David Plouffe Said What?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 8 2011 11:00 AM

David Plouffe Said What?

David Plouffe said this to Bloomberg News yesterday, speaking as the White House's top political advisor.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers. People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on: ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?
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This is how the quote is reconfigured in a headline at The Hill -- pretty representative of other media.

Top Obama adviser says unemployment won't be key in 2012

Now, that's not quite what Plouffe said. The charitable reading of his comment is that voters won't care what the exact unemployment rate is if they feel that things are improving for them; if you're an Obama strategist, you've got to look at the unemployment rate when Reagan beat Mondale (7.2 percent), recall that unemployment was 7.6 percent when Obama took office, and think that you can win re-election even if the overall number seems unacceptably high. But you don't say this. What are you, stupid? You should take the advice of a smart political strategist, David Plouffe, who explained in his campaign memoir The Audacity to Win just how the Obama campaign capitalized on John McCain's September 15 comment that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

Part of McCain's problem was that the gaffe served as another blow to his already shaky economic foundation with voters. From saying earlier in the campaign that he was not an expert on the economy, to ruminating that he would need a running mate with economic experience to balance out his lack of knowledge, to famously not being able to recall in a newspaper interview how many houses he owned, McCain had increasingly signaled to voters that he would be out of touch and out of his league when it came to dealing with the economic crisis.

Obama's problem now is bigger than McCain's problem them; by saying this, Plouffe created yet another opening for Mitt Romney to say the administration isn't focused on jobs. "If David Plouffe were working for me," said Romney, "I would fire him and then he could experience firsthand the pain of unemployment."

This is what we should call a Coakley Gaffe -- a statement that reveals the subject is thinking about politics first, reality second.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.