Does Obama’s “private-sector” gaffe matter?
It’s been a few days since President Barack Obama told White House press reporters that the private-sector is “doing fine” and claimed that the public-sector was the part of the economy that was really hurting. Mitt Romney and Republicans have been hammering away at the remarks, and justifibly so. Even Paul Krugman, who is often serves as an apologist for Obama, criticized the remark and Joe Biden’s former economic adviser “winced” when he heard it.
But we’re still very early in the campaign and, as I’ve noted before, voters have a short memory. Just because a candidate said or did something very stupid months before an election doesn’t mean that it will be remembered on election days — in fact, most elections boil down to what happens 60 days prior.
Over at Outside the Beltway, my good friend Doug Mataconis argues, noting opposing commentary from Chris Chris Cillizza and Mark Halperin, that it’s unlikely that Obama’s comments will have any lasting effect and complaining that the media spends too much time on the dumb things politicians say:
Whether it’s these comments by Obama and Romney, the Etch-A-Sketch comment by one of Romney’s campaign spokespersons, or the comments that Romney made himself (at least one of which was taken out of context), the political press spends far too much time concentrating on trivial matters like this that really don’t have anything to do with the issues at stake in the election. It’s something that activists on both sides revel in as well. For example, you still hear conservatives bringing up Obama’s “57 states” comment, something that was obviously the result of Obama being caught at a time when he was likely exhausted from a grueling campaign schedule. People tend to say dumb things when they’re tired, or when they’re speaking off the cuff, and the fact that they do doesn’t really tell us much of anything about what kind of President they would be or where they stand on the major issues of the day. As I’ve said numerous times before, the media does us all a disservice when it concentrates on irrelevancies like this. When they do, they end up creating a story out of something that really shouldn’t matter simply by talking about it.
Where I agree with Doug is that the media spends a lot of time focusing on non-issues or soundsbites gone awry. However, Obama’s comment is fair game, but only if the economy continues its sluggish pace or creeps closer to a recession. Last evening at dinner, a friend expressed a similar view, noting that gas prices were down, meaning people had more money in their pockets. He said that if this continued then Obama would get re-elected. I countered with two points. First, that the high-gas prices we saw earlier this year were due to supply worries and that the economic picture was looking somewhat brighter than it is now.
And my other poing was that the reason gas prices are falling now is largely due to the continuing EuroZone crisis, which is threat to our economy. If there is still tepid job growth in the United States as Europe continues to fall apart, that bodes ill for our already frail economy. Sure, gas prices may be low, but that won’t necessarily be good news.
It’s hard to predict what will happen in five months, but if that scenario plays out, then Obama is toast on election day. Ads featuring the “private-sector is doing fine” comment will be played endlessly by Romney and the GOP and Obama will have no one to blame but himself. Of course, he’ll still blame everyone but himself.