Jun 09 2012

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Obama’s Golden Gaffe

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Accidentally Telling His Truth

In Washington, a gaffe is when someone accidentally tells the truth.

That happened yesterday when President Obama addressed the press corps. He began with a statement regarding the US and world economies, and then took questions from reporters.

Forget, for now, the actual statement the President made, which reads like a surreal alternate reality of the facts as most Americans understand them.

Toward the end of the Q & A session, the President was asked, “What about the Republicans saying that you’re blaming the Europeans for the failures of your own policies?”

The President’s response included this: “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…”

Setting aside the substance for a moment, the statement was pure political gold. It’s the kind of thing that opposing campaign operatives can only hope for; an entire campaign narrative distilled into a single line spoken by your opponent.

The Bush team had this break in 2004 with John Kerry when the Massachusetts Senator famously said that he, “voted for the (Iraq war funding) bill before he voted against it.”  The Bush campaign, which was busy constructing a narrative of Kerry as an unreliable flip-flopper, had just received its most authoritative proof, from the candidate himself.

For Team Romney, which has been building the case that President Obama does not understand the economy or, worse, that he’s in over his head, yesterday’s statement provides a gift-from-heaven confirmation that campaign’s can usually only dream of.

The White House, seeing the self inflicted wound, rolled the President out later in the day to correct his statement, but the damage was done.

No one is going to remember the correction.

But as important as the President’s gaffe is to the context of the political campaign, yesterday’s comments accounted for more than just a new signature line for Romney campaign ads. I believe that the President’s statement wasn’t just an accident of bad phrasing, but a true window into POTUS’ thinking.

Much has been made of President Obama’s reliance on teleprompters (TOTUS or Teleprompter of the US). The truth of the matter is that when POTUS goes off script, he tells it like he feels it, no doubt horrifying political advisors that recognize the comments won’t square with the American people. This probably explains why the teleprompter follows Obama to even notionally unscripted events, such as town hall meetings.

This President has a history of off-script comments that don’t square with the public at large.

Remember the 2008 campaign, when candidate Obama was talking to Joe the Plumber, and how he just wanted to “spread the wealth around.”? He did it again recently when he provided what were some alarming views on the proper role of the Supreme Court in overturning legislation under the separation of powers.

And POTUS did it again yesterday.

Look, the fact is that the President isn’t a product of the private sector A one dimensional view of unfettered financial gain, bottom lines, relentless pursuit of efficiency, interferes with  Obama’s experience and a community organizer’s strong identification with “social justice.” 

 It is wealth without purpose.

If you were to create a paradigm where the private sector was subordinated to a role of simply providing capital for government identified priorities, you would probably be closer to the President’s core thinking about a proper economic order.

But he can’t say that.  Or rather, he can’t say that and hope to be re-elected.

So it is the unscripted moments where we see what’s really on the President’s mind.

Dig a little deeper into the President’s comments yesterday. The President says the weakness in the economy isn’t the private sector, but the public sector. 

The problem with President Obama’s thinking is that the public sector doesn’t create economic growth.

Indeed, the public sector is only viable to the extent that the general economy – the private sector –  is performing well, creating jobs, growth and increased incomes that generate greater tax revenue, which in turn can fund the public sector without incurring crippling deficits.

That’s not an argument against the public sector.  Putting aside the very real debate about public sector unions and their demands for cost-free pensions and health care on the public’s dime, no one disagrees about the need for cops, fire fighters and teachers, or that these services are funded through taxation.

But for the President to say that the root cause of our economic weakness is in the public sector, and that if only we were to fund it at adequate levels, the country would have a stronger economy is a disturbingly flawed understanding of the most basic economics.

But for someone who grew up in community organizing and the union movement, the statement makes complete sense.  Indeed, the President probably feels a deep attachment and sense of regret that the expanded public payrolls made possible by the Stimulus have now been cut back as the money was spent.

Indeed, while the White House has been tempered regarding its official position about Scott Walker’s decisive victory in the Wisconsin recall election, and the unmitigated disaster it represents for public sector unions, there can be no doubt that the President must be deeply affected – personally – by the public repudiation of a cause that he devoted a good portion of his adult life to support.

As a result, it can’t be an accident that in an unscripted moment, the President’s words led him to speak from the heart.

And that, in turn, distills November’s choice.

Is it the subordinated role of the private sector to serve as an ATM for government in its quest to equalize outcomes? To support the continued growth of the public sector without any correlation to the tax base that ultimate supports it?  Is more government always good government?

Are average Americans best served by the growth of private enterprise or the growth of government?

The President shows his hand in unscripted moments.

In November the American people will decide.











  1. Steven Baum

    I think this may be one of your best articles. I am certainly starting to doubt my allegiance to the Democratic party. You sir are a smart man..

  2. duffysoa

    Well, why thank you Steven. Praise on this order is humbling. May your journey from the “dark side” be smooth and uncomplicated….

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