June 11, 2012

Obama’s "doing fine" remark is not just a "gaffe" that will be used against him to "sell" a "story" about him.

Chris Cillizza writes a column titled "Obama’s political gaffe will be fodder in general election." He makes some good points, but propagates a very bad interpretation.

He's right that anything Obama says will be used against him to the extent that it's useful.
[W]hile 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....

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....
And he's right that Obama's remark — "the private sector is doing fine" — is most useful if Romney can "sell" it as "a window into what the president really thinks."
[Obama's] remark plays directly into the story that Republicans are trying to tell about him — that he is a big-government liberal who thinks the answer to all problems is expanding the federal bureaucracy and who lacks even a basic understanding of how the private sector works.
It's not a matter of Romney using an out-of-context remark to "sell" a "story that Republicans are trying to tell." Put the supposed "gaffe" phrase back in its context — including the follow-up context in which Obama explained himself. I did that work here. Obama meant to say what he did, and he stood by it. He is pushing a bill in Congress that would lavish federal money on state and local governments which, he said, have laid off 450,000 workers.  He told us the private sector is doing fine 3 times in his original statement, because that proposition is a fixed point in the argument for pouring more money into state and local government employment (not "expanding the federal bureaucracy" as Cillizza put it).

In his follow-up remarks, Obama repeated himself. He didn't use the phrase "doing fine" again, but he said there was "some good momentum in the private sector" with "4.3 million jobs created," so the private sector isn't the "biggest drag on the economy." He then pushed his plan for big federal spending to bail out state and local government, which he called "taking steps that would actually help deal with the weaknesses in the economy and promote the kind of economic growth that we would all like to see." And he wanted nothing done to help private business, because that isn't where the problem is.

Now, that's a fully fleshed out economic position. Not a gaffe. It's not merely "fodder" to be exploited by Republicans who want to tell their story. It is Obama's economic plan. It's not tax relief, which Obama comes out and says is unwarranted. And it's not fundamental reform of state and local government of the sort that Gov. Scott Walker has successfully undertaken in Wisconsin, which has worked to avoid laying off government workers. That's something Obama wouldn't even mention, in the very week that Walker won the recall election. Obama is promoting a plan to prop up the states that are not doing the kind of hard work that we've done in Wisconsin and thus reinforcing what is happening in the most irresponsible states.

There now, maybe some of you think I'm just telling a "story that Republicans are trying to tell," but I'm using the totality of Obama's remarks and the actual plan that he's pushing in Congress. I think Obama has committed to an economic plan that stands in stark contrast to the message of the Wisconsin recall: that people want responsible reforms and not profligate spending on government employment.

51 comments:

Rusty said...

No body know less about how markets work than a progressive.
Howsabout we DON'T stimulate with taxpayer money for awhile and see what happens.

DCS said...

"The private sector is doing fine," isn't a bug, it's a feature.

Dave said...

The explanation you give makes it worse. Bailing out state and local governments means more debt and a greater drag on the economy. Government is not productive in the economic sense, all it's income is pulled from the productive private sector. At it's best government creates a safe and stable environment for private growth, a good an worthy end. but not one that creates wealth and ultimately sustains itself. This is so elementary that Obama's plan makes his lack of understanding more evident. What his plan does is add to the burden of the private sector (enriched for Republicans) and employ government workers who will likely belong to unions and vote Democrat. It just looks like a pay off for his people at the expense of the opposition. It's a political plan, not a serious economic one.

Curious George said...

If Doyle knew there was more Obama cash comin' he might have run again.

That said, this plan is a non-starter. He wants to shore up the public union vote and again blame the GOP for halting his awesomeness. Romney and the GOP will pummel him with this misstep.

rehajm said...

Ann, you have a much better handle on this than many conservatives, who are this morning still calling the president's remarks a 'gaffe'. It's as if, like most things this president says, we cannot bring ourselves to conclude he actually means what he is saying. He can't possible mean that- let's assign something more reasoned to what he is saying.

Michael K said...

AS Michael Barone writes today even California showed Republican signs of life in the election last Tuesday. The worm may be turning. It's about time. Obama gave us a good picture of his thinking, if you can call it that, on economics.

jvermeer51 said...

