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
The latest attack from the Obama campaign takes aim on Romney’s rhetoric and record in Massachusetts.
The latest Obama campaign ad—which will air mainly in swing states—continues the attack on Mitt Romney’s record in Massachusetts: http://youtu.be/oWdZEJW1vWY
This attack goes directly to the heart of Romney’s presidential campaign. The Republican nominee has based his entire on argument on the claim that—by dint of his business experience—he is uniquely qualified to lead the country into a more robust recovery. Indeed, private sector experience has totemic properties in Romney’s narrative; Obama is a failure because he’s “never met a payroll” and “doesn’t understand the economy,” while Romney sees business as the most important qualification a president can have.
But, with a quote from Romney’s gubernatorial campaign—“I know how jobs are created”—the Obama campaign raises a basic question: When Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts he used his business experience as proof he could create jobs for Massachusetts, instead, he led the state to the bottom of the pack for job creation. Now, running for president, he’s using the same arguments. Why should we expect different results this time? This is a play on the familiar trope of the businessperson who talks more than they deliver, and it could be an effective assault on Romney’s perceived competence, especially if paired with continued attacks on Bain Capital.
The Romney campaign has had an interesting and familiar response to this attack. As Pema Levy points out at Talking Points Memo, the Romney team correctly hits Obama for neglecting the extent to which the former governor inherited a bad situation. Here’s Ed Gillespie, a surrogate for the Romney campaign:
“This is what they’re doing, Chris,” Gillespie said. “You take the first year, which is a low base year when the governor came in and took office, because it was 50th in job creation out of all of the states, dead last … and they’re averaging out over the four years. So, they are bringing down the gains of his fourth year in office, which shows the real impact of his policies and diluting it with the first year in office.”
This is exactly what the Romney campaign is doing with regards to Obama’s economic record. By blaming Obama for job losses that occurred before his policies passed or took effect, the Romney team is able to say that the United States lost jobs under his tenure. But if you count from when Obama’s policies took effect, then you end up with more than two years of private sector job growth.
This situation is similar to the one that developed last year, when the Romney team hammered Obama with a deeply misleading ad that took the president’s words out of context. When Democrats responded with their own set of context-free attacks, the Romney campaign cried foul. In other words, if the Romney campaign insists on using misleading attacks, then it has to expect that the same treatment in response. You can’t cry for teacher when you’re the one who started the fight.
By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, June 4, 2012
Here’s a little something everybody ought to know about, from Bloomberg News. They tallied up private-sector job creation since Kennedy’s presidency. Democrats have held the White House for 23 of those years, according to Bberg, and Republicans 28. So fill in this blank: The U.S. economy has created ___ private-sector jobs in the Democrats’ 23 years, and ___ such jobs in the Republicans’ 28 years.
Before we get to the answer, let’s toss in a little background. The political scientist Larry Bartels published a book, Unequal Democracy, on precisely this subject in 2008. I reviewed it for The New York Review of Books. It was interesting because social scientists like Bartels don’t want to think that politics really drives events, but Bartels looked at the evidence on job creation and economic growth under every president since Truman and reached certain inevitable conclusions.
Does that give you any hints? I’ll tell you: Adjust your first-instinct numbers. Then adjust them again.
Ready? Now I’m just killing time so that the answer will be below the fold.
The answer is that 42 million jobs were created under Democratic presidents, and 24 million under Republicans. You can check out the chart here. The champion of course is Clinton, with 20.8 million under Bberg’s numbers. Then comes Reagan at 14.7. Then come Johnson and Carter (yep, Carter). Then Nixon. And so on.
George W. Bush? The private sector lost 600,000 jobs. Imagine. In eight years, he did not create a single job. Obama is now in positive territory to the tune of 40,000, so even though Dubya handed him the biggest economic catastrophe in 80 years, he at least is in the black.
Anyway. The numbers are amazing. And it gets even better. Bloomberg’s Bob Drummond also counted up the number of public-sector jobs created in the respective 23 and 28 years. Results: Federal, state, and local government payrolls grew by 7.1 million under Republicans, and 6.3 million under Democrats.
So drink this in: Private-sector job growth is massively greater under Democrats, and it’s Republicans who’ve increased the public tit.
Now, some sophisticates will say well, you can’t really measure these things from the day a president took office. Better to start when that president’s policies started taking effect. But that is exactly what Bartels did (read my Review piece for details)—and it still came out to a huge advantage for Democratic presidents. In fact, the Obama jobs numbers would be pretty terrific under this methodology, because he wouldn’t have all those Bush-created job losses hanging around his neck. And at the front end, Dubya got credit for some jobs that Clinton’s policies actually created.
If I were the head of the DNC, I’d buy a billboard on a prominent roadway in every county in America and slap these numbers up there.
By: Michael Tomasky The Daily Beast, May 10, 2012
I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the poor quality of the Heritage Foundation’s scholarship, but this week’s stunt is awful, even by Heritage standards.
The conservative think tank published an item yesterday purporting to show that passage of the Affordable Care Act immediately stalled private-sector job growth. Conditions were quickly improving, Heritage argues, right up until those rascally Democrats felt the need to overhaul the health care system.
This is deeply foolish, both as an exercise and as an attempt to manipulate data. Here, for example, is a chart showing private-sector job growth in the 12 months after implementation of the ACA began.
Note, three of those months reflect the strongest private-sector monthly totals in the last five years. One might also mention that private-sector employment bottomed out shortly before the Affordable Care Act passed, and has been on an upwards trajectory ever since.
To clarify, I’m not saying the successful passage of health care reform necessarily caused private-sector job growth to improve. There are all kinds of other facts that gave the economy a boost, most notably the Recovery Act (which, incidentally, the Heritage Foundation also dislikes).
But to argue that the ACA was somehow responsible for undermining the economy is unbecoming an institution that claims to be a “think” tank. I know the right hates the reform law — despite the fact that it includes several provisions, including the individual mandate, which had been endorsed by the Heritage Foundation — but this just reeks of desperation.
As Matt Yglesias explained, referring to the Heritage piece, “Clearly … no fair-minded person actually interested in the subject is going to be persuaded by this kind of nonsense. I think it’s really too bad that conservative institutions spend a fair amount of time and energy on projects whose only possible effect can be to mislead their own constituency.”
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Political Animal-Washington Monthly, July 21, 2011