The president's shift in attitude is not a surrender, as some liberal critics contend. But it is a belated recognition that his administration needs to work more closely with corporate America, in spite of some deep disagreements.
The goal is to create more jobs. The president's policies have helped to end the recession, but unemployment remains high at 9 percent. Financial markets are surging and corporate profits have rebounded, but the recovery isn't creating jobs quickly enough.
Obama has been willing to meet corporate America halfway, but so far business leaders haven't been persuaded to reciprocate. They are holding nearly $2 trillion in cash on their balance sheets, reluctant to do more hiring.
"Ask yourselves what you can do for America," Obama urged corporate chiefs, echoing the call of JFK of 50 years ago. "Ask yourselves what you can do to hire American workers, to support the American economy, and to invest in this nation."
Big business has waged some high-profile battles against Obama. The chamber fought Obama on health care and lost. It fought the president on tighter regulations for Wall Street - which were needed - and lost. It has opposed, successfully, his proposal for energy cap-and-trade.
But even before his latest overture to the chamber, Obama had done a considerable amount of reaching out to industry. He agreed to extend Bush-era tax cuts regardless of income level, and pushed through a stimulus bill supported by the chamber. He has brought business-friendly figures such as William Daley, Jeffrey Immelt of GE, and Steve Case of AOL into his inner circle.
He wants to lower the top corporate tax rate. He's promoting new trade agreements and more public infrastructure projects, also supported by the chamber.
If anything, Obama should guard against allowing his agenda to become too cozy with corporate America. Too much deregulation, for example, leads to episodes such as the Wall Street meltdown and anti-consumer abuses.
The president is taking practical steps to promote the country's economic success. Business leaders should show more interest in that message.