What is more demoralizing than inappropriate applause? Last month, with much media fanfare, President Bush said he wanted to create a new “Undersecretary of Commerce for Manufacturing.” He had heard our pain. He was “making sure” that manufacturing and all the people in it were attended to. So he came out on Labor Day to a town just south of Cleveland and put on an International Union of Operating Engineers’ ball cap and black engineer’s jacket. He stood confidently in front of a lot of construction equipment brought in as props into the open field. He said he wanted manufacturing people to “understand that he understood.” Applause everywhere.
He noted that he knew how important industry was to the country and he was appointing this new bureaucrat because we need to “make sure our manufacturing job base is strong and vibrant.” More applause. Well, Mr. President, a new political plum job is not what we need.
We have been lobbying for a new CABINET LEVEL post for much of this year. We need a Secretary of Manufacturing, not another functionary safely tucked away in the Department of Commerce. We need a top-level voice, either management or labor, mid-career or retired. Their essential qualification is a passionate understanding and concern for the most important part of our economy — manufacturing, the creation of wealth. We don’t need another bureaucrat. We need the regular major media attention that only cabinet level clout can offer.
Mr. President, the manufacturing is nowhere near as strong and vibrant as it should be. We’ve lost upwards of 2.5 million manufacturing jobs in the past five years! Over the past 30 years, we have lost leadership in steel, in machine tools, in industrial equipment of all kinds (much of the stuff the President had behind him for his speech was made in China, Korea or Japan — the jacket probably was, too!), computer assembly and electronics in general.
The list goes on and on. I bought some garlic the other day. It was from China. Garlic? It’s become a cliché in this country to ask “Do we make anything anymore?” What kind of future do we face if we are left with nothing but Hollywood, law firms and farms?
Manufacturing is what allows a country to walk proudly, powerfully and confidently into its economic future. It allows a country to be generous. It is the difference between modern and Third World. In fact, a true service economy is Third World.
For various reasons, we have been declining for decades in this all-important part of any serious economy. A Secretary of Manufacturing’s primary job would be to bring the attention of all the American people to these dangerous trends and to develop solutions.
The United States led the world in manufacturing throughout the first half of the last century — both in terms of quality and productivity. We heard applause all over the world then. We still lead in output per person hour. We are, of course, still the largest producer of manufactured goods in the world. It’s the trend line that should worry all of us.
The President and many others may think such a new highly visible post would imply protectionism, trade wars and other negatives. Does the Secretary of Agriculture or Energy or Education bring up such fears?
Perhaps the President is worried about adding to our already bloated Federal government. You and I can surely suggest several already existing cabinet posts (I may have just mentioned one or two) that can be easily abolished along with numerous other already existing “programs.”
Now, let me say I do applaud the President for his inspiring leadership since 9/11. And, I applaud the fact that he’s using the word “manufacturing” in a positive way. That’s progress right there, but we need more than what I fear is death by committee.
We need a Secretary of Manufacturing. Let’s hope the President gets our message — before it’s buried with this latest White House suggestion. Feel free to send him this column. Maybe we’ll hear some applause.
George Weimer, contributing editor