After four years of being caricatured as a closet socialist who distrusts private enterprise and never met a government program he didn't like, President Obama finally steps out of the closet.
In trying to prod Congress to act on his jobs programs, Obama made the same point repeatedly in a press conference yesterday - the private sector is "doing fine" and it is job losses in the public sector that are holding back the recovery.
Here we go:
And the most important thing I think we can do is make sure that we continue to have a strong, robust recovery. So the steps that I've outlined are the ones that are needed. We've got a couple of sectors in our economy that are still weak. Overall, the private sector has been doing a good job creating jobs. We've seen record profits in the corporate sector.
The big challenge we have in our economy right now is state and local government hiring has been going in the wrong direction. You've seen teacher layoffs, police officers, cops, firefighters being laid off. And the other sector that's still weak has been the construction industry. Those two areas we've directly addressed with our jobs plan. The problem is that it requires Congress to take action, and we're going to keep pushing them to see if they can move in that direction.
Let's note that the construction industry would be a mix of public and private building. And again:
The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. 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 and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in. And so, if Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is, how do we help state and local governments and how do we help the construction industry.
And can we score a trifecta?
Keep in mind that the private sector has been hiring at a solid pace over the last 27 months. But one of the biggest weaknesses has been state and local governments, which have laid off 450,000 Americans. These are teachers and cops and firefighters. Congress should pass a bill putting them back to work right now, giving help to the states so that those layoffs are not occurring.
In addition, since the housing bubble burst, we’ve got more than a million construction workers out of work. There’s nothing fiscally responsible about waiting to fix your roof until it caves in. We've got a lot of deferred maintenance in this country. We could be putting a lot of people back to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, some of our schools. There's work to be done; there are workers to do it. Let’s put them back to work right now.
Rebuilding bridges, roads and schools would be public sector employment.
Obama's meaning is clear. Three days after the voters of Wisconsin repudiated their public sector unions and affirmed Gov. Walker's attempts to rein them in, Obama is insistent that the real problem facing the American economy is a shrinking public sector. Good luck with that message.
CHANNELING MY INNER JPOD:
Let's cut to the real John Podhoretz:
Obama’s explanation for the slowdown in economic growth is that the public sector is hurting, and that’s where Washington must step in and act.
“Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government. Oftentimes, cuts initiated by, you know, governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government,” he said. “And so, you know, if Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is how do we help state and local governments.”
The president seriously wants to go before the American people and argue in an election year that the wildly unpopular $860 billion stimulus of 2009 needs to be supplemented this year by more direct federal support of state and local government workers?
I’m trying very hard to think of a way this argument is not politically insane for Obama in his quest to win over independent voters who will make the difference in November.