Political Animal


November 19, 2011 11:10 AM Those who see American laziness

By Steve Benen

There’s a fair amount of irony surrounding the Republicans’ favorite attack of the week.

President Obama told business leaders at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that U.S. policymakers have been “a little bit lazy” when it comes to attracting businesses to American soil. Republicans have taken this line and said the president called Americans “lazy.”

The GOP attack is an unambiguous lie. It’s been independently fact checked repeatedly and exposed as a complete sham, caused by taking a comment completely out of context to change its meaning.

But the point behind the dishonest smear is important. What Republicans are desperate for voters to believe is that President Obama, put simply, doesn’t even like Americans. It’s part of the years-long campaign to attack the president as The Other — there’s us, then there’s him, and the two don’t have much in common. It’s the basis for the “birther” garbage; it undergirds the “apologize for America” crap; it’s the point of the “American exceptionalism” attack; and it even fuels the incessant nonsense about “socialism.”

Mitt Romney, who’s only too pleased to exploit the borderline-racism behind these attacks, went so far as to argue this week that Obama called Americans “lazy” — even though he didn’t — because the president “doesn’t understand Americans.”

There’s us, then there’s him.

The “lazy” smear matters because it’s a lie, and because Republicans have quickly become obsessed with a talking point they made up. But it’d be a shame if we also forget that it’s ironic — President Obama doesn’t think Americans are lazy; Republicans do.

We saw some of this in Romney’s own book, when he complained that Americans “have tended to avoid the hard work that overcoming challenges requires.” American workers keep giving more and getting less, but as far as the wealthy, elitist Republican frontrunner is concerned, we’re still unwilling to roll up our sleeves.

But that’s really just scratching the surface. Consider, for example, what House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said this week when talking about American competitiveness:

“Part of it is the culture of people just having no work ethic…. Moral relativism has done so much damage to the bottom end of this country, the bottom fifth has been damaged by the culture of moral relativism more than by anything else, I would argue. If you ask me what the biggest problem in America is, I’m not going to tell you debt, deficits, statistics, economics — I’ll tell you it’s moral relativism.”

So, in the mind of Paul Ryan, one of the most influential Republican leaders in the country, America isn’t getting ahead because Americans don’t work hard and have the wrong values.

In other words, it’s our fault. We’re lazy.

This comes up all the time. Not long ago, Sen. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada compared Americans struggling to find work during a jobs crisis to “hobos.” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) said last year “the jobs are there,” but American workers don’t feel like taking them. Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky said the jobless ought to quit their bellyaching and “get back to work.”

Now compare all of this to Rick Perry’s latest attack ad, which tells viewers, “That’s what our President thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy? That’s pathetic.”

Obama never said Americans are lazy; Republicans did. And that’s what’s pathetic.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • stormskies on November 19, 2011 11:17 AM:

    Yep, and I bet we will see David "I am not a used corporate condom" having Romney et-al on his Sunday "Meet the Propagandist" .. meaning him ... waving these quotes and reports in their faces as he splutters words in between the corporate cum coming out of his mouth ...

  • square1 on November 19, 2011 11:19 AM:

    Oh, man. How many posts are we going to get on this "lazy" comment by Obama? