Today's must-read op-ed comes from Home Depot founder Ken Langone, who talks about the president's alternate wooing and booing of the business community. At a recent town hall meeting, Langone himself asked the president why he was villifying business leaders who are creating growth. "Instead of offering a straight answer," Langone writes to Obama in the first person, "you informed me that I was part of a 'reckless' group that had made 'bad decisions' and now required your guidance, if only I'd stop 'resisting' it."
And so Langone fires back in a way that must have every businessman and woman in the country nodding their head in agreement:
Your insistence that your policies are necessary and beneficial to business is utterly at odds with what you and your administration are saying elsewhere. You pick a fight with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, accusing it of using foreign money to influence congressional elections, something the chamber adamantly denies. Your U.S. attorney in New York, Preet Bahrara, compares investment firms to Mexican drug cartels and says he wants the power to wiretap Wall Street when he sees fit. And you drew guffaws of approving laughter with your car-wreck metaphor, recently telling a crowd that those who differ with your approach are "standing up on the road, sipping a Slurpee" while you are "shoving" and "sweating" to fix the broken-down jalopy of state.
That short-sighted wavering—between condescending encouragement one day and hostile disparagement the next—creates uncertainty that, as any investor could tell you, causes economic paralysis. That's because no one can tell what to expect next.
None of us knows what to expect next. Here's the opening of the President's weekly address from last weekend:
If you're out of work or facing foreclosure, all that really matters is a new job. All that really matters is a roof over your head. All that really matters is getting back on your feet. That's why I'm fighting each and every day to jumpstart job-creation in the private sector; to help our small business owners grow and hire; to rebuild our economy so it lifts up a middle class that's been battered for so long.
Sounds great—but wait a minute. The bright shining moment passes as he launches into an attack on Republicans for proposing a 20 percent cut in education spending and promotes his trillion-dollar government takeover of the student loan industry. By the end, he says he's prepared to make the "tough choices" on the budget, yet he takes any slowdown in education spending off the table. So he vows to "continue fighting," knocking down straw men who don't believe in each child's potential, and never goes back to talking about job creation or the private sector. He seems to understand at first that middle class families are cutting back spending, concerned about their jobs and their houses—yet he doesn't connect with that broad current of fiscal restraint and apply it to government spending.
Just one example, but it explains why so many people polled by Gallup recently, when asked to describe the federal government in a single word or phrase, answered "confused." Not "confusing," as in "I can't understand it," but "confused" as in indecisive, dysfunctional, mixed up, and frustrating—all answers that were given. In fact, 72 percent of the responses about the government were negative. You can click on the list of the original verbatim responses just above the cool graphic of the most-used words. They're in alphabetical order, with all the ones marked "[profanity deleted]" listed at the end. There are some that make you laugh out loud, but scrolling through the 23 pages of words is sobering. You can go for pages while no one—Democrat, Republican, or independent—says even one positive thing about the federal government or our president's leading of it.
The few people who can tell what to expect from the government are not expecting good things at all. No wonder the number of Americans who feel our country is on the wrong track is so high. And no wonder so many Democratic incumbents are in trouble in the polls. As one man in the Gallup survey—a Democrat from Pennsylvania—described the government: "Needs overhaul."
Image courtesy of GALLUP.