Sunday, June 10, 2012

The real problem with Obama's June 8 press conference

I am not going to opine on whether Obama's "the private sector is doing fine" gaffe will hurt him in the long run.  Sullivan assumed yes, and when I read his lament I jumped immediately for comfort to Jonathan Bernstein, who, right on cue, assured that ultimately it will matter not a whit. 

I am distressed, though, by a more conscious word choice of Obama's in that June 8 press conference below, though -- on that recalls the political summer from hell, 2011.  Wanna guess what I'm thinking?  I will refrain from putting the (repeated) keyword in italics:
Last September, I sent Congress a detailed jobs plan full of the kind of bipartisan ideas that would have put more Americans back to work.  It had broad support from the American people.    It was fully paid for.  If Congress had passed it in full, we’d be on track to have a million more Americans working this year.  The unemployment rate would be lower.  Our economy would be stronger.

 Of course, Congress refused to pass this jobs plan in full. They did act on a few parts of the bill -- most significantly the payroll tax cut that’s putting more money in every working person’s paycheck right now.  And I appreciate them taking that action.  But they left most of the jobs plan just sitting there.  And in light of the headwinds that we’re facing right now, I urge them to reconsider.  Because there's steps we can take right now to put more people back to work.  They’re not just my ideas; they're not just Democratic ideas -- they’re ideas that independent, nonpartisan economists believe would make a real difference in our economy.

Keep in mind that the private sector has been hiring at a solid pace over the last 27 months.  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.  Congress should pass a bill putting them back to work right now, giving help to the states so that those layoffs are not occurring.
Get it? My beef is with the object of criticism: "Congress."  "Congress" was the object of Obama's occasional mildly expressed ire as he careened in the GOP's caboose toward the debt ceiling cliff last summer, seeking compromise and grand bargain.  It was only after shipwrecking on the tax hike-free Budget Control Act in August that Obama pivoted in September. literally changing the subject as he unveiled his jobs plan and started lambasting Republicans -- not an undifferentiated Congress -- for blocking infrastructure spending, support to the states, the payroll tax cut, etc.  All through the fall he hit them with increasing sharpness and specificity.

Remember Obama standing on a crumbling bridge between Boehner's and McConnell's districts, calling out their unwillingness to invest in infrastructure?  Remember him specifically highlighting the folly of a "no new taxes pledge"?  Remember him criticizing Boehner for first saying that neither party should take a "my way or the highway" approach, and then doing just that by ruling out tax increases in the supercommittee negotiations?

There's an echo of that approach here, in pointing out that the measures he's proposing have the support of independent economists and are "not just Democratic ideas," implicitly pointing toward who's blocking them.  

But why implicitly?

It's true that when asked directly about Republican allegations, Obama did take it to them a bit:
Q    What about the Republicans saying that you’re blaming the Europeans for the failures of your own policies?

THE PRESIDENT:  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 -- oftentimes, cuts initiated by 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.

And so, if Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is, how do we help state and local governments and how do we help the construction industry.  Because the recipes that they’re promoting are basically the kinds of policies that would add weakness to the economy, would result in further layoffs, would not provide relief in the housing market, and would result, I think most economists estimate, in lower growth and fewer jobs, not more.
Gaffe and all, though, that's pretty mild stuff. How about an assertion that GOP-imposed inaction and mis-timed austerity is choking off the recovery? How about blaming the Republicans instead of the Europeans?

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