Jeff Immelt Becomes Obama Adviser: Smart Move?

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President Obama, confronting stubbornly high unemployment, rising national debt, and a reinvigorated Republican party, is shifting his focus from staving off economic collapse through government intervention to stimulating job growth in concert with corporate America.

For evidence of this pivot in strategy, look no further than today announcement that GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt will head Obama's new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, replacing former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and his Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Immelt, who identifies as a Republican, supported Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign and sat on Volcker's board. In a Washington Post op-ed, he recommends that the restructured advisory board--which will include representatives from the ranks of business, labor, and government--hasten economic growth and promote America's competitiveness by boosting manufacturing, exports, free trade, and innovation.

Some applaud the appointment as another step forward in the White House's relationship with the business community, but others are more critical:

  • Immelt's Priorities Align With Administration's, note Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman and Rachel Layne: "He has sounded many of the administration’s themes: boosting jobs through U.S. exports, ensuring companies can compete with powers like China and India, and jumpstarting a clean-energy economy."
  • No, GE Represents Everything Wrong With Economy, charges Marcy Wheeler at Emptywheel. Under Immelt, GE has made America less competitive through actions like sharing jet technology with the Chinese and shuttering U.S. plants in favor of moving the work to China. What's more, GE managed "to turn itself into a Too Big To Fail overleveraged finance company in need of a $16 billion bailout from the government," Wheeler adds.
  • It's An Odd Choice, admits Alex Seitz-Wald at Think Progress. Immelt has proven very effective at GE's helm, Seitz-Wald notes, investing heavily in alternative energy and green technology. But Immelt once remarked that business disliked the President and the President disliked business: "The question is whether Immelt still believes that Obama is anti-business ... If he has had a change of heart in the past seven months, then Immelt could be an excellent messenger for Obama."
  • More Like A Desperate Choice, states Ken Layne at Wonkette: "It's the latest move for a president who is extremely worried that some liberal on the Internet or all the voters who supported him in 2008 might think he's some kind of commie softy who doesn't know his place, which is to serve the nation’s biggest corporations with no questions asked."
  • A Self-Serving and Empty Move, asserts Hot Air's Ed Morrissey. He wonders if Obama's outreach to the business community is born out of self-interest, and suspects it's mere posturing:

The White House just announced the start of its re-election campaign efforts ... which will be tasked with beating the $700 million in contributions Obama raised in the 2008 campaign. He will want businesses to get involved in that effort; his sudden interest in what CEOs think at least has the appearance of self-interest more than a change in economic philosophy.

Hopefully, Obama actually takes their advice and puts pro-growth economic policies in place while pulling back hard on regulatory innovation. I suspect, however, that this is more intended as window dressing while Obama pursues the same economic policies that have led to stagnation and persistently high unemployment.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.