Obama likes the phrase "doing just fine". He also uses it to describe how the evil rich would be after take hikes. It seems to be his two second view of that mysterious world of private sector business. They do just fine; at least until we can nationalize them like GM.

Jeff in Oklahoma said...

As if there was any question before the "gaffe", it is painfully obvious that "progressives" truly believe that government is the solution to [fill in the blank] problem.


http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2012/06/11/government_is_the_solution_114430.html

Rusty said...

Michael. Smart people have figured out that democrat welfare politics are unsustainable.
This is a trend.
The grown ups are going to take over for he next dozen or so years and we will watch a democrat party remake itself.
Hilarity ensues.

ndspinelli said...

The Emporer Wore no Clothes.

MichaelK, The San Diego vote wasn't that surprising, it's a fairly conservative city w/ a conservative daily newspaper. San Jose is surprising.

Curious George said...

Look this part of Obama's strategy to shore up the base:

Gay vote: Tell gays he's for SSM but kick that can to the states

Youth vote: Student loan plan. DOA

Women vote: The whole Sandra Fluke thing.

Hispanic Vote: Fighting voting laws in TX and FL

Blacks: Well, he has the blacks already.

Obama knows he can't get this passed...it's all smoke and mirrors for the public unions.

FloridaSteve said...

For the first time in about 30 years I'm actually looking forward to the debates. I simply do not see a way for team O to spin many of his goals and policies (in his own words that can be read back to him verbatim) that "should" be nicely contrasted by Romney. And Romney surprises me ever day with his intelligent aggressiveness so there should be lots of red meat for him by the time the debates do finally get here.

Michael K said...

"The grown ups are going to take over for he next dozen or so years "

It's subject to the question of whether there are enough grownups left in California. Barone's column suggests that some interesting changes are happening, not just in San Diego, which is 60 miles south of me.

I have been part of an insurgent group trying to change local politics in a small city in Orange County, as conservative as there is in California. Believe me, there is a real battle to get control of spending, even at the local level and even in conservative areas. Local politics in San Diego are as corrupt as in most cities. Football stadiums are a big topic.

Hagar said...

I do not know that the Professor makes it much clearer, but then I can't quite find the words either.

However; the most disturbing part of the President's statement is not that about "the private sector is doing fine," but the follow up to the effect that "the public sector is lagging and needs to hire more people."

This must have something to do with Mark Twain's celebrated village, the inhabitants of which earned a precarious living taking in each others' wash.

This is not "socialism," but such a complete and utter incomprehension of how money and economics work in society, that it is difficult to answer. How do you discuss science with a person who thinks "Star Trek" is for real?

cubanbob said...

Obama is doing fine. It's the rest of us that aren't. We he gets fired in November then we will start the road of being fine.

Considering that crime hasn't worsen, there have been no out of the normal outbreaks of fires and the schools are no worse than before 450,000 less state and local public sector employees is a fine idea.

Daddy Binx said...

It's a Kinsley gaffe.

Every once in a while, the mask slips.

Quayle said...

He then pushed his plan for big federal spending to bail out state and local government, which he called "taking steps that would actually help deal with the weaknesses in the economy and promote the kind of economic growth that we would all like to see."

Let me dumb this down for all you farmers.

In other words, Obama said that the lack of horses isn't what is slowing down the wagon - the horses are doing just fine.

What is slowing down the wagon is that the wagon is too small, and there are too few passengers and too little hay in the back.

Get some more passengers and more hay, and the whole thing will speed up.

virgil xenophon said...

See, Ann takes the time to actually read everything Obama says (these days, at least, would that she...oh well..) much like those that actually took the time to read everything Hitler ACTUALLY wrote in Mein Kampf--as opposed to those (the vast majority) who rationalized away what otherwise would have been too horrible to contemplate..

Scott M said...

The worm may be turning. It's about time.

"We have wormsign the likes of which even God has never seen."

Hagar said...

Speaking of "Star Trek": Have you noticed that in the episodes where the crew visits earth in their own time, not our imperfect world, there aren't any people there? Other than the crew and their friends, who all own vineyards that cultivate and maintain themselves, or operate bucolic inns with no customers.

