The Daley Show
Why outreach to business is not an automatic winner
ONE OF THE least fortunate aspects of President Obama’s first two years in office was the emergence of a bitter split between the White House and the business community. Policy disagreements between companies and presidents are neither new nor inherently harmful; economic growth does not require any administration to do business’s bidding, nor does corporate America need to kowtow to Washington. But there should be a certain minimum of comity, and that had all but broken down by the end of the 2010 election campaign— during which business leaders sought payback for the alleged regulatory and rhetorical excesses of Democrats by financing Republicans, and the White House political operation demonized the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Though both sides were responsible for the falling-out, Mr. Obama has taken the initiative in ending it. In word and deed, he has tried to show skeptics that he understands the job-creating role of a robust private sector. Especially encouraging examples include his embrace of a free-trade pact with South Korea and his proposal Thursday to allow Mexican long-haul cargo trucks on American highways, a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement that promised to make shipping more efficient but which has been thwarted in deference to the Teamsters union.
The appointment of William M. Daley, a JP Morgan Chase executive and Clinton commerce secretary, as chief of staff may be the grandest symbol of White House business-friendliness yet. Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue could barely contain his excitement, calling it “a strong appointment.” In elevating Mr. Daley, who had publicly chided Mr. Obama for catering to “ the left” — and who had predicted the electoral disaster for Democrats that then ensued — Mr. Obama demonstrated a laudable willingness to accept aid and advice from erstwhile critics.
For those who have worried about the absence of private-sector experience in Mr. Obama’s White House or Cabinet, it’s important to remember what kind of a businessman Bill Daley is. Able as he is, he has never, to our knowledge, started or built a major company of his own. Rather, he has served big, heavily regulated corporations — JP Morgan Chase, Boeing, Fannie Mae — by lobbying and otherwise helping manage what executives euphemistically call “political risk.” That is, Mr. Daley embodies the nexus between big business and big government.
That may be ideal preparation for restoring relations between the corporate sector andWashington. But the corporate sector is not synonymous with free enterprise. What remains to be seen is whether Mr. Daley or the president — who will ultimately set policy — can help create an environment for American capitalism to be more flexible, dynamic and efficient, so that entrepreneurs as well as incumbent firms may take risks, flourish and create jobs. That is the kind of change that the economy desperately needs.