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Judging Obama’s Relaunch

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Posted on Feb 9, 2011

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

Is President Obama a friend of business or a critic of business? The answer: Yes.

A close reading of Obama’s speech this week to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce allows you to conclude pretty much whatever you are inclined to conclude about his actual view. And that tells you a great deal about the current phase of his presidency.

Obama now has three overlapping objectives. He is trying to recapture the magic of 2008 when he was more a preacher of hope and inspiration than the representative of a particular ideology. He wants to foil Republican efforts to center the national debate on a choice between big and small government. And he is trying to woo back independent voters, but in a way that solidifies rather than alienates his left-of-center base.

Put another way, he wants to be an effective Democrat to Democrats and a post-partisan to post-partisans. He’ll do this by being a president leading the nation rather than a prime minister herding his party’s legislation through a cranky, balky Congress.

And why not? Republican control of the House ended a two-year parliamentary phase of unified party government. Now, Obama either needs Republicans to pass legislation or he needs to pick the right fights with them. His meeting with House Republican leaders Wednesday was the opening act of what will be an intricate and engrossing drama.


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His aides have another way of seeing all this: Obama feels like himself again, the guy who managed to talk to everyone except the most entrenched right-wingers who thought he was a radical “Muslim” during the 2008 campaign, and still do.

One other thing: Obama seems genuinely happy in his work.

Judging by reactions to Obama’s Chamber speech Monday, there is a Rorschach quality to his rhetoric these days. People are hearing either what they want to hear or what they were inclined to hear before he even opened his mouth.

The speech made such a response easy. It included many words of praise for business, for capitalism, a pledge “to make America the best place on earth to do business” and a promise to “remove ... outdated and unnecessary regulations.”

But it was also full of challenges, and, one might even say, implicit criticisms.

Obama spoke of the country’s “widening chasm of wealth and opportunity,” warned that “the perils of too much regulation are also matched by the dangers of too little,” and told the business crowd that if government helps business, the economic 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 standards of living as well as your bottom line.”

And there was more than a whiff of economic nationalism—or, as Obama would prefer, patriotism: “Ask yourselves what you can do to hire more American workers, what you can do to support the American economy and invest in this nation.” He didn’t say “or else,” which those to his left might have liked. But he did set himself up for a tougher economic argument down the road.

It’s not likely he converted the Chamber of Commerce crowd, which interrupted the body of the speech only twice for applause. And some asked why he didn’t speak before a friendlier business group, rather than gracing the chamber, which spent millions to deliver the “shellacking” the president suffered in November. Rewarding your enemies makes your friends wonder about the benefits of loyalty.

Yet the president’s lieutenants are pleased with the way things are going. They’re satisfied that they are making a consistent case for a mixture of government action and fiscal prudence to promote economic growth. They’re relieved that a White House known for meandering from theme to theme in its first two years is now showing great discipline in sticking with its “win the future” motto. And they’re convinced that the Obama of 2011, like the Obama of 2008, is making a broadly progressive argument that is nonetheless hard to pigeonhole according to the ideological conventions of the past. As they see it, he is neither capitulating nor triangulating, but simply trying to be Obama.

You might say that the president who helped save the American auto industry has ditched Pontiac-style politics for the fresher look of the Chevy Volt. The new product has yet to be tested by market turbulence, but its launch will be the stuff of business school case studies.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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By john polifronio, February 15, 2011 at 7:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When Goldman Sachs gave Obama a huge amount of money, to take the presidency away from Hillary, it was the end of the game for me.  He “accepted” the money from Goldman Sachs, something he had to do, if he had any chance of prevailing over her, something, which even with their criminal largesse, and his criminal acceptance of their gift, was not enough to win the popular vote for him.  Anyone who bothers to take a close look at the primary contest between Obama and Hillary, will see, that he almost certainly lost the contest.  Obama won with the delegates, not with the voters.  Obama told the world, that he would be beholden to Goldman Sachs, and all the rest of his sordid beneficiaries, before he took office.  This is why he made all his most important giveaways to big business, at the beginning of his presidency.  He knew that the public memory was pathetic.  He knew that all he had to do, is give the masses a few crumbs, and they would certainly forget what he had done to this country, and would re-elect him.  He remained silent as his supporters sought to make Hillary and Bill Clinton out to be racists.  For this and many other lies and deceptions, I have nothing but contempt for him.

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By realveive, February 11, 2011 at 7:48 pm Link to this comment

If we turned our capitol into Cairo West do ya think Obama would get a clue?  All he needs to do is walk the talk he gave us during his campaign.  If he can’t or won’t do that then he should just walk.  Joe Biden would probably do better and he sure couldn’t do worse.
HEY, BARACK, most Americans are treading water or sinking, DO SOMETHING!!!!!!!!!

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By question, February 11, 2011 at 2:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In other words, he’s pursuing a total fool’s errand:  trying to please everyone all the time by finessing his speechifyin’ & spewing hot air out of both sides of his mouth so he can cover his pockets later on.  He continues to prove that he actually STANDS for nothing as either POTUS or a Dem, whatever his personal beliefs.  Robert Fisk recently referred to Obama’s policies as “weak & vain”.  Perfect synopsis.

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By Judy, February 10, 2011 at 11:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Once I figured out that this man who calls himself POTUS was actually
POTCS (president of the corporate state), I stopped listening to him
and stopped drinking his cool-aid.  I never really liked cool-aid anyway.

