On economy, Obama takes a new role: Cheerleader

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By Perry Bacon Jr.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011

He used to tour the country touting all the bills he had signed into law. But now, often with safety goggles covering his eyes, President Obama has become the host of what feels like a looping infomercial on American innovation.

There he was in North Carolina championing "biotechnology firms that are churning out jobs and businesses and life-saving discoveries." In New York, there were the "unbelievably impressive" turbines and generators being produced at a General Electric plant. In Wisconsin, it was the lighting fixtures that were "a model for the future."

Every once in a while on his roadshow tour of American factories, the Harvard-trained lawyer hints at the obvious: He doesn't know much about what he has just seen.

"As I was walking through the plant, you guys had put up some handy signs. So I knew what I was looking at," he joked in New York earlier this month.

In this new stage of his presidency, Obama, once derided as anti-business, has adopted a different tone: cheerleader.

The events are part of a shift in the administration's handling of the sluggish economy.

With the stimulus bill, the tax package that Congress approved in December and numerous incentives to encourage hiring that were in legislation over the past two years, the administration already has put in place many of its policies to spur economic growth. Republicans say those provisions largely haven't worked.

Voters still rank the economy as their top concern in public opinion polls. So instead of mostly promoting major legislation, Obama is hitting the road to rave about companies, schools and people who are creating jobs, trying to show that he has a vision for improving the American economy.

He will visit State College, Pa., on Thursday to highlight a project there to make buildings more energy efficient, and administration officials will be at events across the country this week to promote innovation and entrepreneurship.

"About 10 years ago, Neal had an idea," Obama said last week in Wisconsin, referring to Neal Verfuerth, president of Orion Energy Systems, a company that creates energy-efficient technology.

"He calls it his epiphany. It was around 2:30 in the morning, but Neal hopped in his car and drove to the factory in Plymouth. It was one of those moments when the future couldn't wait until the morning. And he grabbed whatever tools he could find, a couple of 2-by-4s and broom handles."

Obama added, "So he started tinkering around until an engineer showed up. And what Neal had come up with was one of Orion's signature innovations - a new lighting fixture that produced twice the light with half the energy."


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