07/20/2010 12:11 pm ET | Updated Aug 01, 2011

Made in America

Made in America seems to be all the rage in the Capitol right now. Rahm Emanuel promised us that we'd be hearing a lot more from the White House about this over the next few weeks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi previewed the House Democrats' "Make it in America" plan to the President a few days ago. It's perhaps the only issue on which liberals and Tea Party supporters agree. Jeep has launched an ad campaign (which, by the way, looks a lot like a video we premiered in 2007) to link the idea with its new Grand Cherokee. So, what exactly is Made in America?

More on that later. But now, it's important for you to know what BP didn't make in America: the blow-out preventer on its failed rig. When the blow-out preventer on the Deepwater Horizon rig needed to be modified, it was sent to China. According to the UK's Guardian newspaper:

BP ordered the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, whose explosion led to the worst environmental disaster in US history, to overhaul a crucial piece of the rig's safety equipment in China, the Observer has learnt. The blow-out preventer - the last line of defence against an out-of-control well - subsequently failed to activate and is at the centre of investigations into what caused the disaster.
Experts say that the practice of having such engineering work carried out in China, rather than the US, saves money and is common in the industry.

Wow. If China can't keep cadmium and lead out of children's bracelets, it's hard to understand why BP--flush with profits--would trust a Chinese firm to overhaul a key component in the Deepwater Horizon rig simply to save money. This is, after all, a life or death issue for oil rig workers. If the modification in China led to the failure of the blow-out preventer, what a monumental miscalculation it was, costing lives and causing our nation's most severe environmental disaster.

Which leads us back to Made in America. American workers and businesses can certainly make blow-out preventers, as well as thousands of other manufactured products. But for too long, Democrats and Republicans have neglected this critical sector of our economy.

So it should come as no surprise that a new poll by Mark Mellman and Whit Ayres shows that going into the 2010 election cycle, both Democrats and Republicans face a deeply unhappy electorate who are unified in their concern over the loss of American manufacturing jobs and the lack of work being done on the issue by Congress. When asked about prospective economic solutions, pro-manufacturing policies won overwhelming support across demographics including non-union households, independents, union households and Tea Party supporters. The responses in the poll echo a June 21, 2010 article in the Financial Times, which quotes a projection that in 2011 the United States will lose its status as top nation in factory production to China, "thus ending a 110 year run as the number one country."

In the poll of 1,000 likely general election voters, "We have lost too many manufacturing jobs" is the top concern among independents and working class voters, even compared to government debt, loss of life in Iraq and Afghanistan, the high cost of health care, illegal immigration, or terrorism. Some key findings:

  • A majority believe the U.S. no longer has the world's strongest economy--a title they want to regain.
  • 86% of voters want Washington to focus on manufacturing, and 63% feel working people who make things are being forgotten while Wall Street and banks get bailouts.
  • Support for a national manufacturing strategy is overwhelming: 78% of voters across all demographics support such a strategy.
  • Two-thirds of voters believe manufacturing is central to our economic strength, and 57% believe manufacturing is more central to our economic strength than high-tech, knowledge or financial service sectors.
  • Across all demographics, voters' economic solutions center on cracking down on unfair trade with countries like China, investing in clean energy manufacturing, offering tax credits for U.S. manufacturing, and replacing aging infrastructure using American materials, with a surprising overlap between Tea Party supporters, independents, non-union households and union households.

Support for a national manufacturing strategy is growing among serious economists and business leaders as well as labor leaders. Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, wrote a BusinessWeek cover story on this very topic in its July 5 issue. Leaders of Fortune 500 companies such as Bill Ford of Ford Motor Company and Dan DiMicco of Nucor have argued that manufacturing should be boosted to 20 percent of our Gross Domestic Product. Jeff Immelt of General Electric has acknowledged that his company--and America--have simply outsourced too much production and should refocus on making things here again.

So let's get to it. Congress, pass a manufacturing strategy, and reverse what Harold Meyerson has called an American "anti-industrial policy."