Apparently, “Freedom” Is the New Euphemism for “Government Investment”

There’s something really disturbing about Obama’s speech at Johnson Controls today: he barely claimed credit for the government’s involvement in it.

Understand, I think the opening of factories like Johnson Controls the single biggest piece of good news in our economy today. It’s good news because we’re investing in new manufacturing jobs. It’s good news because it helps us move away from our dependence on fossil fuels. And it’s good news because the technologies will help us do something about climate change. Obama’s investment in energy technology jobs may well be the single best thing he has done as President.

So I’ve been waiting for Obama to come claim credit for the factories in Holland since they were built. Since then, Rick Snyder and Crazy Pete Hoekstra have hailed these new factories, all the while pretending that capitalists did the work all by themselves, with nothing more than a tax cut from the government. I’ve been waiting for Obama to correct the record and explain how important government investment can be–particularly at a time when no one else is investing.

But it took him 1095 words–over a third of the speech–before he offered the following vague explanation for what made the factory possible.

But what also made this possible are the actions that we took together, as a nation, through our government –- the fact that we were willing to invest in the research and the technology that holds so much promise for jobs and growth; the fact that we helped create together the conditions where businesses like this can prosper.

No mention of precisely what the government did or how it invested. No mention of how many jobs that investment created (JCI’s CEO made some of that case).

And Obama’s weak claim of credit came long after Obama’s first explanation (coming 210 words in) for what created these jobs,

The reason a plant like this exists is because we are a country of unmatched freedom, where groundbreaking ideas flourish.

And it came in the paragraph after Obama’s second explanation for what created these jobs,

So let’s think about it — what made this possible?  The most important part is you:  your drive, your work ethic, your ingenuity, your management.  The grit and optimism that says, “We’ve got an idea for a new battery technology or a new manufacturing process, and we’re going to take that leap and we’re going to make an investment.  And we’re going to hire some folks and we’re going to see it through.”  That’s what made it possible.

It seems that Obama would rather push a Milton Friedmanesque notion of capitalism–arguing freedom creates jobs–than take clear, proud credit for the government’s role in creating them.

Obama had no problem claiming credit for the government’s role in creating jobs when he broke ground on a different battery factory (the LG Chem one) in Holland a year ago. After first invoking the auto bailout (and admitting it was an unpopular decision), Obama described clearly that the factory relied, in part, on a government grant for funding.

And through small business loans, a focus on research and development and investments in high-tech, fast-growing sectors like clean energy, we’ve aimed to grow our economy by harnessing the innovative spirit of the American people.

Because we did, shovels will soon be moving earth and trucks will soon be pouring concrete where we are standing.  Because of a grant to this company, a grant that’s leveraging more than 150 million private dollars, as many as 300 people will be put to work doing construction and another 300 will eventually be hired to operate this plant when it’s fully up and running.  And this is going to lead to growth at local businesses like parts suppliers and restaurants.  It will be a boost to the economy of the entire region. [my enphasis]

And he went on to boast about all the additional benefits of the investment in related jobs and increasing efficiency. That language–the language Obama used last year–is the kind of language we need to hear now that people owe their employment to such government support. It’s the kind of language that would not only support his own re-election (his approval levels in MI are barely where they need to be to win the state, particularly if Romney’s on the ballot), but it’d also help downticket Dems (Granholm had a big role in this investment), and correct the false claims made by Snyder and others.

Obama’s failure to boast loudly about the government’s role in this plant is all the more troubling given the rest of the speech.

The larger speech, after all, was about what we can do now to stimulate the economy.

Now, there are more steps that we can take to help this economy growing faster.  There are things we can do right now that will put more money in your pockets; will help businesses sell more products around the world; will put people to work in Michigan and across the country.

He went on to rehearse a bunch of ideas that really won’t stimulate the economy all that much: the payroll tax cut, the trade deals, new patent law, and a veteran jobs program. And (second in the list of things we could do), as part of his call for a highway construction bill, he admitted “we’re slipping behind because we’re not investing.”

America used to have the best stuff — best roads, best airports, best seaports.  We’re slipping behind because we’re not investing in it, because of politics and gridlock.  Do you want to put people to work right now rebuilding America?  You’ve got to send that message to Congress.

But if it’s true (and it is) that America’s falling behind because the government is not investing, if Obama’s going to try to mobilize voters to pressure Congress to do something about jobs, if what made this factory and these jobs possible was government investment, why not make a broader call for more of it?

The evidence was all there today in the form of the shiny new battery factory and the engineers running around in blue lab coats that government investment can be critically important to creating jobs. But rather than make that argument, Obama pretended that grit and freedom are all it takes to create jobs

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

28 replies
  1. bmaz says:

    Huh. This is a fine post. Was almost thinking something else was going on tonight. Musta been mistaken.

  2. MsAnnaNOLA says:

    He is a DINO!!! Democrat In Name Only!

    That is what is going on! The biggest Democrat wave election elected a Republican!

