Can Obama Succeed by Touting U.S. as No. 1?

Administration officials say the president’s “buy American” boosterism is part of a broader strategy.

US President Barack Obama speaks at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland, on February 4, 2014, detailing progress toward his ConnectED goal of connecting 99 percent of students to next-generation broadband and wireless technology within five years. 
National Journal
Feb. 5, 2014, midnight

It may not be much solace to Amer­ic­ans strug­gling with long-term un­em­ploy­ment and in­come in­equal­ity, but Pres­id­ent Obama had a point when he de­clared in his State of the Uni­on speech that “after five years of grit and de­term­ined ef­fort, the United States is bet­ter-po­si­tioned for the 21st cen­tury than any oth­er na­tion on Earth.”

Many eco­nom­ists say the United States is not just re­cov­er­ing, at long last, from the dev­ast­at­ing blows to U.S. power and prestige de­livered by a self-in­flic­ted re­ces­sion, but that Amer­ica is also back to win­ning, once again, the glob­al eco­nom­ic sweepstakes. While U.S. growth is not es­pe­cially strong and un­em­ploy­ment is still 6.7 per­cent, oth­ers are fal­ter­ing even more at the mo­ment. China has slowed (to a his­tor­ic­ally slow 7.7 per­cent GDP growth), and is sink­ing fur­ther; it may also face a bank­ing crisis. Above all, China ap­pears un­ready to em­brace the so­cial and polit­ic­al change that will trans­form it in­to a next-level in­nov­at­ive eco­nomy. Mar­ket traders aren’t tout­ing the up-and-com­ing “BRIC” na­tions (Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, and China) these days; in­stead they’re fret­ting about the un­depend­able cur­ren­cies of the “Fra­gile Five” (Brazil, In­done­sia, In­dia, Tur­key, and South Africa). Europe is pick­ing up, but re­mains in an ex­ist­en­tial funk over the fu­ture of the Euro­zone, and its debt-laden banks are still drag­ging, with sev­er­al times more lend­ing ex­pos­ure to the un­steady Fra­gile Five eco­nom­ies.

Now, seek­ing to ex­ploit what Obama hope­fully called a “break­through year for Amer­ica,” the ad­min­is­tra­tion is tout­ing its new eco­nom­ic lever­age in world af­fairs as part of an across-the-board strategy. At a seni­or-staff meet­ing held on Jan. 7 to dis­cuss his 2014 agenda, Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry de­clared that “eco­nom­ics is the center­piece of U.S. dip­lomacy” and said he wanted U.S. dip­lo­mats to know that “every­body has got to be an eco­nom­ics of­ficer.” Kerry be­lieves the U.S. is punch­ing un­der its weight in eco­nom­ic af­fairs, and he is look­ing for “ways to lever­age our eco­nom­ic strength,” a seni­or State de­part­ment of­fi­cial told Na­tion­al Journ­al. The sec­ret­ary of State has made a point of work­ing closely with Com­merce Sec­ret­ary Penny Pritzker on pro­mot­ing U.S. en­tre­pren­eur­ship and trade policy. 

As Obama in­dic­ated in his speech, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is also act­ively seek­ing to en­list a busi­ness com­munity that re­mains some­what leery of him. As part of his out­reach, Obama not only brought in Pritzker, a real es­tate ty­coon, as com­merce sec­ret­ary but nom­in­ated Cathy Nov­elli, Apple’s former vice pres­id­ent of gov­ern­ment af­fairs, as un­der­sec­ret­ary of State for eco­nom­ic growth, en­ergy, and the en­vir­on­ment; as well as Charles Rivkin, who be­fore he be­came am­bas­sad­or to France was a Hol­ly­wood en­ter­tain­ment ex­ec­ut­ive, as as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of State for eco­nom­ic af­fairs.

Polit­ic­ally, the ques­tion is wheth­er a less-than-in­spir­ing talk­ing point — sure, most Amer­ic­ans don’t feel great about Amer­ica right now, but we should feel bet­ter than every­one else! — can be a path to Demo­crat­ic elect­or­al suc­cess in 2016. Tout­ing Amer­ica as No. 1 prob­ably won’t do much to rally the Demo­crat­ic base, es­pe­cially since a cent­ral part of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s strategy is to push hard for free-trade agree­ments with Europe and Asia that may only height­en in­come in­equal­ity at home. Lib­er­als are already sus­pi­cious of Obama’s cent­rism and are some­what con­cerned that the party’s po­ten­tial stand­ard-bear­er, Hil­lary Clin­ton, may be more in­clined to fol­low her hus­band’s mod­er­ate, Demo­crat­ic Lead­er­ship Coun­cil-led path than go pro­gress­ive. (Non­ethe­less, Bill Clin­ton’s ap­peals to glob­al­iz­a­tion dur­ing the faster-growth ‘90s were the basis of two suc­cess­ful pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns.)

