Issue of the week: Obama enters the lion’s den

President Obama gave a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in which he reiterated his case for regulation and health reform and asked for business to work with government.

Don’t blame the February air for the chill inside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s main hall this week, said Nina Easton in President Obama was in the house, addressing the “business group he had vilified over the past year.” He made a stab at humor, saying he wished he had brought a fruitcake. But the quip was telling: “A fruitcake is a notoriously impersonal gesture,” handed out without much concern for “whether the recipient will even like the thing.” The speech seemed written and delivered in a similar spirit. In remarks interrupted all of twice by applause, Obama reiterated his case for regulation and “his much-dreaded health-care reform,” called on executives to step up hiring and pay themselves less, and “argued that industry should follow his lead.” What he didn’t do was convince those in attendance that he’s “really on their side.”

As usual, Obama said one thing and meant another, said Investor’s Business Daily in an editorial. When he asked business to work with government, it sounded like his calls for bipartisanship, which amount to asking Republicans to fold. And though he talked a good game on regulation, “his administration has imposed, perpetuated, or proposed a knotty web of job- and commerce-killing regulations.” The whole speech bristled with subtext, said Jeanne Cummings in When Obama said he wouldn’t have pushed through a huge stimulus program “under normal circumstances,” he was imploring business not to judge him by the first two years of his administration, when he was grappling with an economic crisis. When he thanked the Chamber for “pushing Congress to make more infrastructure investments,” he was asking business to defy the Tea Party and “support new spending” on roads, broadband Internet access, and high-speed rail. And when he exhorted attendees to hire more Americans, he was confessing his fear that the economy won’t start adding jobs by the time his re-election campaign is under way.

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