Dick Armey Strikes Back At Obama, CEOs Weigh In On the Rhetoric

Less talk. More action. That's the directive I've been hearing for more than a year from my contacts on the President's proposals to fix this sagging economy and jobs market.


Monday many of them carefully listened to the President in his one hour town hall on CNBC. I decided to talk to some of them and gauge their reaction.

Did the 60 minutes change their minds on anything? Did the President bridge the rift between Main Street and Wall Street? Do you still feel like the President is anti-business? I can go on and on with the questions I asked them, but you get my point.

Obama's softer tone towards business did help lift the markets but for my contacts I was told yet again, "He was all rhetoric and didn't say anything."

Ron Kruszewski, Chairman and CEO of Stifel Nicolaus watched from his offices in St. Louis.

"I wanted acknowledgement from him saying, 'The government does not create jobs. It creates an environment to encourage the private sector to create jobs and I want to work with the private sector to get this economy going. He didn't say that," Kruszewski said.

"Instead I heard he inherited a real tough problem from Bush, he was not responsible for any of this and was dealt a bad set of cards. It was effective because he deflected the criticism off himself. His answer to the hedge fund question was extremely effective to the average American. He came off more Presidential than he acts. I think his approval ratings went up. We'll have to see."

Many argue the policies the administration have put into place have dampened the private sector. I've been told by some manufacturing sources, the price of health care is already going up exponentially because of the impending health care reform and some of them have stopped hiring.

Our nation is at a cross roads right now. Temp jobs have been strong but companies are at the point where they have tapped as much productivity out of their temp workers as they can. The private sector wanted the Leader of the Free World to rise to the occasion and tell them what they wanted to hear. That the Uncle Sam was behind them.

But while the town hall erupted in applause, for many corner offices on Wall Street, you could hear a pin drop. The political blame game was in full swing. Many CEOs I spoke with said it was like hearing another campaign speech.

Wilbur Ross, Chairman and CEO of WL Ross and Company told me there was no new content, "...simply a reiteration of established positions. I do not believe that the critics changed any of his positions nor did he change the views of the critics. His remarks and those of theirs in the Administration suggest a campaign strategy of attacking Republicans as being the same as the Tea Party."

"My main take away is that he is not moderating his position regardless of what the public wants. If that is the case then November will be a very clear referendum on his policies."

And with the mid-term elections 41 days away, the President used the Town Hall as an opportunity to challenge to the Tea Party movement, saying the group has offered no economic solutions and only criticism.

I immediately called Dick Armey, Former House Majority Leader and Chairman of FreedomWorks on that and he told me the President is missing the point on the Tea Party Revolution.

"The President is out of touch with the American people on debt and spending. The only "economic solutions" President Obama sees are more government and more spending," said Armey. "The Tea Party does have solutions to turn this economy around. They are in the grassroots 'Contract for America'. The Tea Party movement understands its the private sector that creates jobs; not the government."

Governor John Engler, President of that National Association of Manufacturers also echoed the need for private jobs stimulation to me when I asked him what was the one question he would have loved the President to have been asked.

"It is all about jobs and we would have liked to have heard President Obama talk more about specific plans to create jobs and allow manufacturers to compete."

Governor Engler told me a story that would have lead up to his question.

"A year ago the transportation bill — the bill that pays for bridges, and highways, rail and public transit expired. It’s a six-year bill that’s usually reauthorized on a bipartisan basis," said Engler.

"Last year, House Transportation Chairman Jim Oberstar proposed a plan to increase spending on infrastructure to $500 billion. That’s ten times the $50 billion down-payment that you proposed on Labor Day. And, getting the highway bill reauthorized early in 2010 would have created more jobs than your Labor Day proposal. Why didn’t you get involved into this debate a year ago?" He makes a good point."

Incentives was also another big topic.

Mike Jackson, Chairman and CEO of AutoNation attended the town hall and told me his questions were not answered.

"I wanted to hear that we could stop worrying about new initiatives around regulation and new programs and instead would focus on the economy and specifically jobs. The President needs to get the private sector moving again and recognize that new taxes prevent business both large and small from hiring," said Jackson.

Rob Nichols of the Financial Services Forum said there was a need to heal the riff between Wall Street and Main Street.

Rather than a class warfare discussion, its more about economic symbiosis.

"Its tempting to think about the interests of Wall Street and Main Street as separate, or even opposed. In truth, Main Street relies on the money and credit that banks and other financial institutions provide to start or expand a business, buy a home or a car, consume goods and services, or send a child to college," said Nichols.

"Money and credit serve as the lifeblood of any economy's strength and well-being, enabling the investment, research, and risk-taking that fuels competition, innovation, productivity, and prosperity. The financial system is the institutional and technological infrastructure — the cardiovascular system — for circulating that essential lifeblood throughout the economy, to the businesses, workers, consumers, students, and homebuyers who need it to transact their economic decisions."

The President's supporters said Obama answered the tough questions with honesty on the pain being felt by many Americans.

Washington DC Democrat Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said she would have loved to have seen the President talk more about his economic solutions and strongly believes in the knowledge economy.

"I would have liked one straight forward question about how to prepare the American people for what seems inevitable, an economy that is, yes, as he said "slow and steady" but why — because, I believe, it will be an economy no longer lopsidedly dependent on consumer spending because we will begin to make things again (the way China is already eating our green lunch with photovoltaic’s and the rest of the next generation of green technology), and because we finally graduate to the knowledge economy, our best and perhaps one only way to stay on top economically," said Norton.

When I asked Mark Olson, former Federal Reserve Governor and Co-Chairman of Treliant Risk Advisors if he thought the President communicated his message effectively Mark said most of the President's words did.

"When the Wall Street representative spoke the President used the opportunity to bring up the carried interest issue (which he clearly understood, incidentally) and used it to great advantage. That issue is well understood on Wall Street but not in the rest of America so on that issue he did nothing to narrow the divide," said Olson.

"On the tax issue he held very firm on not extending the tax cuts to the highest earners which I expect was a major objective. He made the rest of his tax policy sound rational. On the economy he still is not done blaming the previous administration. The question I wanted asked but didn't get a chance to ask him was: How can we get people in Capitol Hill to work together?"

If I had the answer to Olson's question I would be a rich woman. That my friends is the trillion dollar question.

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A Senior Talent Producer at CNBC, and author of "Thriving in the New Economy:Lessons from Today's Top Business Minds."