The Obama Watch

Managing the Non-Recovery

It takes a special skill to pull that off.

By 8.22.12

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Where are the jobs? That's the first question we should be asking in what's now become the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression -- or, more precisely, the longest non-recovery since the 1930s.

"More than 23 million Americans are either unemployed, underemployed, or have given up looking for work," reported the Bureau of Labor Statistics in July, the federal government's principal fact-finding agency regarding unemployment, economics and statistics.

Here's the second question: Why hasn't President Obama met with his Jobs Council for seven months?

A similar question was asked by a reporter at the White House press briefing on July 18.

Reporter: "On the Jobs Council, obviously they've reported to haven't met formally or publicly for six months. Why exactly is that?"

After White House Press Secretary Jay Carney answered with a non-answer, the reporter tried again.

 Reporter: "So there's no reason they haven't met publicly?"

Press Secretary Carney: "No, there's no specific reason except that the president's obviously got a lot on his plate."

And that's no lie. There'll be broiled chicken and green beans on Mr. Obama's plate at a fundraiser in Florida, followed by a plate of chicken and broccoli in Iowa, and then a plate of chicken and mashed potatoes in Ohio, etc., etc., etc.

In all, Obama's stacked up a record of 120 fundraisers in seven months.

And not all of it was the same old banquet chicken. The price of admission earlier this month to the lavish fundraiser at the ocean front compound in Connecticut of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was $35,800 per person, $71,600 a couple.

Getting a lot on his plate that day, Mr. Obama attended a $500 per person Connecticut fundraiser at the Marriot in Stamford just two hours before his motorcade pulled up at his second fundraiser of the evening at the Weinstein mansion.

Weinstein's "Presidential menu," created and cooked by two-time James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Nischan and his team, opened with an heirloom tomato salad over pickled cucumbers "from the chef's garden," followed by an entrée of locally engineered and locally raised heirloom chicken (chicken again, but politically correct birds this time), served with potato tarts and shaved sweet carrots and local bok choy, with skillet seared with misco and agave. For dessert, local honey and local berries over pan-fried angel food cake.

With 120 fundraisers in seven months, not counting golf, who has time to meet with the Jobs Council? Why put unemployment on the front burner when there are heirloom chickens in the oven?

A research report from J. P. Morgan examined the prior private sector experience of 432 cabinet members in presidential administrations since 1900, including secretaries of Commerce, Treasury, State, Interior, Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Energy (and excluding Navy, Postmaster General, War, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and Health, Education & Welfare).

Half or more of the cabinet members in the following administrations had prior private sector experience: Eisenhower 57 percent, Reagan 56 percent, George W. Bush 55 percent, Nixon 53 percent, Wilson 52 percent, George H. Bush 51 percent, Franklin Roosevelt 50 percent, Truman 50 percent.

Prior private sector experience ranged from 49 percent to 40 percent in the following administrations: Harding 49 percent, Coolidge 48 percent, Johnson 47 percent, Ford 42 percent, Hoover 42 percent, Taft 40 percent.

And the presidents with the lowest percentages of cabinet members with prior private sector experience: Clinton 39 percent, Teddy Roosevelt 38 percent, Carter 32 percent, Kennedy 30 percent, Obama 8 percent.

Unfortunately, even these "private sector experience" numbers overstate the case. The CEO of Solyndra would be included as "private sector" if President Obama would have bumped him up to the cabinet as Secretary of Energy.

Perhaps it's Obama's record-breaking lack of cabinet level "private experience" that explains the administration's failures with job creation, the apparent lack of understanding and appreciation in this White House about the role of profit, investment, small business, risk-taking and entrepreneurship.

It's not unlike putting a group of people in charge of a zoo who know next to nothing about animals.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.