Obama gaffe: why judging the economy is a no-win (+video)
Broad statements about the economy – good or bad – are a losing proposition for President Obama. Team Romney will exploit them either way.
President Obama’s political fate hangs largely on how the US economy does in the next several months. And with a balky Congress and European economies teetering on the edge, there’s not a whole lot he can do.Skip to next paragraph
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What Mr. Obama can control is how he talks about the economy, and on that score, he’s discovered the perils of speaking off the cuff. His remark at last Friday’s press conference – “the private sector is doing fine” – was a misstatement, made as part of his plea to Congress to fund public-sector jobs. Within a few hours, he had clarified himself.
“It is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine,” Obama told reporters after a meeting with the president of the Philippines. “That's the reason I had the press conference.”
Team Romney is finding good value in both comments. In a 24-hour period, the campaign put out two Web videos on the original “private sector fine” statement. The second, released Monday morning, juxtaposes the comment with May’s weak jobs numbers. The first, out Sunday, highlights stories of people struggling with bankruptcy and unemployment.
But Team Obama fares no better by arguing the economy is “not fine.” When former Obama “car czar” Steven Rattner amplified the president’s clarification Monday morning on MSNBC, noting that close to 5 million private-sector jobs have disappeared since the beginning of the recession, the Republican National Committee immediately did an e-mail blast with the video clip.
“I think you have a hard time saying the private sector is doing fine,” Mr. Rattner said.
In short, Obama can’t win. If he makes a broadly positive assertion about the economy – arguably defensible for a president trying to reassure the markets – he’s accused of being out of touch. If he says something broadly negative, he becomes Debbie Downer, risking the appearance of talking the economy into another recession.
Like many of Mitt Romney’s easily exploited comments – see “I like being able to fire people” – Obama’s was taken out of context. He was contrasting the private sector, which at least is still gaining jobs, with the public sector, which is shrinking. The overarching message was a plea to Congress to fund more firefighters, police, and teachers.