Wednesday, March 07, 2012

President Obama in Mount Holly (or, The Fainting Economy)

-- The woman had waited for President Obama too long.

The workers invited to see the president here at the Daimler truck plant got herded in early because of security. They’d been standing around a couple of hours. It was warm inside the plant. And so, partway through the president’s speech, she fell out.

“It looks like somebody might have fainted up here,” Obama said, calling for the EMTs. He rescued it with a laugh line: “Folks do this all the time in my meetings.”

The woman was fine. It was just hard to wait so long like that.

Hold that thought.

The president came to Mount Holly to tout clean energy. The Freightliner trucks made at the plant made a nice backdrop, seeing as how some of them are built to burn cleaner and cheaper natural gas.

But this is an election year, so it was also a campaign stop, and Obama had fun with it. He teased the Freightliner employee who introduced him for sounding like a preacher. He joked about his tie having Carolina blue and the Duke shade, too. He said he loves North Carolina: “Even the folks who don’t vote for me, they’re nice to me. They usually wave five fingers.”

He acted loose and confident. With good reason.

Over on the Republican side, primary voters keep trying to run the whole campaign off a cliff like in one of those Indiana Jones chase scenes. Mitt Romney won Super Tuesday, sort of, but he still can’t shed Rick Santorum, who is running one of the finest political campaigns of the 1950s. And Newt Gingrich won Georgia, even though in a general election he couldn’t beat Gen. Sherman.

All those polls you see about Obama being unpopular? They’re true – until you put him next to one of the Republicans. Then he looks like Reagan vs. Mondale.

But there’s a real weak spot – Obama knows it, his opponents know it, and voters know it. It’s the same weak spot you see in the story of this sparkling plant building these massive trucks.

Underneath, the economy is unstable.

One of the reasons Obama came to Mount Holly was so he could mention that the Freightliner plant added more than 1,000 workers last year. Daimler also announced in January that it’s hiring 1,100 people at its plant in Cleveland in Rowan County. That’s all great news.

But back in 2009, the company laid off more than 2,600 workers at those two plants and one in Gastonia. Many of the new hires are workers who got laid off three years ago and are now coming back.

Alan Herrin’s story is a little different. Herrin, who’s 50, was one of the workers who got an invitation to hear Obama speak. He’s been with Freightliner for eight months. He used to work for a company that helped make the doors for Freightliner trucks. What happened to that job?

“Mexico,” he says.

At Freightliner, Herrin inspects trucks as they come down the line to make sure they’re put together correctly. He’s on his feet or under a truck eight hours a day. When I ask him what he uses for a crawler, he smiles and says “these,” pointing to his knees.

But he’s glad to have the job. Freightliner feels like a family to him.

“I hope I’m here ‘til I’m 75,” he says. “But who knows these days?”

Who Knows These Days? could be the theme of this campaign. The unemployment rate is dropping, but millions of people are still without work. The housing market is rebounding a little, but neighborhoods are still dotted with foreclosures.

President Obama can make a case that the economy is growing again after a deep recession. He can also tick off a list of other accomplishments – he saved the car companies, passed a health-care plan, got rid of Osama. But when you’ve been laid off or furloughed or had your pay cut or lost your benefits, none of that other stuff matters so much.

To extend that image from way up at the beginning, people can only wait so long for things to get stable. Then they start dropping out.

It’s March; lots of weird stuff can happen between now and November. (This time four years ago, candidate Obama had just been trounced in Ohio by Hillary Clinton.) But right now, no GOP candidate looks to be much of a match for the president.

Unless the economy dives downward again. There’s no telling what people will do when they start to feel faint.


Zon said...

Nice commentary, Tommy. Can't say I disagree with it.

I don't agree with some of the things the President has accomplished. But I also realize he's 1/3 of our government. Congress has a big say in what gets done.

I look at it like this, at the end of the day is who will the president be the president of, who does he owe his election to?

If it's Mitt Romney, it's a whole lotta investment bankers peaved about the prospect of paying more taxes. If it's Santorum, it is a lot of deeply religious conservatives that want to do things to our constitution.

If it's president Obama, as of now I think he tries to be the president of all Americans, even the ones that attack him. Not perfect and makes mistakes, who doesn't?

Anonymous said...

Nicely written, Tommy.

Anonymous said...

Only a few actual freightliner employees present today. Ninety five percent of plant employees were given the day off with pay. Almost all attending were hand picked and had nothing to do with the mt holly plant...

Albert So said...

Your usual expert flow, Tommy

Anonymous said...

Obama is a slick orator. Thats it. He is a Marxist to his core, which is not American.

vikinglord_50 said...

In my opinion, he does not try "to be the President of all Americans". He is my President in name only - certainly not in spirit. His words and actions over the past three years (and even before he became President) are in no way indicative of my beliefs in what America is and should be. I did not vote for him in the last election, but many of my family members did. They have all told me that they will not make that same mistake again in November. How can a man - who believes that America is so terribly flawed and in need of re-making - stand in front of millions and pledge to protect and defend our Constitution, when it is abundantly clear that he has no use or respect for that very document? God help us all if this man is reelected.

Anonymous said...

Most of us there were hand picked from the corporate office in Fort Mill, where we are still called Freightliner employees. Many of those in attendance were engineers who had a hand in the development of fuel innovations, as well as some of the sales teams that help sell hundreds of thousands of Freightliners to transportation companies, which triggered the need for more new hires.

Roland T. Wellingforth, III said...

I'm glad you wrote this article Tommy. I was a little puzzled when I heard the Freighliner plant was the venue for a speech about jobs. Sure the snapshot today looks good because they're in a hiring mode. But as you pointed out, Freightliner is just as likely to be in the news for laying off folks as it is for hiring, on about a 18-24 month cycle. That doesn't make for a very stable work force, but I know that folks would rather be working than not, no matter how cyclical it may be.

Anonymous said...

Zon, very interesting take on the candidates. Who is the least worst rather than the best, eh?

Vikinglord, you should be ashamed of yourself for even uttering that. People got behind G.W. Bush even though they disagreed with him. The same respect for the institution should be afforded this President.

He said, she said...

People got behind G.W. Bush even though they disagreed with him.

Which planet were YOU living on in the 2000s?

Anonymous said...

I don't understand what he did so wrong that people hate him. There are plenty more presidents that was not the best we have seen. The "Americans" u talk about insult him 24/7 but u still want him to help our country. I think if there were not so many people trying to bring him down and instead try to help him, our country would be better off.