of presidential leadership. Indeed, it’s a mark of political character, defining whether a president will stand up for the many, or be pushed around by the arrogant few.
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In the past, when over-privileged corporate barons selfishly feathered their already-luxurious nests at the expense of America’s national interests, some U.S. Presidents had the moxie to get in their royal faces. Using what Theodore Roosevelt called the “bully pulpit” of the presidency, those White House champions of the common good confronted the greed of the corporate elite, rallying the larger public to bring them down to earth.
Barack Obama does not seem to have such presidential fortitude. Corporate America has been given a wealth of tax breaks, regulatory favors, and absurd levels of subsidies in recent years, amassing a stash of cash that now tops $2 trillion. But they adamantly refuse to invest that in American jobs and communities. Yet, in a recent meeting with these arrogant powers, Obama showed neither anger nor strength. Rather, he essentially begged them to consider “what you can do for America.” Pretty please. With sugar on it. “I want to encourage you to get in the game” of job creation, he pleaded.
Encourage? Why not demand?
And what did he buy with this genteel appeal to corporate patriotism? He got the corporate thumb jabbed in his eye. “Bottom line,” barked the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief lobbyist after Obama’s plea, “The most patriotic thing a company can do is to ensure it is in business.”
What a perfect expression of today’s prevailing corporate ethic. It’s a perverse twist on John Kennedy’s appeal: Ask not what you can do for your country; ask what you can do for yourself. Why should any President want any part of that?
“Obama to business: ‘Get in the game,'” Austin American Statesman,” February 8, 2011.
“New ties for Obama, Chamber?” Austin American Statesman, February 7, 2011.