President Obama said something that will be a much-replayed sound-bite in the presidential race:
Laying out his economic argument at a morning news conference, Obama said that cutbacks in state and local government spending have slowed the nation’s recovery and that Congress has “no excuse” for not supporting his jobs bill that would provide funding to retain public workers.
“The private sector,” the president added as a point of comparison, “is doing fine.”
The remark struck a discordant political note in the current economic climate, and Republican adversaries pounced on the assertion to lampoon him for being out of touch. And at least politically, Obama played directly into the GOP argument that he does not understand the depths of the economic crisis and that he is too dependent on government to solve the economy’s problems.
Unlike Republican operatives, I refuse to pounce on the remark and am willing to accept it as careless speech. But what concerns me about it is the assumption behind the remark and the ideology it demonstrates. What the president wants is to increase PUBLIC SECTOR jobs. What he thinks is wrong with the economy is that there aren’t enough GOVERNMENT workers. Obama’s job plan is to hire more teachers, policemen, and firemen, which may be well and good but they are all government employees. This orientation helps account for the Democrats’ uprising in Wisconsin when public sector unions were challenged. (I don’t remember such an uproar when the autoworkers’ union in Racine had its plant shut down.) The underlying issue, again, is how big government should be.