fresh voices from the front lines of change







That’s the word I’d use to describe the recent leadership of both Political Parties on American jobs, and especially factory jobs. The only development on Monday more depressing than President Obama’s trip to an outsourcing manufacturer in North Carolina was the Republican debate in New Hampshire last night.

The President chose to talk about high-tech jobs at a manufacturer that received generous stimulus funding for clean energy manufacturing and in a state that will be closely watched in the 2012 election. But Cree, a maker of energy-efficient LED lighting, has a plan to manufacture more in China, and already has half of its employment there. While some of the production will be for the Chinese market, if history is any guide, most of that product will end up getting shipped back to the United States. The president could have visited one of thousands of other companies in important electoral states that manufacture domestically for the American market. But he didn’t. So, instead of a big boost for American manufacturing, that event will be remembered for its outsourcing overtones.

Add to the mix the meeting of the president’s jobs council in North Carolina, led by General Electric’s Jeff Immelt. As I’ve said before, Immelt is a poor choice to head this effort because of his astonishing outsourcing record, as well as his unwillingness to get tougher with China on trade and support a more robust American manufacturing strategy. Yes, GE has grown its manufacturing presence in the U.S. over the past two years, but that doesn’t make up for its decades of factory closures and its staunch opposition to reasonable measures that would create a level playing field on trade with China. Judging from the op-ed authored by Immelt and Kenneth Chenault of American Express, if America becomes more like Disneyland, we’ll have a secure economic future. Tourism is great, but we won’t rebuild our economy with tourism at the foundation. That’s why we need a real focus on American manufacturing.

Sadly, while the recovery effort provided some boost to manufacturing, it was not enough to sustain long-term growth. And, there is little indication that this Administration is committed to lowering the trade deficit or getting tough with China on currency, two critical steps that would support millions of good paying jobs at no cost to taxpayers.

Speaking of jobs, all of the Republican presidential candidates in New Hampshire last night professed their love for jobs and their outrage at Obama’s record. But their playbook—defund and destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, lower taxes, and slash labor regulation—sounded like a hybrid of President George W. Bush and the communist Chinese government. I don’t want to replicate the worst decade of private sector job growth since WWII (thanks, W!) or a race to the bottom that promotes smog-filled air and putrid water like we see today in China, nor do the American people. Tim Pawlenty said he favored fair trade—we’ll see. Santorum says manufacturing adds value to the economy. Romney says he wants to focus on jobs—again, we’ll see. Anytime a candidate professes his working class and union roots (see Pawlenty, Santorum), it usually means he abandoned them a long time ago.

Despite these false starts by Obama and his opposition, slowly but surely, the jobs crisis is disrupting the infamous Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop. But Democrats won’t throw down the gauntlet on jobs, and Republicans are resisting any reasonable effort to boost employment. As a result, the news keeps getting worse—5,000 manufacturing jobs lost in May after 250,000 created over the last 15 months—a rising unemployment rate, and a shaky outlook for growth in the year ahead.

The spending-cut crowd is good at taking legislative hostages, which is why there is such a kerfuffle over the debt ceiling increase. When will the jobs boosters adopt a similar strategy? At the end of the day, the economy and jobs are the premium issues for voters. Sure, the Wall Street Journal, David Brooks, and the Very Serious People that populate our nation’s capital will be outraged. But then again, they all have jobs.

Later this week at NetrootsNation in Minneapolis, we’ll be bringing together some folks together to talk about solutions to the jobs crisis and how to create more manufacturing jobs in particular. Stay tuned for at least 10 practical ways we can keep it Made in America.

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