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j. patrick coolican:

UPS CEO Scott Davis talks Obama, economy and compromise


Erik Kabik/Retna/

President Obama speaks at a UPS facility in Las Vegas on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

President Obama Speaks at UPS in Las Vegas

President Obama speaks at a UPS facility in Las Vegas on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. Launch slideshow »

President Obama at UPS in Vegas

President Barack Obama speaks at a UPS facility in Las Vegas Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. Launch slideshow »

I talked to D. Scott Davis, CEO of UPS, for a few minutes after President Barack Obama’s appearance at a local UPS facility today, and his comments were insightful because he seems like a perfect representation of the average voter.

I suspect that’s because his remarks were calculated not to offend. The CEO of a massive corporation such as UPS is in a tough spot, after all. Davis is on Obama’s Export Council, and the president made a number of complimentary remarks about the company, including its innovation, energy efficiency and labor-management relations. But it’s not like Davis can come out too strongly for the incumbent. After all, there could be a new president in a year, and he doesn’t want to offend his workers or customers.

Still, his remarks seem like they nicely represent the views of a lot of voters who are rooting for the president but aren’t exactly thrilled with his results.

I asked him if he agreed with some in corporate America who say Obama is “anti-business.” He didn’t answer the question directly, essentially saying the president has a tough job: “There are a lot of challenges we’re taking on.”

Davis expressed concern about Washington’s inability to compromise on key legislation, specifically deficit reduction. “What we went through last year was very disappointing,” he said, referring to last year’s debt ceiling fight.

He pointed to international trade agreements where Democrats and Republicans have made deals and wondered why the same can’t be done on other legislation.

“As a country, we’ve got to learn to compromise,” he said, noting his own company’s relationship with the Teamsters, the union that represents front-line UPS workers.

“We’ve got to think of the customers. In their case, think of the citizens,” he said.

He’s likely just being careful here, but he’s also a good representation of average voters because most didn’t understand the political dynamics of the failure to compromise on deficit reduction.

The reality is that compromise on deficit reduction is basically impossible because one side is unwilling to compromise. A compromise would be a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

Republicans are unwilling to enact any tax increase because two decades ago an operative named Grover Norquist began a movement to get elected officials to sign a pledge to never raise taxes, and the vast majority of Republicans in Congress have signed it. That’s fine. That’s the party’s bedrock principle. Good for them, I suppose.

But let’s not pretend there was ever a chance of compromise or that both sides are somehow equally culpable for failure to come to a compromise on deficit reduction.

I asked Davis about various measures Obama enacted at the beginning of his term to rescue the dying patient that was the American economy. (We were losing 800,000 jobs per month when he took the oath.)

Davis didn’t evaluate the individual measures — the stimulus program, the bank stabilization or auto bailouts — but he did say there “needed to be more focus on jobs and the economy.”

He didn’t say it, but you could reasonably read into this an implicit critique of the White House drive for health care reform while the economy was still suffering.

I suspect a majority of Americans agree. (See, he’s the average voter.)

As for the economy, he said the signals remain mixed. UPS will release quarterly earnings soon. Obama should hope they are robust, because you might say as UPS goes, so goes the American economy, which is what will decide Obama’s fate come November.

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