The chorus of CEOs and business leaders saying that regulation is choking business and growth had a new addition yesterday: CEO Clarence Otis, Jr. of Darden Restaurants, Orlando, Florida's only Fortune 500 company and the parent company of Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse.
This is interesting to me for a handful of reasons. The first is that a quick look at campaign donations from Otis shows that he has historically been a supporter of Democrat candidates, including Obama himself. He gave the maximum donations ($2,400) to Democrats in his home state. Democrats like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ron Klein and Kendrick Meek. Granted he supported a Republican (sort of) last year by contributing to Charlie Crist's campaign, but that was the only one since late 2007.
In 2008 he contributed thousands of dollars on multiple occasions to the campaign of Barack Obama as well as giving over $28,000 to the "Obama Victory Fund." He's even been invited to some of those high profile meet and greets that the President has from time to time, though there is little evidence that he actually listens to the people he meets with.
In fact, with the exception of Mr. Crist, Otis has been a staunch supporter of Democrats since 2008. But, just as the CEO of BET had recognized the impediment of government on business, and just as the Caterpillar CEO changed his tune even after getting special visits from the President himself, Clarence Otis, Jr. has started to say things that do not sound too in line with the rhetoric of class warfare emanating from the White House these days.
"Businesses adding jobs" is a headline every elected official loves to read. Sadly, it's one that's getting harder and harder to find because of a policy and regulatory landscape that makes it increasingly difficult for businesses to see why and where creating new jobs makes sense.
That's especially true for me and my colleagues in the restaurant industry, who find ourselves facing a plate piled high with more and more federal, state and local regulations.
Regulatory mandates flowing from federal health care reform may be the most visible, but the list also includes measures such as new mandatory paid leave provisions that require us to change the way we accommodate employees who need to take time off when they are ill and ever more unrealistic requirements regarding employee meal and rest breaks that, in California for example, force our employees to take breaks in the middle ofserving lunch or dinner.
Can he continue to support these same Democrats in upcoming elections? That remains to be seen, but I would hope that he, along with other business leaders, might realize the futility in making pleas like this to Democrats intent on treating business as the enemy:
My plea to policymakers is simple: Before you impose another well-meaning mandate, consider the burden we already bear and engage us in conversation. Regulations are not inherently detrimental to growth. Responsible companies such as ours, that have been supportive of the president and elected officials of both parties across the country, won't say "no" to everything and, indeed, what you might find is that we can help craft solutions that truly are better for everyone.
I also find this interesting because of the unintended consequences of liberalism. We talk about them all the time and say that people will wake up when it is starting to hurt their pocket book. For decades, the failures of liberalism were always masked by the unending spirit of entrepreneurism in Americans. As liberalism worked to institutionalize itself, successful people, who might otherwise recognize the folly of an over involved government, end up under-exposed to its dangers and thus believe that these good intentions produce fruit that they quite simply do not.
But in the Obama economy, eyes are starting to open. Young people, who were trained all their lives to look to and expect the government to care for and coddle them, have taken to the streets in what can only be described at this point as a massive and dangerous temper tantrum. Entire industries are being assaulted by regulatory agencies like the EPA, all while President Obama continues to push an agenda that asks for more dependence, higher taxes, and more regulation.
The regulatory climate is certainly affecting more than simply the day in and day out of American business life. It is, one hopes, affecting points of views. It is revealing to previous skeptics, a truth which the monumental success of capitalism has held at bay for a hundred years. That liberalism, in all its forms, is a failed ideology, destined to choke prosperity out anything it touches.
I can only hope that Clarence Otis, Jr. will now work to change that climate that he's now realizing isn't the answer.