Doing Badly by “Doing Fine”

How nice it was to hear President Barack Obama report to the nation on Friday that the private sector of the American economy is “doing fine.” Not because the statement is true, or even remotely believable, but rather because it was so obviously another self-inflicted blow his re-election campaign.

Obama made the comment during a rare news conference, demonstrating why he so rarely faces the press, then went on to say that what’s needed for an economic recovery is more money pouring into the public sector. The Romney campaign immediately responded with a scathing rebuttal by the candidate and then, just a few hours later, an advertisement running on the internet. Conservative pundits were as quick to heap scorn on the president’s claims, and even his more loyal media allies were wincing as they struggled to downplay the remark. By day’s end the president was issuing a clarification, explaining that his statement shouldn’t be misconstrued as meaning that the private sector is “doing fine,” but it was too little and too late to prevent the gaffe from dominating the weekend’s political conversation.

Most of the criticism concerned the president’s apparent lack of awareness of economic reality as most Americans experience it, or his being “out of touch” in the current political parlance, and the point is well-made. A slew of readily available statistics demonstrate that the economy is far from fine, and anyone who regularly listens to average Americans will hear frequent reminders of that fact, so Obama’s sanguine attitude toward the private sector does suggest a worrisome perspective on his part.

Worse yet, though, is what the statement reveals about Obama’s economic philosophy. It apparently has not occurred to him that if the private sector were indeed doing fine the public sector, which always helps itself to a sizeable share of whatever wealth the private sector creates, would also be doing fine. Nor does he seem to have considered the possibility that the public sector’s bloated size and staggering debt have had a deleterious effect on the private sector. He also seems to believe that handing over large amounts of federal money to states and localities — preferably ones with a majority of Democratic voters — to forestall necessary changes in their budgets will somehow spur economic growth.

This is bad economics, as the past three-and-a-half years have proved, but there’s reason to hope that it’s also becoming bad politics. The public sector was recently pitted against the private sector in Wisconsin, the oh-so-progressive state that the public sector union chose as a battleground for the fight, and even there a clear majority sided with the non-government workers. Obama tried to clarify his way out of the “doing fine” mistake, he hasn’t backed off his contention that more spending, more debt, and more government are what’s needed to get the economy track, and that’s looking like a very hard sell.

— Bud Norman


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