Stop Stereotyping Industrialists, Please

mrmoneybags.jpgRemember how former Labor Secretary Robert Reich misrepresented a meeting he had at the National Association of Manufacturers, describing it as a room full of cigar-chomping industrialists who hissed him loudly?

In Slate.com, Jonathan Rauch described the…inconsistencies, shall we say:

His speech over, Reich is lambasted by a “John,” and Reich’s answer elicits an eruption of “Wrong!” “B*******!” and “Go back to Harvard!” As Reich speaks, the audience hisses so loudly “that I’m not sure anyone can hear me.” The cigar smoke, he says, “is making my eyes water. I feel dizzy.” He says, “We’re in a boxing arena, John’s the champ, and the crowd is loving every minute.” Finally, the meeting over, he races “out the back exit before they can pummel me.”

As it happens, the meeting was a breakfast, not a lunch. The NAM says the attendance list shows that a third or more of the people present were women (including the NAM representative with whom I spoke). If anyone actually was inclined to light up a cigar after breakfast, he would have been breaking the NAM’s no-smoking rule, according to an association representative (who, like another witness I talked to, saw no cigars). Most important, a transcript of the meeting shows a respectful Q and A session, in which none of the comments attributed to “John”–nor any like them–were actually made.

We were reminded of Reich’s fabulism by an entry at the Los Angeles Times blog on differing accounts of a meeting Sen. Barack Obama had with automotive executives in Detroit.

Sen. Barack Obama, the leading Democratic candidate for his party’s nomination, is very fond of telling receptive audiences the story about how last May he walked right into the automotive lion’s den of Detroit and told those industrialists they were going to have to shape up, change the way they do things and start making more fuel-efficient vehicles to protect our environment.

“And I have to say,” the straight-talking Obama tells his chuckling followers, “that when I delivered that speech, the room got really quiet. [Laughter] Nobody clapped.”

Well, in honor of Obama’s return campaign visit back to Michigan this week, someone — perhaps Republicans, perhaps someone closer to home politically — assembled videotape of Obama’s oft-told tale and spliced it side by side with videotape of that actual Detroit speech.

You’ll never guess what. The room wasn’t quiet at all. Obama, in fact, got a loud round of applause. And at the end of his address the camera’s view of him at the podium is partially blocked because the audience of local businesspeople and automotive executives was rising to give him a standing ovation.

Not quite the fanciful rendition of a Reich, but still.

To political candidates planning to speak to manufacturing executives, we say: Expect a polite, engaged audience, interested in what you have to say although not necessarily agreeing on all points. No cigars, chomped or otherwise.

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