The Private Sector is Doing Fine. The Political Press? Eh...

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 8 2012 11:39 AM

The Private Sector is Doing Fine. The Political Press? Eh...

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US President Barack Obama speaks about the economy on June 8, 2012, at the White House in Washington, DC. Obama said Friday that Europe's leaders 'understand the urgent need to act' to solve the eurozone crisis, as a rescue plan for Spain's banks appeared in the works. But he also warned Greeks that they would face more hardship if they choose to leave the eurozone after elections take place on June 17. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)

Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages

Zeke Miller is a one-man meat-grinder of news cyles and campaign "narratives." It was only fair that he first spotted the lede from today's Obama presser.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Obama: “The Private Sector Is Doing Fine”
In a press conference in Washington, Obama offers up a gift to Republicans.
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That's how Republicans will use this, just as Democrats used Mitt Romney's January remark that he "liked" being able to fire slackers who provided bad services. The commonality: These remarks only sound bad if you buffer away the context. This is what Obama said.

We've created 4.3 million jobs over the past 27 months. Over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we're seeing problems is with state and local government, often with cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help they're accustomed to from the federal government.

This isn't even particularly clumsy phrasing. The stimulus bill, passed three years ago and change, included $53.6 billion of aid meant to help states fill in budget gaps and avoid laying off workers. (Because teachers and fire-fighters are popular, Democrats like to say that this money was for "teachers and fire-fighters." People with less-beloved government jobs got it, too.) It was pure uncut Keynesianism -- creating debt to hire people so they could keep consuming.

Smash cut to 2011. The stimulus money was spent; voters had elected new state and local leaders who promised to cut the fat, and a Republican House whose members winced at state "bailouts." Public sector lay-offs sped up. In the Bush era, the public sector had added nearly 1 million jobs. In the Obama era, it's down 600,000 jobs and counting.

Republicans were pretty clear about this -- they wanted to shrink the public sector. That's their philosophy. Grow the economy, de-regulate, privatize services, and you can have higher overall employment with fewer people on the public teat. But this is a sort of complicated argument to make to anyone who doesn't have Schumpeter on the Kindle. And so, today, the RNC blasts out statements like this.

WATCH Obama say the "private sector is doing fine" with unemployment rate at 8.2% and only 69K jobs added last month.

The video, shockingly, cuts out right before Obama mentions the public sector. Trivia question: Does the unemployment rate include public sector as well as private sector jobs? Indeed, it does! But explaining this takes some time. It's easier to pretend that the president doesn't care about the private sector, and unemployment, and hope that the media runs with the zinger instead of explaining some pretty rudimentary macroeconomics.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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