Political coverage of President Obama can be odd sometimes. We’ve reached the point at which media professionals no longer evaluate the president’s comments at a press conference, for example, but rather evaluate how the comments might be used against him later.
What matters isn’t the substance, then, but whether the substance has the potential to be wrenched from context in future attack ads.
Take this morning, for example. Obama hosted a press conference at the White House, starting with a seven-minute opening statement on the economy and the need for Congress to act on pending job legislation. Then he opened the floor to questions, most of which dealt with the Eurozone crisis.
At one point, a reporter asked, “What about the Republicans saying that you’re blaming the Europeans for the failure of your own policies?” Obama responded:
“The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last two, 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, you know, governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in.”
Reporters figured Republicans would seize of the notion of the private sector “doing fine,” so pretty much every other word uttered during the press conference has been deemed irrelevant. Now, the “gaffe” is what matters — include Obama’s important explanation of the policies needed to improve the economy and the damage done by austerity-like measures in the public sector.
As gaffes go, this strikes me as extremely weak tea. The choice of words probably could have been slightly better, but really, to treat this as some kind of breakthrough moment in the campaign is pretty silly. Indeed, what Obama said, in context, is largely correct — compared to the public sector, the private sector really is doing fine.
This isn’t complicated. Corporate profits have soared, the stock market is up, and private sector job growth has fueled the recovery entirely on its own. In fact, private sector job growth last year was the second best year we’ve seen since the late 1990s, and 2012 is on track to be even stronger.
The public sector, meanwhile, continues to be a drag on the economy, laying off workers and cutting budgets. Comparing the two sectors, there’s nothing shocking about saying one is “fine” and the other isn’t.
If the media pushback is that the current growth rates aren’t yet good enough, that’s certainly fair — but I think everyone realizes Obama has said the same thing several thousand times. Republicans and reporters may enjoy being opportunistic with these comments, but that doesn’t make the story legitimate.
For his part, Mitt Romney quickly learned of the media reports and told voters that the president is “out of touch.” Yes, Mr. Elevator For My Cars who isn’t concerned about the poor and who enjoys firing people wants to talk about which presidential candidate is “out of touch.”
The election is 150 days away. It’s only going to get sillier.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 8, 2012
There’s no question that America’s recovery from the financial crisis has been disappointing. In fact, I’ve been arguing that the era since 2007 is best viewed as a “depression,” an extended period of economic weakness and high unemployment that, like the Great Depression of the 1930s, persists despite episodes during which the economy grows. And Republicans are, of course, trying — with considerable success — to turn this dismal state of affairs to their political advantage.
They love, in particular, to contrast President Obama’s record with that of Ronald Reagan, who, by this point in his presidency, was indeed presiding over a strong economic recovery. You might think that the more relevant comparison is with George W. Bush, who, at this stage of his administration, was — unlike Mr. Obama — still presiding over a large loss in private-sector jobs. And, as I’ll explain shortly, the economic slump Reagan faced was very different from our current depression, and much easier to deal with. Still, the Reagan-Obama comparison is revealing in some ways. So let’s look at that comparison, shall we?
For the truth is that on at least one dimension, government spending, there was a large difference between the two presidencies, with total government spending adjusted for inflation and population growth rising much faster under one than under the other. I find it especially instructive to look at spending levels three years into each man’s administration — that is, in the first quarter of 1984 in Reagan’s case, and in the first quarter of 2012 in Mr. Obama’s — compared with four years earlier, which in each case more or less corresponds to the start of an economic crisis. Under one president, real per capita government spending at that point was 14.4 percent higher than four years previously; under the other, less than half as much, just 6.4 percent.
O.K., by now many readers have probably figured out the trick here: Reagan, not Obama, was the big spender. While there was a brief burst of government spending early in the Obama administration — mainly for emergency aid programs like unemployment insurance and food stamps — that burst is long past. Indeed, at this point, government spending is falling fast, with real per capita spending falling over the past year at a rate not seen since the demobilization that followed the Korean War.
Why was government spending much stronger under Reagan than in the current slump? “Weaponized Keynesianism” — Reagan’s big military buildup — played some role. But the big difference was real per capita spending at the state and local level, which continued to rise under Reagan but has fallen significantly this time around.
And this, in turn, reflects a changed political environment. For one thing, states and local governments used to benefit from revenue-sharing — automatic aid from the federal government, a program that Reagan eventually killed but only after the slump was past. More important, in the 1980s, anti-tax dogma hadn’t taken effect to the same extent it has today, so state and local governments were much more willing than they are now to cover temporary deficits with temporary tax increases, thereby avoiding sharp spending cuts.
In short, if you want to see government responding to economic hard times with the “tax and spend” policies conservatives always denounce, you should look to the Reagan era — not the Obama years.
So does the Reagan-era economic recovery demonstrate the superiority of Keynesian economics? Not exactly. For, as I said, the truth is that the slump of the 1980s — which was more or less deliberately caused by the Federal Reserve, as a way to bring down inflation — was very different from our current depression, which was brought on by private-sector excess: above all, the surge in household debt during the Bush years. The Reagan slump could be and was brought to a rapid end when the Fed decided to relent and cut interest rates, sparking a giant housing boom. That option isn’t available now because rates are already close to zero.
