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Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 02:14 pm

Obama walks in the wrong direction

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As part of his odd and demeaning determination to hug up America’s avaricious corporate powers, President Obama walked across Lafayette Square on Feb. 7 to enter the imperial gates of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and show deference to the business establishment.

Apparently, his ongoing obsequiousness is an effort to woo corporate donors and show conservative voters how moderate he can be. But does he really think that that either of those groups is going to give any love back?

After all, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

More than an adage, that’s a crucial operating principle of presidential leadership.

Indeed, it’s a mark of political character, defining whether a president will stand up for the many, or be pushed around by the arrogant few.

For example, when overprivileged corporate barons of the past brazenly feathered their already luxurious nests at the expense of America’s national interests, our nation was fortunate to have some presidents who had the moxie to get in their royal faces. Using what Theodore Roosevelt called the “bully pulpit” of the presidency, those White House champions of the common good unflinchingly confronted the greed of the corporate elite, rallying the larger public to bring them down to earth.

Barack Obama does not seem to have such presidential fortitude in him. Corporate America has been given a wealth of tax breaks, regulatory favors and absurd levels of subsidies in recent years, amassing a historic stash of cash in their coffers – now topping an astonishing $2 trillion. But they adamantly refuse to invest that windfall in American jobs and communities.

Yet during the Feb. 7 powwow at the Chamber’s palatial headquarters, Obama did not respond to their selfish recalcitrance with presidential strength and passion. Rather, he kept appeasing, commiserating, cajoling ... even begging. He meekly pleaded with them to consider “what you can do for America.” Pretty please. With sugar on it. “I want to encourage you to get in the game” of job creation, he added.

Encourage? Why not demand?

And what did he buy with his genteel appeal to corporate patriotism? The Chamber jabbed its thumb in his eye. “Bottom line,” barked the Chamber’s chief lobbyist after Obama’s plea, “the most patriotic thing a company can do is to ensure it is in business.”

What a perfect expression of the corporate ethic: Ask not what you can do for your country; ask what you can do for yourself. Why should any president want any part of that?

Good grief, talk about hugging the devil!

For years, the Chamber has pretended to be the lobbying voice of America’s Main Street business, claiming to have 3 million members. After an expose last year by Mother Jones magazine, however, red-faced Chamber officials had to drop their mom-and-pop pose, confessing that only a tenth of that number are actually members. Even that recalibration grossly inflates the organizational truth of whom the chamber represents – for the outfit’s policies are set by a handful of oil conglomerates, Wall Street banks and other huge, self-serving corporations.

Obama ought to know better than to trust any of this bunch. He should remember 2009, when he gave special favors to America’s insurance giants to win their public support of his health care reform. Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber bitterly fought the reforms with a multimillion-dollar blitz of vituperative ads. Where did those millions come from? Five of the largest insurance corporations that were publicly embracing Obama betrayed him by secretly funneling the ad money to the Chamber.

Instead of walking meekly across Lafayette Square in fruitless pursuit of such deceivers, he could stride across Lafayette Square a couple of blocks in the opposite direction. That’d take him to the AFL-CIO, where he could make a symbolic stand of solidarity with the millions of hard-hit working families being crushed by the Chamber’s corporate funders.  

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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