By J.F. McKenna
Jack Kelly, in op-ed form, keeps me company this sunny morning in Pittsburgh. The columnist writes for both Toledo’s Blade and Pittsburgh’s Post-Gazette. Given the fact that his readership includes a Cleveland native, Kelly can claim an audience that is contiguous as well as concerned.
Like the rest of America, the region around Lake Erie continues to sag economically. That’s Rev. Kelly’s sermon this day—a column-length accounting with which all of us are far too familiar. A stubborn unemployment rate. A plague of higher energy costs. A national poverty rate now above 15 percent and heading in the wrong direction. A medium family income more than 7 percent lower than it was in 2009.
Kelly’s reportage makes me want to eat my eggs and toast faster, as a defensive reaction. So I do.
With morning news “playing” in the background, I wash down my hastily consumed breakfast with coffee and a few more paragraphs from Kelly’s column:
“Job growth in the Obama ‘recovery’ looks especially anemic compared to the Reagan recovery from arguably a worse recession. In 1982, the unemployment rate almost doubled—from 5.6 percent to 10.8 percent. The Reagan recovery lasted for 72 months, during which an average of 344,000 new jobs were created each month.
“The Obama ‘recovery’ would look even worse if it weren’t for all the Republican governors elected in 2010. According to Conn Carroll at the Washington Examiner, states with Republican governors have an average unemployment rate of 7.6 percent—1.2 percentage points lower than states with Democratic governors.
“The difference between Reagan’s success and Mr. Obama’s failure is policy, which the statistic about the governors underscores.”
To Gov. Kasich, I would offer a mouthful of thanks if I could politely. Come breakfast on Election Day—even at the risk of breaching etiquette—I’ll have to say, “Check, please!”
The time has come to make a choice. For me, for Cleveland and for points east and west. This fall’s presidential election is a referendum on stewardship, particularly economic stewardship. And, frankly speaking, the current President has proved to be a poor steward.
Likeability aside, President Obama lacks the economic literacy required for the 21st century. I’ve worked for a few bosses who oozed amicus humani generis from every pore, but couldn’t keep their businesses from tanking. They simply didn’t have the understanding and experience to keep the doors open. Mr. Obama is a member of those ranks.
Four years ago, the President promised more jobs, better schools, world-class infrastructure. All it takes is a robust economy. In one surprising indictment of the POTUS, liberal Newsweek’s Niall Ferguson writes: “Unfortunately the President’s scorecard on every single one of those bold pledges is pitiful….Welcome to Obama’s America: nearly half the population is not represented on a taxable return—almost exactly the same proportion that lives in a household where at least one member receives some type of government benefit. We are becoming the 50-50 nation—half of us paying the taxes, the other half receiving the benefits.” You don’t need a degree from the Nance College or the Wharton School to grasp that this path heads straight into a brick wall.
And as if economic illiteracy weren’t enough of a handicap in the job, Mr. Obama suffers from acute managerial incompetency. I’m not indulging in election-year name-calling, either. As many great CEOs have told me, a leader plays the hand he’s dealt, especially when he comes to the gaming table voluntarily. In the current White House, the daily schedule begins with lamentations, typically about the previous White House.
But the President’s management failings run deeper than whining. Newsweek’s Ferguson argues that “it’s the President’s job to run the executive branch effectively—to lead the nation. And here is where his failure has been greatest….The inside story…is that the President was wholly unable to manage the mighty brains—and egos—he had assembled to advise him.” Managing big egos is not a challenge exclusive to the Obama administration, but managing them effectively is a critical criterion for a nation in which, as Ferguson writes, “the central problems—excessive financial concentration and excessive financial leverage—have not been addressed.”
Many other critics have argued that the President’s crony management style is at the core of the administration’s problems. That’s hard to argue when one reads these lines from Luigi Zingales’ new book, A Capitalism for the People: “In 2010, we saw the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which was a staggering 2,319 pages long. Things were not always this way. The Glass-Steagall Act, which in 1933 separated investment banking from commercial banking, was just thirty-seven pages long….Tellingly, the Dodd-Frank bill was popularly called the ‘Lawyers’ and Consultants’ Full Employment Act of 2010.’ It may well have created more jobs than Obama’s original stimulus package did.”
Certainly the most troubling weakness of the current administration is its philosophical wrongheadedness: that unquestioned embrace of government first, last and always. A decade ago, Peter Drucker warned America about the danger, pointing out that “the challenges we will face in the next economy are management challenges that will have to be tackled by individuals. Governments will be able to help or hinder. But the tasks themselves are not tasks governments can perform….Government will not become less pervasive, less powerful, let alone less expensive. It will, however, increasingly depend for its effectiveness on what managers and professionals are doing in and with their own nongovernmental organization, and in and with their own lives.”
I stare at the plate once home to my eggs and toast. As I think about Drucker’s assessment, that empty plate is an omen: The next economy is here, with all its attendant management challenges. And when it comes to government, management starts at the voting booth—my choice, your choice, Kelly’s choice.
“Both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama inherited bad economies,” Kelly writes. “Reagan made a boom. Mr. Obama made excuses.”
Time to say, “Check, please!”
J.F. McKenna is a business journalist, communications specialist and former editor and associate publisher of the national manufacturing magazine Tooling & Production. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .