On Monday, Illinois Senate candidate Mark Kirk, a Republican, announced that he had received an endorsement from Jim Owens, the chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Inc.
Who cares, right? “Businessman endorses Republican” has all the news value of “Dog bites man.” Owens is also a longtime Republican donor, which makes this even less of a story.
But Owens' endorsement evokes an early episode from the Obama presidency. In February 2009, Owens was proudly hosting Obama in Peoria. The newly inaugurated president was promoting his stimulus package, then valued at $787 billion.
Obama announced that he was not alone in believing that the stimulus would succeed in creating jobs. In fact, Owens was backing him up: “Yesterday,” Obama said, “Jim, the head of Caterpillar, said that if Congress passes our plan, this company will be able to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off. And that's a story that I'm confident will be repeated at companies across the country.”
Unfortunately, “Jim” was not ready to play along. The CEO had to burst the bubble when he was asked about it later by reporters: “I think, realistically, no,” Owens said. “The honest reality is we're probably going to have more layoffs before we start hiring again.”
The following month, Caterpillar axed 2,200 additional American workers, most of them in Illinois. That was nearly twice the number of Americans (1,200) it would rehire over the next 17 months. Peoria's unemployment rate hit 10.3 percent that summer, and remains at that level today.
The Caterpillar episode reminds us that the Obama administration, whose business experience ranges from slim to none, has been a consistent violator of a fundamental law of business known by shorthand as “UPOD” — “Under-Promise, Over-Deliver.” The greatest violation of this commandment is its reverse: OPUD.
“Over-Promise, Under-Deliver” might be the unofficial motto of the Obama White House. This is especially true considering the high expectations Obama created for himself before assuming the presidency.
The White House may just be on the verge of learning this lesson now, but it's too late to go back and unmake promises about millions of jobs and oceans that stop rising. Claims that the stimulus has actually created millions of jobs we cannot see amount to “faith-based economics,” and the voters are stubborn nonbelievers. In July, the CBS/New York Times poll showed that only 13 percent believed they had benefited from Obama's economic programs.
Obama's allies on health care reform have finally figured out that they should stop bragging about the cost-savings their reform bill will allegedly create in the health care sector — something few Americans ever believed in to begin with. A recent Rasmussen poll found that 61 percent expect the new law to make their own health care more expensive.
Obama's greatest legislative achievements suffer from his strong belief in their alleged benefits and the voters' lack thereof. Of his stimulus, Obamacare, and Wall Street reform, the first two are deeply unpopular. The third is irrelevant — only 2 percent of voters, according to the July CBS News poll, considered Wall Street reform to be the most important economic issue facing America.
When Democrats say they are losing because of the economy, they are only half right. The other half of the equation is a lack of credibility — the result of too much promising and not enough delivering.
It's something Obama could learn about if he talked more often to people like Jim Owens.
David Freddoso is The Examiner's online opinion editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.