Political Animal


May 05, 2012 10:14 AM The Democrats and the Case of the Patricidal Orphan

By Jesse Singal

Yesterday, Alex MacGillis pulled an important thread out of the jobs report, pointing out that while we’re finally back in the black when it comes to the generation of private-sector jobs, public-sector ones are still being shed — largely because of that whole eviscerating-state-budgets thing:

Economists have of course been pointing out for a long time now what a drag public sector losses have been on the recovery—noting, for one thing, that Ronald Reagan did not have to contend with that same drag during the recovery of the early 1980s. What is striking, though, is how little focus there has been on this distinction in the political debate about the recovery. The most glaring example of this oversight came recently when Mitt Romney tried to make up lost ground with women voters by charging that 92.3 percent of the jobs lost Barack Obama’s presidency have been held by women. The Obama campaign and independent factcheckers countered that this was a deeply misleading figure. Lost in the back and forth, though, was the larger truth around the argument: yes, women have been hit disproportionately since the official conclusion of the recession in the summer of 2009—because they disproportionately hold the public sector jobs—in schools and government offices—that have borne the brunt of the layoffs. This is what really made the Romney attack so galling, more than his games with the numbers—he and his fellow Republicans in Congress and state capitals have slashing public payrolls with blithe equanimity and have resisted Obama’s efforts to provide fiscal relief to states and cities to mitigate the layoffs. That is, the big job losses among women (and among minorities, which Republicans also like to point to, to tweak Obama) are the direct result of a policy they have pushed. Yet they then lament, for political gain, the desired outcome of that policy. This is right up there in the chutzpah department with the classic example of the patricidal orphan.
Democrats could be pointing this out, but they’re not, really. This is probably partly rooted in a reluctance to be seen as making excuses for the slow recovery, a stance for which they would inevitably be scolded by the pundits. But it’s also probably rooted in the Democrats’ ambivalence from the outset about making a big stand on behalf of public sector jobs.

Right. That’s the eternal debate, isn’t it? Many Democrats (and, perhaps more importantly, those who consult many Democrats) seem convinced that any arguments along these lines are complete nonstarters, that it’s just way too difficult to defend public-sector spending. But when you can point to an overcrowded classroom or a city where the police cuts have been so extreme that many crimes simply aren’t investigated at all anymore, I just can’t help but think, as MacGillis argues, that the Democrats are missing some serious opportunities here to paint their opponent’s preferred policy solution as misguided and devastating on the local level.

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.


  • Danp on May 05, 2012 10:35 AM:

    Of public sector jobs lost since Jan 2009, what percentage were held by women?

  • c u n d gulag on May 05, 2012 10:44 AM:

    "... the Democrats are missing some serious opportunities here to paint their opponentís preferred policy solution as misguided and devastating on the local level."

    Well of course they are!

    Being a Democratic politician/political-adviser means letting Republicans come on your land, butcher your cow with an axe, and then blame you, and cry over the spilled milk.

    Was it ever thus?

    I seem to remember that FDR, HST, and LBJ had some cojones, but maybe I'm wrong...

  • stormskies on May 05, 2012 11:00 AM:

    And, God forbid, that we would have a media that could point out actual reality ........ of course they don't because that's not what they are paid to do ... David " I am not a used corporate condom " Gregory, among others of the 'media elite', know why General Electric pays him the millions that they do ........

  • HBinBoston on May 05, 2012 11:23 AM:

    What continues to puzzle me is that there are 20 Democratic governors. All of them have submitted austerity budgets (led by California with massive public sector cutbacks but also my state of Massachusetts with Democratic control of the executive and legislature and the largest cuts in 20 years).

    Wouldn't it be a good strategy for the Obama administration to propose something like the following: "Look, folks, we understanding that most of you have balanced budget requirements, but you also have huge bond-issuing authority that could fund a significant public works initiative. If you move in this direction,we'll do what we can to help with the bonding process, like co-guaranteeing bonds that provide for infrastructure projects. How about it, gang."

    Any signs that this happened or will happen?

  • SadOldVet on May 05, 2012 11:32 AM:

    A correction...

    Many Democrats (and, perhaps more importantly, those who consult many Democrats) seem convinced that any arguments along these lines are complete nonstarters, that itís just way too difficult to have balls and stand up to the lying repuknicans.

    The federal debt and deficit are serious long term problems that must be addressed over the long term. Repuknicans consistently lie and mislead the ameriKan sheeple with the Corporately Owned Media as their willing accomplises. It is most unfortunate that there are many corporately owned DLC/DINO/Repuke-Lite politicians (mostly in the senate) who parrot the repuke lines. West Virginia come to mind?

  • Just Guessing on May 05, 2012 11:40 AM:

    I've long wondered why the Democrats haven't pushed the local government job losses more because at the end of the day these losses and the effects they have often have a far more tangible and clear on the local communities rather then "in Washington". I fear the more they avoid the issue the more it can be argued that they go along with it.

    Liberals, like me, are often looking for nuance in arguments but that's often more in how we deal with issues, not with the larger issues themsleves. Here the arugument is quite clear; State and local governemnt job losses have affected the recovery in a big way, and continue to do so and Democrats need to be in front of that pushing the argument that everyone needs to get beck to work in their communities, Especially teachers, and they can help.

  • lou on May 05, 2012 12:10 PM:

    The numbers reflecting losses of public workers tell only part of the story of cuts to state and local government budgets. There are also many private sector companies and employees that provide material and service support to state and local governments. As a result of reductions in state and local spending, many of these companies have been downsized or shut down resulting in private sector employment losses. My guess is that there is at least one private sector job loss for every public job loss. And I suspect that there is more of a lag in these losses that are yet to appear in unemployment numbers. There is only so long that these companies can continue to operate with much reduced incomes and very delayed payments from state treasuries.

  • Jimo on May 05, 2012 2:14 PM:

    But if you stop investigating many crimes, that's all the more reason to rally around 'stand your ground laws'! You're missing the strategy here.