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RayLan's avatar

By RayLan, February 10, 2011 at 7:12 pm Link to this comment

Is he friends with business? - it bought and sold Brand Obama to carry out the corporate agenda - tax cuts for the rich and a nice expensive war. Gee even the Health Care bill my get repealed, though I doubt it, gifting the Medical Insurance industry as it does. The dismantling of the New Deal is in progress -with very little resistance from our Hero.

With friends like him who needs enemies? This treacherous shapeshifter is scarier than any bullet-spitting Tea Partier.

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adc14's avatar

By adc14, February 10, 2011 at 6:08 pm Link to this comment

Obama’s mouth must be ambidextrous—how else do you talk out of two sides of it at the same time? Talk is cheap by the way and with O gets cheaper every second.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, February 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm Link to this comment

A: More Obama will mean more Bush.

I’ve seen plenty of idiotic nonsense on this blog, but this one takes the cake.

You are hereby accorded the Drivel of the Year Award.

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By Alan, February 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

(typo corrected)
Rhetoric shmetoric!  Don’t look at his duplicitous
words, look at his unambiguous deeds.
Obama is Bush by other means.
Why aren’t progressives putting forward an
opposition candidate for the Democratic nomination?
More Obama will mean more Bush.

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By Alan, February 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Rhetoric shmetoric!  Don’t look at his duplictous
words, look at his unambiguous deeds.
Obama is Bush by other means.
Why aren’t progressives putting forward an
opposition candidate for the Democratic nomination?
More Obama will mean more Bush.

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thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, February 10, 2011 at 10:39 am Link to this comment

Stop the wars and their promotions. Work to make the water clean enough to drink. Stop the corporations from destroying the food and the land where it is grown. Stop believing the lie that solutions can be found in corporations supposed altruism. Privatization is a code for pirates.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, February 10, 2011 at 10:20 am Link to this comment

MB: No substance, just semantics.

Welcome to the American way-of-life ...

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, February 10, 2011 at 10:13 am Link to this comment

It must be difficult to write this sort of guff day after day.  Heavy lifting!  Of course, it’s guff about guff; that may make things easier.

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By morongobill, February 10, 2011 at 8:16 am Link to this comment

Right on, Gerard!

Just like the “peace dividend”- all gone with the wind.

The only rock remaining that hasn’t blown away are the politicians and their sycophants, who mouth whatever phrases our “betters” tell them to, in the talking points of the day.

No substance, just semantics.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, February 10, 2011 at 7:58 am Link to this comment


Is President Obama a friend of business or a critic of business? The answer: Yes.

Good choice on both counts.

The Rabid Right think he’s part of the Loony Left and, vice-versa, the Looney Left think he cozying up to the Rabid Right.

In all the rhetoric one fact remains undeniable. If you want to get elected to any political office you need (1) to be Slightly Crazy and (2) get your hands on Mucho Moulah.

Presume that you have N° 2 above. How did you get it? You have friends with “deep pockets”? Did you really think they would not expect “favors” from you as compensation? Or that you could not refuse? Then, you are Slightly Crazy—carry on, but do not expect reelection.

If America’s political system is “rotten”—as a great many on this forum want to believe—then it is money that caused the rot. Spending an hallucinatory half a billion dollars - far too much of which came from private sources - to elect a PotUS is not only grossly overdone but a waste of money.

All the Campaign Hoopla is simply not worth the expenditure, except for an America that needs an Entertaining Circus (to watch on TV) in order to choose a candidate. That his/her candidacy is based upon a political platform of ideas and policy decisions are purely an anecdotal consideration.

We want, first, to think “S/he’s one of us!” Which is why America finds itself in its present Gargantuan Mess.

We are not looking at what matters and are fixated upon notional political movements (either patriotic or tea-totaling or whatever) that seem to ascribe to whatever belief we hold near and dear. And those beliefs are across the entire gamut from Right to Left—from prohibiting abortion to smoking pot wherever and whenever.


Presidential policy is a matter of the nitty-gritty decision-making kind. Not nice, not even fun—but of absolute necessity to run properly a Federated Nation of States. And it matters most upon Economic Policy - despite the fact that there is not much an American PotUS can do about economic policy because Uncle Sam is broke, penniless and in deep, deep debt.

But, who cares. We prefer to think like bankers: “If I owe the bank a thousand dollars, that’s My Problem”. If I owe the bank a billion dollars, that’s the Bank’s Problem!”

Or, in our case, it’s a problem that belongs to China’s Sovereign Fund ...

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By BarbieQue, February 10, 2011 at 2:17 am Link to this comment

EJ DroneOnAndOn Opines: >>“One other thing: Obama seems genuinely happy in his work.”<<

I can’t begin to describe how wonderful this makes me feel.

What is the difference b/w a busload of high school cheerleaders and the Washington comPost press tools?

The cheerleaders put in an honest days work. The least EJ could do is show up on the Sunday shows with his pom-poms.

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By gerard, February 10, 2011 at 1:11 am Link to this comment

Oh, please!  What of stopping the wars and spending that huge amount on economic recovery at home and repairing some of the damage wrought abroad?  What about pulling the military/industrial complex off its dependence on their drug of choice?  What about serious improvement of schools and reform of our violent prison system?  Never a mention?

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