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President Obama Gets It Right: Regulation Hurts Innovation, So Why the Public Backlash?

Are we confusing our passion for the free market with our emotion toward the person who occupies the Oval Office? Will President Obama be vilified no matter what he does?
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I am thrilled that Tuesday President Obama formally recognized that government regulation can hurt entrepreneurship and innovation by issuing an executive order requiring that regulators balance the impact of rules on job creation, economic growth and innovation. His op-ed in the Wall Street Journal along with this executive order are a major nod to the frustration of jobs creators who feel government is a barrier to their marketplace success.

Tuesday's remarks by the president positively described our nation's "dazzling ideas," "path-breaking products," and "entrepreneurialism." The president repeatedly referred to the "free market" and "balance" in regulation as necessary for our success. But the readership of the Wall Street Journal, or at least the 700-plus who commented on the paper's website, were seemingly unimpressed. Almost none of the comments were positive. Many were hateful, "birther"-type arguments, typed in "all caps" (the electronic equivalent of screaming) or simply nasty. And despite this pivot towards the business community, only seven Journal readers posted the article on Facebook (by comparison, Amy Chua's promotion of Chinese mothering in the Journal has nearly 300,000 Facebook "likes"). What gives? Is the president - who is clearly trying to tilt to jobs creators - viewed as so anti-business that he can never get credit for advancing measures that promote job growth? In the view of his critics, has he singlehandedly ruined America for dastardly purposes? Can he do nothing right? Certainly I would love to see President Obama take some bigger steps in the following ways:

  • Ask Congress to remove the new health-care law's requirement that businesses tell the government every item or service they buy that exceeds $600.
  • Seek to lower our corporate tax rate, currently the second highest in the world.
  • Boost the economy by allowing repatriation of foreign earnings taxed abroad and tie this effort to job creation.
  • Enter more free trade agreements and encourage the world's best and brightest to bring their innovative ideas to America and create jobs here.
  • Ask that every new regulation and law have a stated measurable goal and sunset automatically if not affirmatively extended.
  • Make concrete directives rather than merely providing vague direction to federal agencies.

The longest journey starts with the smallest steps and each small step deserves encouragement. The president's executive order certainly does not deserve the type of wrath I have seen inflicted in the last 24 hours. Are we confusing our passion for the free market with our emotion toward the person who occupies the Oval Office? Will President Obama be vilified no matter what he does? Let's be honest. He did not campaign as a free-market advocate but he won a fair election. He has a difficult job and anyone who occupies the office gets more criticism than blame. The job has rewards, but every American should remind themselves that, policy differences aside, the president is doing his best to do what he thinks is right. He is also risking a lot more than almost all of his bitter critics. President Obama is a public servant and any president (and his family) face real personal danger. The job is stressful. And with two wars, tough relations with many countries, and the range of potential threats voiced in daily briefings, the job is big and consuming. I am comforted that the president has proven that he can keep his bearings and his cool. However, I am also distressed that the president has such venom coming his way from so many otherwise patriotic Americans. I get the disagreement with President Obama. I understand those who feel he is ruining the country through profligate spending, new laws that choke innovation and scary shifts in major policies. I understand the skepticism of the business community. Having been vilified for two years, facing new burdensome laws, and having taxes of all sorts raised should be a source of major concern. We have created a disaster for our children and we want to hold someone accountable. But the President did inherit a lot of these problems, and while Democrats can't add (as evidenced by their incredible spending binge), Republicans have proven they can't cut spending and simply always promise to cut "waste, fraud and abuse."

Our problems will mount and the President will be a convenient scapegoat until and unless we hire politicians who view their job as priority setting and making tough decisions. We need a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship and the president has signaled that he supports both. Let's support him and when we disagree - let's not be disagreeable. Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents more than 2,000 U.S. technology companies. He is the author of the new book, The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.