As many economists have pointed out, America is currently suffering from a classic case of debt deflation: all across the economy people are trying to pay down debt by slashing spending, but, in so doing, they are causing a depression that makes their debt problems even worse. This is exactly the situation in which government spending should temporarily rise to offset the slump in private spending and give the private sector time to repair its finances. Yet that’s not happening.
The point, then, is that we’d be in much better shape if we were following Reagan-style Keynesianism. Reagan may have preached small government, but in practice he presided over a lot of spending growth — and right now that’s exactly what America needs.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 7, 2012
The top policy aide to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has joined Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, in an indication of Romney’s embrace of Ryan’s legislative proposals.
House Budget Committee Policy Director Jonathan Burks has left his post to become deputy policy director for the Romney campaign, according to Burks and Republican aides. The hire highlights Romney’s relationship with Ryan and embrace of the Wisconsin Republican’s proposals to slash domestic spending and overhaul Medicare by allowing beneficiaries to eventually purchase private coverage. It could also fuel speculation about the likelihood of Romney picking Ryan as his vice presidential nominee.
Romney has edged closer to Ryan’s plans even as President Obama and congressional Democrats make it clear that their own opposition to Ryan’s Medicare proposals will be a top campaign theme. On ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said the candidate “is for” the Ryan budget. “He believes it goes in the right direction,” Fehrnstrom said. Romney’s camp has also highlighted contacts between the former Massachusetts governor and Ryan.
Spokesmen for the Romney campaign and the Budget Committee declined to comment on Burks’s move.
By: Dan Friedman, The Atlantic, June 8, 2012
Sixty million dollars sure sounds like a lot of money. That’s how much the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised in the month of May. Michele Bachmann figures it’s such a huge number that she can scare conservatives into giving her Congressional re-election campaign money by citing it. “Our victories this week have the Democrats on the run, but $60 million dollars in one month will help them fight back hard and I’m concerned they are preparing to dump their piles of cash on me and other Constitutional conservative candidates,” reads her latest fundraising e-mail.
There’s only one problem, for Bachmann and the Democrats alike. Republicans out-raised them by a comfortable margin. The Romney campaign and Republican National Committee together brought in $76.8 million in May.
Democrats are gamely trying to spin this by arguing that it is cyclical: Obama and the DNC were way ahead of Romney and the RNC because the Republicans had not settled on a candidate. Now that they have, a flood of donations will come in on their side, but in the end it will even out.
That’s true, but Obama has to vastly out-raise Romney if he is to compete on the airwaves this fall. That’s because the wave of unlimited contributions from corporations and eccentric billionaires unleashed by the Supreme Court is going much more to the right than the left. Last week Politico reported that right-wing groups are planning to spend $1 billion on the election. “Just the spending linked to the Koch network is more than the $370 million that John McCain raised for his entire presidential campaign four years ago,” noted Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen. “And the $1 billion total surpasses the $750 million that Barack Obama, one of the most successful fundraisers ever, collected for his 2008 campaign.”
What is that money going to? Some of it, including much of the $400 million being spent by the Koch-related groups, will go to grassroots field operations. But most will go to advertisements.
And what will the advertisements consist of? Intellectually dishonest attacks on Obama’s record. Consider this hit job from Crossroads GPS, one of the two groups run by Karl Rove that together will raise and spend $300 million on the campaign. The commercial, which is being distributed with a $7 million ad buy, features a ticking debt clock and a narrator complaining that Obama is “adding $4 billion in debt each day” and “borrowing from China to pay for his spending.”
Coming from Karl Rove, this is more than a little hypocritical and misleading. Rove, of course, was the political mastermind of the Bush administration. The national debt nearly doubled under Bush–who inherited surpluses and left office running a massive deficit—from $5.7 trillion to $10.6 trillion. That’s because he passed tax cuts and increased spending. Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, blamed the political operation in the White House—in other words, Rove—for being irresponsible and ideological rather than serious about governance.
While it is technically true that the debt has continued to rise under Obama, this is hardly his fault. According to the Congressional Budget Office, roughly half of current deficits are due to the tax cuts Bush signed and the two wars Bush started. Meanwhile, Obama inherited a recession caused in part by Bush’s reckless mismanagement. During recessions governments run deficits because tax revenues decline even if rates stay the same, and automatic spending on programs such as food stamps and Medicaid increases as more people become eligible. Moreover, anyone with a basic understanding of macroeconomics knows that tax cuts and stimulative spending are often required during a recession to boost demand and help generate economic growth. In light of all this, Rove is more responsible for the current deficit than Obama is. But Rove blames Obama for it anyway.
Crossroads GPS actually proposes to make the deficits worse. As Jonathan Salant points out at Bloomberg News: “For all the talk about the debt, Rove’s group wants to continue all of the Bush tax cuts, as well as eliminate the estate tax on multimillionaires. Crossroads GPS doesn’t offer any specific spending cuts to pay for these policies.”
Republicans hope to convince the public to blame Obama for the debt they created, and to vote for more of the same policies that created it. And with an enormous spending advantage, they may be able to.
By: Ben Adler, The Nation, June 7, 2012