President Obama had had a bad enough week when he entered the White House briefing room Friday.
A weak jobs report was followed by GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s comfortable victory in the Wisconsin recall election and some mixed messages by a key “supporter,” former President Bill Clinton.
Then he really stepped in it. In response to a reporter’s question, the president said:
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 ..”
Republicans and the Mitt Romney campaign jumped all over this, although it was slightly out of context, like many of the former Massachusetts governor’s own gaffes.
But like Romney’s, the president’s verbal miscue was like a Freudian slip, perhaps revealing his true thinking about the economy.
Could the president really see the public sector as the biggest economic problem now?
True, private sector employers have added jobs, as the president said. But they average less than 160,000 new jobs a month, well below the 250,000 average economists say we need for a real recovery.
And many millions of long-term unemployed, underemployed, premature retirees, and discouraged former job seekers who don’t even show up in the statistics sure wouldn’t say the private sector was doing “fine.”
Still, the president is focusing on the half million or so state and government workers who have lost jobs in the last two years as the Great Recession squeezes government finances at all levels:
But one of the biggest weaknesses has been state and local governments, which have laid off 450,000 Americans. These are teachers and cops and firefighters.
John Podhoretz of the New York Post, a partisan Republican warrior I don’t usually quote, made a good point:
…“The private sector is doing fine” may prove to be the pivotal moment for the 2012 campaign because of what it demonstrates about the president’s ideas as he heads into the fight of his life.
Obama’s explanation for the slowdown in economic growth is that the public sector is hurting, and that’s where Washington must step in and act.
The president seriously wants to go before the American people and argue in an election year that the wildly unpopular $860 billion stimulus of 2009 needs to be supplemented this year by more direct federal support of state and local government workers?
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee on ABC News’ “This Week” put it well:
Is it the federal government’s responsibility to provide the firemen, the policemen and the teachers? I thought that was a state and city function, last time I checked.
One of the biggest problems with the 2009 stimulus package was that it included too many tax cuts no one knew about and too much money to save jobs of state and local government workers that eventually were lost anyway.
It should have been funneled entirely into infrastructure—rebuilding roads, bridges, airports. That’s where the federal government can get the most bang for the buck, and it’s where the president should focus—if he gets re-elected.
More gaffes like last week’s, however, and he won’t have to worry too much about that.