    What and A-hole!

  3. scribe says:

    He can’t make the case hat government investment is good and useful precisely because he is following a Milton Friedman script.

  4. pdaly says:

    Good of you to point it out, EW.

    Now we just need to state over and over, Fox News style, that Obama agrees ‘that government investment creates jobs’ until everyone agrees, too (or until Obama is forced to claim otherwise and in direct defiance of the facts).

    This gives us something to do and some for him to react to.

  5. JohnT says:

    So, he’s afraid of taking credit for the investments of the US Gov … as opposed to the tea baggers who can brag about it

    BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – North Dakota’s congressional delegation said the federal Agriculture Department’s Rural Development agency will guarantee a $4.7 million loan for the construction of a new Holiday Inn hotel in Williston.

    Adequate housing has been a problem in western North Dakota because of the booming oil fields. Sens. Kent Conrad and John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg said North Dakota’s oil-producing counties have 23,000 more people today they did a decade ago.

    Bismarck Tribune (excerpt)


    I think it’s interesting that Conrad, Hoeven and Berg (apparently) issued a joint press release on this specific issue. Think about it: Berg and Hoeven are the Tea Terrorists’ choice in North Dakota. They’re supposed to be the anti-socialist, ultra-conservative, right-wing, pro-capitalism Republicans from red-as-red-gets North Dakota, sent to Washington to tell those socialists we’re against government intervention in the free market. And what are they doing?!?

    John Hoeven and Rick Berg are celebrating the federal government’s investment (by loan guarantee) in a hotel in northwestern North Dakota!!! That hotel is going to be competing against normal, non-socialist, free market hotels — hotels that didn’t benefit from a federal loan guarantee — in the oil patch. When this hotel goes bankrupt, your tax dollars are going to pay off the loan.

    I originally saved this link to point out the hypocrisy of the tea baggers, but now after reading how Zero tiptoes around, it really says a lot about him too

  6. pdaly says:


    Bad Obamabots!
    I have never tweeted, so I didn’t even realize that twitter trolls are out there.
    I will have to think about joining our flock to defend the nest.

    • bmaz says:

      By the way, Tavaris Jackson has clearly picked up right where he left off; i.e. demonstrating exactly why a beaten up gimping grandfather was on the field instead of him for the last two years.

  7. merkwurdiglieber says:

    He was trained as a Friedmanite Chicago Boy at Harvard, then University of Chicago for the finishing touches… it is the orthodoxy of the Washington Consensus masked by the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement in the 2008 campaign. His political economy has become fully manifest over the last 2 years and it is neoliberal chicago school. He does not know anything else, and will not listen. Only the republicans can elect him.

    • bmaz says:

      I don’t think so. Although, will say, teammates do regularly say he is a hard worker and decent teammate. But I dunno. Rather have TO than Moss. Talk radio buzz here is Cards are angling for Lee Evans from the Bills.

      Spidey, Steve Williams, Heap not bad; especially if Early Doucet can come around.

  8. newz4all says:

    President Barack Obama puts a hard political edge on his speech at Holland’s Johnson Controls-Saft plant

    For those who expected a speech about advanced battery production, President Barack Obama had other plans Thursday.

    Obama surprised his audience at Johnson Controls-Saft’s gleaming new factory by using it as an opportunity to blame the nation’s fiscal crisis on an uncooperative and uncompromising Congress.

    “There is nothing wrong with our country, there is something wrong with our politics,” Obama said in his 25-minute speech to 400 employees and local dignitaries.

  9. newz4all says:

    President Obama scolds Congress, encourages manufacturing growth at Holland battery plant

    During his visit to the Johnson Controls-Saft Battery Plant on Thursday, President Obama discussed his devotion to jump-starting manufacturing in Michigan and his disappointment in Congress.

    “There is nothing wrong with this country; there is something wrong with our politics,” Obama said. “We know there are things we can do right now that will help accelerate growth and job creation.”

  10. Peterr says:

    But if it’s true (and it is) that America’s falling behind because the government is not investing, if Obama’s going to try to mobilize voters to pressure Congress to do something about jobs, if what made this factory and these jobs possible was government investment, why not make a broader call for more of it?

    Sounds like you’re asking a version of the “Life of Brian – What have the Romans ever done for us?” question.

    Team Obama’s answer to yours is simple: we don’t want to be called Socialists!

    That answer, of course, is wrong. For a simple illustration of what a little well-placed seed money has done in the past, see NASA (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, etc.). Anything that involves micro-miniaturization owes a big debt of gratitude to John Glenn and Co. and the techies behind them.

    “what have the Romans ever done for us? . . . “

  11. geoschmidt says:

    The pres is… (must be, I don’t see how not, that he is in a bubble… ) He may be a wonderful elocutionist, and a great this or that, not the worst example to set for any of us, or those of minority status, who have needed and after a few centuries of suffering, now have a reason to feel included in all this democracy stuff. However, If he is just a little bit normal, like you and me, don’t it seem like, maybe he would be subject to… subject to

    like if he were to even think of moving one finger to follow in the likes of JFK, what do you think would be the possible repercussions? which one of the little ones would be on the block? or if you get the drift? No one in those possitions is really out of harms way.

