Tuesday's Democratic meltdown should suggest that Americans are not stupid: they have fired the 2010 government and want a new one. For the Democrats, the lesson is in a tough economy you can't claim to want jobs while assaulting job creators. You can't cut the deficit while ridiculing every effort made to suggest cuts in spending. It's not just business leaders who don't trust or even understand the 2010 political leadership, it's the hard-working employees at tens of thousands of companies who don't understand why their government demonizes business while supporting the nearly half of Americans who no longer work or pay taxes.
The Republicans should hear a lesson also. Most of their election votes probably came from people voting against their opponents rather than voting for them. Americans are tired of 2,000-page bills that were voted on without any chance to read, amend or debate. Furthermore, they did not want the government creating new liabilities when the deficit was already getting larger. Not every dissatisfied American is a Tea Party member nor did the Tea Party generate all the Republican votes, but Americans' anger with out-of-control, irresponsible government is real, palpable, and shared by a large segment of thinking Americans.
President Obama needs a new approach if he is to move our nation forward. I suggest he start by embracing business as part of America and part of the solution to our shared challenges. If he shifts from connecting corporations, Wall Street and various industries with pejorative words such as "reckless," "shortsighted," greedy, and "outsourcing," then he can heal a rift between corporate leaders and the Democratic party.
Just Monday I received a pre-election day email from President Obama imploring his followers to vote Democratic. Let me use the president's own words:
"We will fight efforts to privatize Social Security, and stop the other side from handing over the retirement savings of a generation to Wall Street. We refuse to go back to the days when big oil and insurance companies wrote their own rules and ran up record profits, while you paid for it at the pump or faced bankruptcy as health bills piled up."
What's this about privatizing Social Security? The idea hasn't even surfaced in years, yet it was the battle cry of campaigning Democrats. The fact is the Social Security system is in major trouble, and anyone who can read a balance sheet knows that Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other entitlements need to be addressed. What have Republicans done in the last four years while the Democrats controlled Congress? Almost nothing. One Republican Congressman, Paul Ryan, suggested that we slow the growth in Social Security spending by easing up the retirement age and cost of living adjustments. Did the president embrace this modest but noble stand to deal with an impending crisis? No. Instead he attacked Ryan repeatedly as somehow trying to destroy Social Security. So much for leadership.
"Handing over retirement savings over a generation to Wall Street," Obama stated. I am not sure what this means, but the deficit is inter-generational theft stealing from our children. I am not sure why - but the president bailed out a few Wall Street firms. When did Wall Street become evil? Thousands of great companies are traded on Wall Street stock exchanges. Somehow business is now stealing our savings. If the anti-business rhetoric ends, perhaps corporate leaders will feel confident enough in the future to make investments in jobs. As it is, our slower national growth compared to other regions of the world, highly regulated business environment and high corporate taxes (with the threat of more on the way) make doing business and expanding in America very problematic. The anti-business rhetoric from the top simply makes it worse.
The Republicans did not use their time controlling government to address major problems. But the Democrats have simply made our problems worse. The Democrats claim of progress is factually misstated. They passed a pork-laden, union-pleasing stimulus package, expanded health care without any real reform, and further regulated financial markets without addressing the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac elephant-size liabilities in the room.
Our nation faces real challenges that anyone with basic accounting skills can understand. Almost all of our national leaders have zero business experience, have never met a payroll and don't understand that entrepreneurs and businesses -- not government -- creates job. Our political leaders have failed to pursue opportunities to grow our economy through trade agreements while other nations are signing many agreements lowering trade tariffs to zero.
We pay our politicians to make tough choices among competing priorities, but instead they give us rosy scenarios. Leaders in Britain, Spain and other countries have recently confronted similar crises. However, our politicians - of both parties - refuse to address them. The Republicans say no taxes and suggest no spending cuts and the Democrats say no cuts in spending and are eager to squelch investment with new tax increases.
Our nation is facing a certain economic crisis. It's not just the seven million lost jobs in the private sector these past two years - it's that government employment has risen by six figures. It's that our deficit has doubled in a few short years. It's that our infrastructure is crumbling and all our investment money is being borrowed from our children and spent so that the poor, the unemployed and the union pensioners will be certain to get paid. Schools go to four-day weeks so that retired teachers get the benefits they were promised.
Rather than address these issues and take fundamental actions to encourage investment and job creation such as providing tax rate stability, allowing repatriation of dollars taxed overseas and reducing the federal deficit, we have a government led-campaign against the very businesses that create the jobs we need. Sadly, many now extrapolate from the sins of a few bad apples like Enron and Countrywide to blame big companies for America's fall from grace.
Every new attack on U.S. companies, every threatened increase in taxes, every new entitlement/burden from health care to so-called financial reform that ignores the real issues is another disincentive for businesses to invest in America. Until and unless our political leaders of both parties focus on growth strategies encouraging exports, trade, attracting the best and brightest and deficit reduction, our nation will experience a chokehold on our strength in innovation and lose our the advantage of American exceptionalism.
Americans voted Tuesday for a change in government. Let us hope that our new leaders will stop jockeying for the next election and start honestly confronting the biggest challenges our nation faces. President Obama can and must set the tone. If he can shift from campaign leader to leader of the greatest free market economy in the world, we can come back and provide our children what our parents provided us: a better life in the best nation on earth.
Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents more than 2,000 U.S. technology companies. CEA sponsors the Innovation Movement, a grassroots organization of Americans who believe innovation will power future U.S. economic growth. To join the Innovation Movement, visit: http://innovation-movement.com/