So where is the industrial society that produces those starships and how does it work?

Scott M said...

@Michael K

Toss me an email at ravenloff@hotmail.com. I've got some San Diego-specific questions.

Thanks.

MaggotAtBroad&Wall said...

Obama's plan is to take money from people in the states -- either by taxes or borrowing -- ship it to Washington where some bureaucrats decide how to ship it back to the states. It's idiotic. If the states want/need more government workers, they can hire them themselves at the state and local level by raising taxes.

Plus, if Obama's plan were to happen, how do the new state and local government workers get paid next year. And the year after that? It will not be hard at all for Republicans to portray Obama as an economic illiterate.

Quayle said...

take money from people in the states -- either by taxes or borrowing -- ship it to Washington where some bureaucrats decide how to ship it back to the states.

Agree. And let's be clear.

Take a dollar from the states, and ship back 65 cents.

rhhardin said...

Stupidity is not a gaffe.

Joe said...

I hope Obama continues down this path since it will put in the open the fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans--the belief in government as the key driver of success and the belief of people as they key driver of success.

In turn this will mean the election is about these two fundamental ideas and which one we want to embrace. Unfortunately, unless this debate goes all the way to the state and local level, it won't really do much good.

From a conservative Republican perspective, as long as you have politicians like Orinn Hatch in office, nothing is going to change. (Like always, I'm voting against Hatch. I'm not a big fan of his opponent, but I really dislike Hatch.)

AJ Lynch said...

Hardin said:

"Stupidity is not a gaffe".

Heh.

Big Mike said...

I fully agree with your analysis, Professor.

Two thoughts. First, has anyone ever done any sort of studies to figure out how many private sector jobs it takes to fund one public sector job? Presumably the study would have to be run multiple times for different tax rates.

Secondly, I can't help but notice that when Democrats talk about public sector jobs they always mention police and firefighters and teachers, but when they get the extra money they take a huge fraction of those dollars to hire bureaucrats into cushy jobs pushing paper. Sometimes that huge fraction is essentially 100%, which is mathematically as large a fraction as one can get.

Rusty said...

michael.
My oldest daughter teaches middle school math in Fountain Valley. She is finding out the hard way as the sands of her state teachers pension run through her fingers.
Perhaps she'll wake up.

Michael said...

Professor. You have it exactly right. Very well put.

Michael K said...

"Toss me an email at ravenloff@hotmail.com. I've got some San Diego-specific questions."


Done. A reporter friend of mine in San Diego knows a lot more details than I do. For example, the mayor's race is a big deal this year.

Local politics, largely racial, is the reason there is no NFL team in Los Angeles. California is such a great example of blue state pathology. Too bad I still live here. Too old to move. Too many kids and grandkids. It will allow a close examination of a catastrophe. Too close.

Bruce Hayden said...

From a conservative Republican perspective, as long as you have politicians like Orinn Hatch in office, nothing is going to change. (Like always, I'm voting against Hatch. I'm not a big fan of his opponent, but I really dislike Hatch.)

My pet peeve with Hatch is that he was a major backer (probably #3 overall) of the America (dis)Invents Act, the biggest rewrite of patent law in almost 60 years. As was, it ended up with the names of the two judiciary committee chairs, but if Republicans had controlled the Senate, it would have been Hatch-Smith, and not Leahy-Smith. Which means that he essentially took a lot of money from the lobbyists involved. He sold out to rent seeking on a massive level, and our economy is going to suffer for the next generation or so as a result.

gregq said...

Hey Quayle, brilliant analogy. I'm going to steal it. :-)

Jeff in OK: Yeah, I saw the E. J. Dione article, and thought "please keep talking this way. I want a serious land-slid victory, and that will get us one."

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that the reason that this "gaffe" isn't going away, is that it shows how out of touch the President is as to how the economy works. He (along with Nancy Pelosi) actually seems to believe that you can grow the economy long term by hiring more government workers.

He is clueless. He has never really had to work for a living, never had to make a payroll, make a profit, etc. He has essentially fed off the public teat his entire life. And, this gaffe illustrates this.

edutcher said...

