U.S. presidents’ second terms often turn out to be failures in domestic policy, largely because lame ducks are almost by definition political figures of the past. Yet President Barack Obama’s winning coalition is aligned with the future of the country, giving him a fresh chance to lead.
To do so, he must repair his badly damaged relationship with the business community, which overwhelmingly supported Mitt Romney. It’s doable. From avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, to an overhaul of immigration laws, to tax reform, there’s much more common ground than the combatants could acknowledge during the campaign.
The first task is for both the White House and the business world (Wall Street and Main Street) to acknowledge where it was wrong about the other side.
From the start, Obama failed to include enough business executives in his administration. His friend and senior advisor Valerie Jarrett once ran a Chicago real-estate company, but she was seen by business as more of a gatekeeper and liaison in the White House than a true friend. Otherwise, there was no one around the president who had met a payroll, unless you include aides who had run political consulting firms.
The President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness did some good, if little-noticed, work, but it was never fully integrated into the policy-making apparatus.
During his tenure as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass R. Sunstein, a Harvard University law professor and now a fellow Bloomberg View columnist, eliminated more burdensome regulations than he was given credit for. Still, important business activity — from obtaining a government contract to getting a mortgage — remains mired in red tape.
For its part, business must stop acting whiny and petulant about the president. I’m astonished that so many wealthy people were wounded because Obama generically referred to “fat cats” three years ago on 60 Minutes. They need to grow up and recognize that he needed to position himself as the champion of the middle class to get re-elected.
Top executives also need to cut out the “Socialist” talk and admit that the president is anything but a radical. (Obama’s health care law, for instance, is pretty much the Bob Dole-Mitt Romney plan).
And just because the rest of the world reveres business leaders and pretends to listen to their wisdom, Obama doesn’t have to follow suit. He’s the president.
If chief executive officers can put aside their regrets over the outcome of the election, they can be important brokers between the administration and Republicans in Congress.