Many in the business community don't just dislike the president, they hate him. The pundits and media have got the reason wrong: It's not about policy or politics, it's personal. And it would be easy for Obama to fix. The problem comes down to two things businesspeople need to hear the president say (and mean):
1. "Thank you for your service."
At the core of the Obama rage is that we -- people in business -- don't feel that Obama gets us at all. In fact, his lack of understanding runs so deep it makes us distrustful of anything his team tries to do. Sensing the mistrust but clueless about where it comes from, he goes into professor mode and shows us why his policies are good for us. The more we hear from Professor Obama, the angrier business people become.
Here's what we want the president to get: we are working our asses off day and night, and on the weekends, to make America's companies function in the midst of the hardest struggles in generations. Entrepreneurs in particular risk everything they have -- their families' future, their reputations, and their life savings in many cases -- to build a business that's got a small chance of surviving. But if that business survives, it will employ hundreds or thousands of people.
So here we are, doing more than our part, and who gets praise from Obama? The handful of Republicans who supported his policies. The vice president for overseeing the spending of the stimulus money. When he does visit companies, it's either troubled places where he does his best Vulcan impression of Clinton saying "I feel your pain." Or it's places that are hiring people that he uses as Exhibit A that his policies are working.
Here's what he should say instead: "You are giving everything you have to make this company, and this country, recover -- thank you for your service." This is a line normally reserved for men and women in uniform. With the highest possible respect for our soldiers, it also applies to business people who give everything they have to help turn this country around.
2. "On behalf of everyone in government, we're sorry we let this happen."
Business people actually ask very little from the government: stay out of our way, create an economic environment conducive to business growth, and make sure no nuclear bombs go off -- real ones or ones like the explosions in the credit market that created the economic nuclear winter we're in right now.
This basic trust was violated, and one thing's pretty clear: the government had a lot to do with it. The president could show real leadership if he acknowledged this fact and, on behalf of the government, took responsibility. Forget which party initiated it, or who was in power when it happened. Business has become exponentially harder because people in Washington did a bunch of stupid things involving policies and regulations. We might start listening to people in power again if the president said those two words: "I'm sorry." Or make it three for good measure: "I'm really sorry."
These two messages would implicitly send a third message: that the heroes of this time are the job creators. We'd like Obama to get that fact so deeply that it resonates in his bone marrow.
For a guy as smart as Obama, that shouldn't that hard.
What do you wish President Obama would say to businesses (and really mean it)?