In the Deep South, there are still places where they call this fighting dirty, the same way the Union beat the Confederacy.

How dare those Republican use the Demos' words to beat them - in or out of context.

Only the Lefties are supposed to be allowed to do stuff like that.

Roger J. said...

I think it was milton friedman that say a dollar of government expenditure has to be paid by the taxpayes is some shape or form. Anytime the govt spends a dollar, taxpayers are on the hook for paying it. Of course printing more money to pay it is always an option for the fed, but that is very short sighted.

Roger J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Koch said...

Nice explanation by Althouse. Obama is completely out of touch with reality since he has lived his whole life in lefty reality.

It makes sense that Obama wants to pretend that the private sector is doing OK since the obvious fixes (less taxes and regulations, smaller gov, less government interference, cheaper energy) are anathema to lefties.

Obama personally knows zip about economics so he he is going to stick with conventional lefty economics (i.e. raise taxes on the private sector to finance increased handouts to the public sector) to the bitter end.

Don't cry for Obama. Yes, he will lose in November but his early retirement will be sweet for everybody (good for Obama and the country, win win).

Thorley Winston said...

Question: when Obama claims that federal, local and State governments have lain off 450,000 workers is he including the more than 100,000 temporary workers that were hired to help with the 2010 census?

Hagar said...

Roger J.
"Printing" money - actually done by computer keystrokes today - leads to inflation, so we still pay. It is just harder to figure out what happened, so politicians like it.

Christopher in MA said...

While it is true that midday cable television viewership is low, that rationale completely disgregards the media world in which we live, where even the smallest comment can be amplified into a national headline in minutes.

Like "corporations are people too, my friend," Chris? Or Bush Doctrine? As the noted philosopher John McClain once said, welcome to the party, pal.

Count me among the many who didn't want Romney who are pleasantly surprised that he and his team are taking this choom-smoking, crack-snorting, tongue-tied embarrasment to the woodshed.

Paul Kirchner said...

I have a sincere question: Has it ever been considered normal for the federal government to assume the responsibility for paying state and local workers? It seems to me that the fact that states and municipalities have to balance their budgets has heretofore enforced some discipline on how much money they could expend on employees salaries and benefits--this in contrast to the federal government, which has merely to raise the debt ceiling and fire up the printing press. But now Obama wants to use the federal government's ability to spend profligately to benefit state and local workers as well. How can this spell anything but fiscal disaster?

Larry J said...

Two thoughts. First, has anyone ever done any sort of studies to figure out how many private sector jobs it takes to fund one public sector job? Presumably the study would have to be run multiple times for different tax rates.

I don't know of any formal studies but there are a lot of variables. In general terms, it takes the full taxes of many taxpayers to pay the salary/benefits of a single government employee. The number of taxpayers per government employee (notice I didn't say "government workers" because for a significant percentage, that's an oxymoron) varies by the level of government.

For example, in a town or city, the local tax burden may be lower than what taxpayers pay to the state and federal government. In that case, it takes more taxpayers per employee. If the employee compensation package is $100K and the average local tax burden is $2K, then it takes 50 taxpayers to pay for each employee. At the state level, if the average tax burden is $10K, then it takes the full taxes of 10 taxpayers to pay for each government employee.

Unthinking people like leftists in general and Obama in particular seem to believe that a job is a job. However, that just isn't true. Governments can hire too many people, promise them too much in salaries and benefits, and if they face a shortfall, attempt to raise more revenues by raising tax rates. If a private employer can't pay the salaries, then people get laid off. It's a lot harder to get rid of unneeded or unproductive government employees due to civil service protections and the like which private employees can only dream of having.

Rick said...

Americans from other states should not be sending money to DC just for it to be sent to us in California to support us during our self-inflicted fiscal and cultural crisis.

Hagar said...

Less 50% for overhead.

Lawyer Mom said...

Ann is spot-on. This isn't a gaffe, it's his economic plan (and political plan, if you like), and it always has been. He just said it with less subterfuge.

That's why I say "The Government Can!" is his new slogan, or, at the very least, the slogan he finally brought out of the closet.

http://lawyermommusings.blogspot.com/2012/06/obamas-new-slogan-government-can.html

Cedarford said...

