Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention, but mercifully I haven’t heard a lot on the whole “private sector is doing fine” silliness the past couple days after it seemed like it was everywhere this weekend. Was it stupid for Obama to say this? Of course. But for this to be a real, ongoing problem, it should presumably speak to a deeper/larger genuine problem with Obama. And I don’t think there’s any evidence he doesn’t actually understand the state of the economy. Chris Cilizza’s column, in particular, bugged me:
First, while it is true that midday cable television viewership is low, that rationale completely disregards the media world in which we live, where even the smallest comment can be amplified into a national headline in minutes. Is there anyone paying even passing attention to politics who hasn’t seen the Obama clip five times at this point — which, by the way, is less than 96 hours after he said it? Answer: no.
Then there is the reality that gaffes such as the one Obama made Friday are quickly — and, usually, effectively — used by the other side to score political points.
Cilizza makes some good points about the nature of gaffes later in the piece, but he’s essentially admitting that this is a gaffe because the media (and columns like his are a big part of driving the media narrative) make it one as do political opponents. Cilizza does not have to play along with Romney pushing this story, but, he obviously does.
In contrast, the Christian Science Monitor shows what real journalism looks like:
As to the first point, Obama found few defenders on Friday who agreed that the private sector was fine, if by “fine” one means as healthy and vibrant as it ought to be. The numbers here are obvious. A bleak employment report last week showed that the US added 69,000 jobs in May, which was not enough to keep the unemployment rate from rising to 8.2 percent.
“Yes, the private sector is creating jobs – but not nearly enough to get back to normal unemployment,” wrote political scientist Jonathan Bernstein Friday on his A Plain Blog About Politics.
But if by “fine” you mean moving in the right direction, that’s a different story. The private sector is in positive jobs territory, having created an average of 160,000 jobs per month in 2012. It’s in positive territory for Obama’s time in office, as well. The US has created on net 780,000 private sector jobs since February of 2009, points out Ezra Klein on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.
“The private sector’s job creation machine is basically working, even if it would be nice to see it working faster,” Klein wrote on Friday…
This brings us to point No. 2, context. The fuller text of Obama’s quote was this: “The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last … 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government, oftentimes cuts initiated by … governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government.”
Replace “doing fine” with “growing,” and Obama’s quote becomes less controversial. But “fine” is in there, and Republicans pounced on the misstep, as Democrats have on some Romney statements that look worse when shorn of surrounding words. (Remember “I like firing people”?)
Context? We don’t need no stinkin’ context. Alright, I get how this game works, but I don’t have to like it. Jon Chait suggests that this may ultimately redound to Obama’s benefit as it induced a counter-gaffe (though is it one if the media ignores it?) on the part of Romney:
Romney committed a counter-gaffe, in which he declared of Obama, “He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.” [emphasis mine] The flub here is one of excessive honesty. Americans may hate the idea of government in the abstract, but they like it in the specific. The Republican strategy is always to keep its discussion of government programs general — with a handful of exceptions, like foreign aid and programs that help the poor — while Democrats try to make it as specific as possible. Firing police officers, firefighters, and teachers is way less popular than firing government bureaucrats. Obama has taken great care to turn the question into one of those specific job categories, and Romney has inadvertently helped him.
Chait also extends the argument here. We’ll have to wait and see for any actual impact, but I’m pretty damn confident that arguing against having more firemen, police, and teachers is a losing political proposition.