Barack Obama promised that, if elected, he would create more jobs for Americans.
Yet for the most part, all President Obama has created so far is confusion over his stance on the jobs Americans already have – and the ones they’ve lost.
In fact, you could say it’s a full-time job keeping up with all of the president’s incarnations on the employment issue.
There is Obama the pragmatist who, during a recent online town hall meeting, dished out some straight talk.
In fielding a question about when outsourced jobs would return to the United States, Obama acknowledged that “not all of these jobs are going to come back” because there are so many countries that pay workers much lower wages than Americans would want to do the same jobs.
The goal, he said, was to “go after the high-skill, high-wage jobs of the future” and create positions that can’t be outsourced to the lowest bidder.
But then there is Obama the protectionist who, during a primary election debate last year with Hillary Clinton, tried to sweet-talk displaced workers and organized labor.
In that exchange, Obama demanded that the United States take steps to discourage outsourcing of jobs. Obama said the government should “stop providing tax breaks for companies that are shipping jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that are investing here in the United States of America.”
How you see all this – either a shameful flip-flop or a commendable evolution – depends on where you stand on the Obama presidency.
I am willing to give the chief executive the benefit of the doubt and go with the latter. And, as such, I like the new Obama much better than the old one. I just hope he doesn’t regress.
With rising unemployment, and many Americans either out of work or worried about losing their jobs, now is the perfect time for Obama to show real leadership by telling U.S. workers the hard truth about globalization – about how it is here to stay, even if many jobs aren’t.
More often, politicians take the easy way out and try to coddle the American laborer with protectionist rhetoric while offering up countries such as China and India as convenient scapegoats.
So what if Americans are in no mood to compete with foreign workers or even with one another? The contest has been long under way, whether we like it or not. We can lace up our sneakers, or we can forfeit the race.
No matter what candidate Obama said during the campaign, I think President Obama understands that basic principle.
He surely understands now that American workers can’t survive in the international job market as long as they’re in a defensive position demanding that the government cordon them off from the rest of the world. That said, hopefully, we’ve heard the last echo of protectionism from this administration.
Instead, we could use more of the accountability we saw this week in how the Obama administration handled the fate of General Motors Chief Executive Rick Wagoner.
In an extraordinary but easily justifiable move, it forced Wagoner’s resignation as part of the bailout plan for the ailing automaker. In a statement posted on the GM Web site, Wagoner acknowledged that Obama administration officials had asked that he “step aside” as CEO and that he complied.
The government has loaned GM a staggering $13.4 billion, and it plans to dish out billions more. Yet, the automaker hasn’t improved.
The Obama administration this week gave GM – and Chrysler – failing grades for their efforts to turn themselves around and threatened extensive overhauls of both companies.
Don’t feel bad for Wagoner, who still could walk away with a retirement package worth more than $20 million, although some officials are trying to block that compensation. If Wagoner ends up with the money, you can expect more public outrage from American taxpayers. What happened to reserving the rewards for those who succeed?
Meanwhile, what some Americans are most worried about is the government taking the unusual step of pushing out the CEO of a private company.
But GM stopped being purely private when it accepted billions in bailout money. With taxpayer funding comes the strings. You can’t have one without the other.
That’s another important message that Americans need to hear right about now. And who better to convey it than the president of the United States?
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist and editorial board member of The San Diego Union-Tribune. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org