  12. Neal Deesit says:


    The late, great Bill Hicks:

    “I have this feeling man, ’cause you know, it’s just a handful of people who run everything, you know … that’s true, it’s provable. It’s not … I’m not a fucking conspiracy nut, it’s provable. A handful, a very small elite, run and own these corporations, which include the mainstream media. I have this feeling that whoever is elected president, like Clinton was, no matter what you promise on the campaign trail – blah, blah, blah – when you win, you go into this smoke-filled room with the twelve industrialist capitalist scum-fucks who got you in there. And you’re in this smoky room, and this little film screen comes down … and a big guy with a cigar goes, ‘Roll the film.’ And it’s a shot of the Kennedy assassination from an angle you’ve never seen before … that looks suspiciously like it’s from the grassy knoll. And then the screen goes up and the lights come up, and they go to the new president, ‘Any questions?'”

  13. radiofreewill says:

    There’s the underlying issue – simmering like wood ready to burn – of ‘dominance’ – personal, social and political – dominance.

    The extremist authoritarians of the Republican Party haven’t been willing to cede their attitude of dominance towards Obama, and everyone else, too, and therefore have refused to participate as ‘equals’ in processes designed to assure fairness and justice for all.

    For them – to vary away from dominance over the out-group – right or wrong – is to be dis-loyal, and cause for demonization – that’s what it’s like when someone goes ‘bad’ to them.

    So, they swear oaths to publicly affirm that they’re totally committed to the Ideology of ‘Our Way or the Highway’ – which means ‘No New Taxes’ – right or wrong – as a clear indication of ‘who’ is ‘really’ running the show – despite all the fanciful talk of a Grand Bargain, struck equally, still yet to come.

    Unless the goalposts get moved, we’re very likely headed towards a hard deadline for the resolution of the question of dominance vs equal participation – Christmas.

    Either the goopers decide to play as equals in the Super Committee, or both the Defense budget and the Bush Tax Cuts get severely cut: a version of the comfy frog in the pot of water, getting heated-up for five months before it boils – if the frog doesn’t jump out of his position and act like an equal by a date certain, then its de-facto ‘dominance’ evaporates.

    So, sooner or later, we’re gonna know who’s running the show – fairness and justice, or the pledgers of authoritarian dominance.

  14. randiego says:

    What good is having a blog if there isn’t a Trash Talk thread on the opening day of the NFL? Sheesh.

    Marcy, a kid from Cornell (Bryan Walters) ran back a 103yd TD for the Bolts last night. He’s the new Wes Welker!

    sorry bmaz would have posted this earlier but fell asleep…

  15. rosalind says:

    @randiego: randiego!! (afraid LA is coming for your team, sorry about that).

    enjoyed Josh Portis’ TD drive in the 4th qtr for Seattle.

  16. frang says:

    A Robert Reich post from the beginning of this month:

    To me, this is the money quote:

    “(Obama) says he wants an ‘infrastructure bank’ that would borrow money from private capital markets to pay private contractors to rebuild our nations roads, bridges, airports, and everything else that’s falling apart.”
    “Fine, but the new deal he just signed may not let him do this either – if the infrastructure bank relies on federal funds or even federal loan guarantees to attract private money. The only way he could create an infrastructure bank without sweetening the pot would be by privatizing all the new infrastructure. That means toll roads and toll bridges, user-fee airports, and entry fees everywhere else.”

    Extreme cynic that I am, I think this was the plan all along: pass the debt deal, then talk about job creation, then suddenly “realize” that, gosh darn it, the government just can’t do much about that job creation bit and so more pieces of our country have to be sold off to create jobs. There’s nothing to be gained in mentioning about how government involvement can create jobs if the end goal is to privatize public assets.

    Chicago, Obama’s school for politics, has an admirable record of selling off public assets and private-public “partnerships:

    “It also follows controversial privatization deals in Chicago, including former Mayor Richard Daley’s long-term leases of the Chicago Skyway and the city’s parking meters. Daley also approved an agreement, which subsequently fell apart, to lease Midway Airport.”

    “In the case of the Skyway and Midway, the city spent hundreds of millions of dollars rebuilding both the elevated toll road to Indiana and the Southwest Side airport before putting them on the block.”

    (This is from an article about Sen. Kirk’s plan to “make it easier for governments to lease public transportation assets or enter into partnerships with private companies to build them.” Although Kirk is a Republican, Rep. Lipinski, who is the son of a long-serving former Democratic Chicago alderman, appeared with Kirk at the press conference about this plan. Oh, and while Dick Durbin wants to “require public involvement before major transportation projects could be leased or sold”, he “is not against privatization”.)

    Chicago was also a leader in public-private partnerships to handle public housing:

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