Conservatives refuse to admit that it has often been politically expedient (and beneficial) to knock President Obama at every turn, regardless of whether the criticism has merit for something other than political sport. This Republican tactic in the media and in Washington — even for ardent conservatives — has become a BORE (Bash Obama, Repeat Endlessly), especially when some of the positions these critics take don't have much ideological consistency.
Such is the case with this week's chatter concerning the president's message to American business leaders about their ethical obligations to the American work force, now that Wall Street has recovered but Main Street remains sick. Pundits such as Fox News Radio's John Gibson railed against President Obama after the speech, calling the president's urging of American businesses "to give back" as nothing more than veiled socialistic talk designed to rob recovering businesses of their profits. Mentions of the dreaded "s-word" ratchet up emotion on talk radio and within the conservative blogosphere, just in time for the annual Republican migration to the Conservative Political Action Conference, but they do little to speak to the ties that bind us together as a nation, both in times of business need and in times of recovery.
President Obama's not-so-subtle message that American businesses have an ethical and — dare I say — patriotic obligation to help restore the national economy for all Americans is not the far-out, extreme leftist political stance that conservative talk radio has been promoting since the president's meeting with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 7. All of the signals from Obama show a genuine concern for rebuilding the business and hiring cultures that have been suffering lately. The president's willingness to keep the Bush-era tax rates should have a stabilizing effect on the small-business climate, one full of folks who often risk being double-taxed and caught in other unfortunate financial capers.
His openness to modifying the health care reform law of 2010 to improve its intended efficiency shows a desire to make sure that businesses do not suffer under the new lawl. Now the president is taking the next step: speaking directly about finding a prudent way to lower the tax burden for businesses here in the United States.
The president is doing his patriotic duty as our leader to create the environment that will bring back America's economic vitality. It's not too much at all for Obama to call on American businesses — many of which benefited in some fashion from the tax-funded series of bailouts starting in 2008 — to do their patriotic duty as well.
Those who characterize Obama's call for businesses to invest in America at this time as some sort of socialistic wealth redistribution — now that profits are increasing — are spreading something themselves: hogwash. The ode to patriotism that a Republican president hummed a few years ago to help American businesses avoid collapse is the same tune that President Obama is singing now. Republicans from President George W. Bush to presidential candidate John McCain of Arizona to the 91 GOP members of Congress who pushed through the October 2008 legislation felt that it was the patriotic and ethical response to ensure that American businesses deemed "too big to fail" were not allowed to do so.
Now is the time to make sure that a nation too big to fail — the United States of America — does not risk doing so while the rates of unemployment (9 percent) and underemployment (some financial experts claim the actual rate may be as high as 22 percent) remain stifling. Communities cannot rebuild after the recession if businesses are not embracing the communities in which they are situated.
If President Obama is going to get us back in harmony again, where both businesses and employees are experiencing an upswing in quality of life (something that has not happened for years now), he must convince business leaders that the "spread the wealth" mantra that conservative pundits accuse him of proposing is actually a "grow the wealth" philosophy, one in which prosperity is shared by more Americans.
This is not an unfair or anti-business position for the president to take, especially considering the consumer-based nature of our economy. The tax base that held up these businesses — often through sacrifices that included actual cuts to services and programs designed to advance the nation (such as the Small Business Administration and other initiatives promoting economic and civic vitality) — should rightfully expect a return on its 2008 investment. Businesses that pretend now that this is some form of "taking care of the poor" seem to have wiped away any remembrance of the corporate welfare from which they benefited just a short time ago.
It is possible that, over the next several years, U.S.-based businesses will continue to benefit from government bailouts, Bush-era tax rates, a reduction in the corporate tax rate and a possible modification of the tax code — by convincing the American people that our businesses are worth the gamble. Asking these businesses to do the same — to take the risk that American families, employees and students who will be the next work force are worth it — is not socialism. Instead, it is a demand that the American people should be able to make in order to advance as a nation. What better person to present that demand than the one politician not tied to any one congressional district, state or segmented constituency?
At some point, Americans on both sides of this debate — the business leaders and fortunate business owners who have found success, as well as those lower- and middle-class workers striving to grasp their own version of the American Dream — are going to have to own up to their mutual obligation to reinvest and sacrifice in order to rebuild America from the core outward and not from the top down. President Obama's message to business leaders went to the heart of this matter.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the host of the morning radio show Launching Chicago With Lenny McAllister at 5 a.m. on WVON, The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM. He is the author of an upcoming edition of the book The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010): Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative). Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.