In the end, Obama’s quix­ot­ic call to Amer­ic­an busi­nesses to “join us” and “do what you can to raise your em­ploy­ees’ wages” will prob­ably make as little head­way as the pres­id­ent’s cease­less ap­peals to the Re­pub­lic­an-led House. “The reas­on busi­nesses are not hir­ing or rais­ing wages is not be­cause they’re act­ing badly and hat­ing Amer­ica. It’s be­cause they’re not see­ing enough de­mand for their stuff,” says eco­nom­ist Heidi Shi­er­holz of the pro­gress­ive Eco­nom­ic Policy In­sti­tute.

Still, when Bob Dylan is out selling Chrysler dur­ing the Su­per Bowl, per­haps the times are a chan­gin’ more than the party’s lib­er­al fac­tion real­izes. In an odd jux­ta­pos­i­tion, Obama is com­bin­ing his free-trade agenda with a sort of neo-pro­tec­tion­ist “buy Amer­ic­an” rhet­or­ic that pleases pro­gress­ives and uni­ons. If eco­nom­ic growth con­tin­ues to pick up over the next two years, that could put the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee in a bet­ter po­s­i­tion than ex­pec­ted in 2016. In his State of the Uni­on, Obama de­clared to cheers that “for the first time in over a dec­ade, busi­ness lead­ers around the world have de­clared that China is no longer the world’s No. 1 place to in­vest; Amer­ica is.” By at least one meas­ure, an A.T. Kear­ney study, he’s right.

If the pres­id­ent con­tin­ues to be right — and if he suc­ceeds in get­ting that mes­sage out — the eco­nom­ic story could start look­ing a lot more fa­vor­able for Demo­crats.

What We're Following See More »
AVOIDS SHUTDOWN WITH A FEW HOURS TO SPARE
Trump Signs Border Deal
1 weeks ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump signed a sweeping spending bill Friday afternoon, averting another partial government shutdown. The action came after Trump had declared a national emergency in a move designed to circumvent Congress and build additional barriers at the southern border, where he said the United States faces 'an invasion of our country.'"

Source:
REDIRECTS $8 BILLION
Trump Declares National Emergency
1 weeks ago
THE DETAILS

"President Donald Trump on Friday declared a state of emergency on the southern border and immediately direct $8 billion to construct or repair as many as 234 miles of a border barrier. The move — which is sure to invite vigorous legal challenges from activists and government officials — comes after Trump failed to get the $5.7 billion he was seeking from lawmakers. Instead, Trump agreed to sign a deal that included just $1.375 for border security."

Source:
COULD SOW DIVISION AMONG REPUBLICANS
House Will Condemn Emergency Declaration
1 weeks ago
THE DETAILS

"House Democrats are gearing up to pass a joint resolution disapproving of President Trump’s emergency declaration to build his U.S.-Mexico border wall, a move that will force Senate Republicans to vote on a contentious issue that divides their party. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Thursday evening in an interview with The Washington Post that the House would take up the resolution in the coming days or weeks. The measure is expected to easily clear the Democratic-led House, and because it would be privileged, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be forced to put the resolution to a vote that he could lose."

Source:
MILITARY CONSTRUCTION, DRUG FORFEITURE FUND
Where Will the Emergency Money Come From?
1 weeks ago
THE DETAILS

"ABC News has learned the president plans to announce on Friday his intention to spend about $8 billion on the border wall with a mix of spending from Congressional appropriations approved Thursday night, executive action and an emergency declaration. A senior White House official familiar with the plan told ABC News that $1.375 billion would come from the spending bill Congress passed Thursday; $600 million would come from the Treasury Department's drug forfeiture fund; $2.5 billion would come from the Pentagon's drug interdiction program; and through an emergency declaration: $3.5 billion from the Pentagon's military construction budget."

Source:
TRUMP SAYS HE WILL SIGN
House Passes Funding Deal
1 weeks ago
THE DETAILS

"The House passed a massive border and budget bill that would avert a shutdown and keep the government funded through the end of September. The Senate passed the measure earlier Thursday. The bill provides $1.375 billion for fences, far short of the $5.7 billion President Trump had demanded to fund steel walls. But the president says he will sign the legislation, and instead seek to fund his border wall by declaring a national emergency."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login