The Da­ley Show

Why out­reach to busi­ness is not an au­to­matic win­ner

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

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.

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