Rick said...
Americans from other states should not be sending money to DC just for it to be sent to us in California to support us during our self-inflicted fiscal and cultural crisis.

====================
Probably a sub-message in this that can used not just in swing states, but in states that should go Democrat in a moderate margin but who have made the tough, hard choices in Government spending cutbacks that Ilinois, Chicago, and the State of California refuse to do.

Not just Romney asking New Jerseyites, Wisconsinites, and Mainers why they should have to pay for Obama giving Fed money to Illinois, for refusing to bite the bullet like they had to..

But tying Democrat Congressional opponents locked into supporting Obama on the need to subsidize "Hero government employees" in spendthrift states to that matter. "Why does my Senate opponent believe CT voters should send money they make to the Federal government to subsidize state and local government and union employees in Obama's favorite states? What does our own belt-tightening and new taxes to meet a budget mean when Chicago and San Francisco refuse to and want CT dollars to subsidize their excess government union people?"

Cedarford said...

Bruce Hayden said...
I think that the reason that this "gaffe" isn't going away, is that it shows how out of touch the President is as to how the economy works. He (along with Nancy Pelosi) actually seems to believe that you can grow the economy long term by hiring more government workers.

He is clueless. He has never really had to work for a living, never had to make a payroll, make a profit, etc. He has essentially fed off the public teat his entire life. And, this gaffe illustrates this.

=====================
Very true, Bruce.
The Republican counter-message must do the appropriate amount of time reminding people it doesn't work in any economic theory and trot out the usual economic profs that will affirm that...and how clueless Obama, Reid, and Pelosi are on the matter. But for every minute or dollar spend on correcting the theory bit, they should spend 3-4 minutes and dollars on asking voters who have sacrificed elsewhere to question how subsidizing government union employees in the bluest and most bankrupt states benefits them.

1. How does your money coming from Ohio, where you have had to make severe cutbacks to balance your state and city budgets, sent to California that refuses to bite the bullet on excessive costs - benefit you?
2. How does sending your money to subsidize government workers in California benefit you in Ohio? Remember it is not just Obama, but the Democrat running for your House seat and your Senate seat in Ohio that support the Obama view on where your money goes.

3. Do you people in Colorado really believe the way to help the local Colorado economy is to give your money to the Chicago Democrat political patronage machine?

4. Why does Senator Franken believe Minnesotans are better off sending their money to assure that an overabundance of cops, teachers, and firefighters and 85 other categories of government employees in Hawaii can have regular promotions, have their generous pensions and benefits propped up?
How does this help the Minnesota economy and your jobs?
Senator Franken believes it does.
Ask him why at town meetings.
Ask him why he backs Obama sending Minnesota's wealth to Hawaii.

Richard Dolan said...
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Richard Dolan said...

PK: "I have a sincere question: Has it ever been considered normal for the federal government to assume the responsibility for paying state and local workers?"

There is a precedent for those who rememeber 1975. Ford to City: Drop Dead.

A propos Ann's thesis, Mickey Kaus has a similar take -- the problem with O's statement is that he treats reduced gov't spending on employment at the state/local level as having the same economic effect as reductions in employment in the private sector. If O resists reductions in state/local gov't in hard times, when would be a good time to reduce govt spending? In flush times, the politicians inevitably expand govt.

The problem with O's statement is not the gaffe -- it's the fact that he doesn't have a clue about the key differences between the public and private spheres.

g said...

I feel like I'm dreaming a Ayn Rand nightmare, and can't wake myself up.

Synova said...

Obama: "taking steps that would actually help deal with the weaknesses in the economy and promote the kind of economic growth that we would all like to see."

The problem is that government growth is not economic growth.

It's not the same thing, not remotely.

It's pretty much indistinguishable in nuttiness from Pelosi claiming that unemployment payments were an economic multiplier.

A robust economy can carry a great deal of unemployment and welfare redistribution and government sector employment, but none of those things actually add to the carrying potential of the economy.

Perpetual motion doesn't work in physics either.

Or think of it this way... the economy is not a frictionless environment, and government programs are friction, adhesion, and an additional 2g's of gravity applied to the economy.