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The one thing conservatives should thank Obama for

President Barack Obama holds the last news conference of his presidency in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Cheriss May | NurPhoto | Getty Images
President Barack Obama holds the last news conference of his presidency in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Who's missing from all the written, video, and even musical tributes wishing President Barack Obama a tearful and grateful farewell?

This is not a trick question. The answer is: Just about every prominent Republican and conservative in America. They're not playing the Obama appreciation game. And it's more than understandable why, considering his liberal policies.

But allow this conservative to send one gracious message to the outgoing president for doing one thing the Right should be truly grateful for. And it's also something President-elect Donald Trump should note and emulate. We should all be grateful that Barack Obama was a good cheerleader for the American economy.

Now before you shrug your shoulders and say that it's not big deal for any sitting president to talk up the economy, just consider the following two names: Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Those two Senators not only represent the real future and political strength of the Democratic Party, but they got there by attacking American corporations and entire industries one after the other. And far from paying a price for doing so, they've reaped political rewards not many could have predicted.

Sanders rode his "bash the 1 percent" messaging all the way to a shockingly close Democratic presidential primary battle with Hillary Clinton. And Warren has quickly become possibly the most popular leader of the progressive Democratic Party movement even though she hasn't even completed one full term in office and has been in Washington at the same time an extremely popular Democrat just happened to be in the White House.

By contrast, President Obama kept his browbeating and shaming of American corporations and even the wealthy to a minimum. There are notable exceptions, especially during his first year or two in office when he called CEOs who fly on private jets "fat cats" and decried business that held conventions in Las Vegas. Plus, he was certainly no friend to the coal or beef industries, just to name a few. But while some of his fellow Democrats made bashing corporate America publicly a regular practice for the last eight years, President Obama was careful to project a different image most of the time.

"Allow this conservative to send one gracious message to the outgoing president for doing one thing the Right should be truly grateful for. And it's also something President-elect Donald Trump should note and emulate."

Now once he got the hang of talking the talk, it doesn't mean he walked the walk. He didn't actually enact enough policies to help corporations or even smaller businesses create jobs. But don't underestimate the value of presidential talk. In many ways, being a cheerleader for America is a president's most essential job.

And at a crucial and early point in his presidency, President Obama seemed to get it. He started to notice and appreciate the path FDR and Ronald Reagan blazed when it comes to proving the vital importance of infectious presidential optimism. Granted, President Obama was talking up his own economic recovery. And granted, that recovery was the weakest in American post-World War II history. But in politics, and very often in economics, perception is reality. And President Obama's cheerleading for the economy did help people recover emotionally from the Great Recession. To deny that wouldn't be just letting one's partisanship cloud the facts.

And again, it's doubtful that Mr. Obama would have suffered the political consequences had he gone the other way. The strong approval from most Democrats and liberals that Sanders and Warren enjoy stands as proof of that. And President Obama could even have looked to history to justify a less than optimistic tone.

Not every president has decided to or succeeded at taking a positive tone about the economy. Richard Nixon didn't. George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush seemed to want to, but couldn't. And Jimmy Carter seemed to revel in scolding us over our national economic malaise. Even conservatives who hate every policy and message President Obama delivered need to recognize this and be grateful he made the positive choice.

This should all be more than a little instructive to the incoming President Trump. His singling out and criticizing of individual companies and industries during his campaign and the transition period may be scoring political points for now and might even getting some real economic results. But once he enters the Oval Office, he'll be wise to tamp down the blame game in public.

Like Teddy Roosevelt taught us, it's better to speak softly and carry a big stick when you're the leader of the free world. All of the Trump fans will still cheer the results even if they don't hear about them first on Twitter or during a news conference. And speaking more optimistically about the American economic condition won't undermine any of the bigger changes Trump will want to make in policy.

Can Trump actually do that? We know he certainly has it in him as he often shifts gears and praises people or companies he was bashing just a few months or weeks earlier. The best chance is that his abilities to do that will get a boost the moment he takes the Oath of Office and gets that "you own it now" realization.

But for all the conservative talk that President Obama hated America and at least half of the American population, he did the smart and beneficial personal and communal thing when it came to at least projecting an image of economic confidence for eight years. As those same conservatives cheer his departure from the White House, they should at least acknowledge that one crucial thing we all owe him thanks for achieving.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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