Last Wednesday, President Obama met with 20 leaders of major corporations to discuss cooperation on job growth and economic recovery.  This bridge-building is a departure from the current administration’s typically contentious attitude toward Big Business.

Following on the heels of his recent tax-cut compromise with congressional republicans, Obama’s four-hour meeting with chief executives from Boeing, GE, Cisco, and others ended with the President’s request to report back in a month with new concepts and strategies to help the floundering economy.  This gesture has been dismissed by some as empty, however: “I think they have reached out to a small cadre of corporate CEOs ever since they've been here. They clearly are continuing to do that,” said Bruce Josten, Executive VP for Government Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Skeptics of Obama’s overtures have good reason to be wary.  For the last two years, the White House, both directly and through its departmental appointees, has blamed the private sector for many of the country’s current struggles and put pressure on a vast array of enterprises through punishing regulations.  The Chamber of Commerce itself was the target of election season attacks by the President and the Democratic leadership; as ATR reported at the time, these largely backfired.  In addition, the Deepwater Horizon spill this summer gave the administration ammunition in its continuing “green” war against the fossil fuel industry, banning further offshore oil exploration for years to come.

Indeed, Obama’s newfound solicitousness seems to be based more on his old thinly veiled redistributionist rhetoric than a substantial change in attitude toward American business. In his own words, he wanted his guests to provide “ideas that will help businesses to invest in America and American jobs, at a time when they are holding nearly $2 trillion on their books.”  Increased employment and investment is a grand thing, but the President’s emphasis on company holdings shows the true foundation of his thinking: Wall Street and corporate America are keeping money from the public, money to which they have little or no right.

The truth, of course, is that both companies and investors will only throw their money around to the public’s benefit when it is economically safer to do so.  That this hasn’t happened yet shouldn’t be an indication of Gekko-esque greed, as the Obama administration and their Democrat allies would have us believe, but rather an indication that business leaders have seen through Obama’s half-hearted overtures and perceived his ingrained enmity against private American businesses.  The President will only attain the trust of the commerce community at large if he makes clear that the federal government won’t be regulating and taxing as if it’s going out of fashion: Obama must end any political attacks against the Chamber or similar organizations, call for a permanent extension of the Bush tax hikes, and rein in the EPA, USDA, DOL, and other federal agencies which are harming our economy through excessive regulations on American companies.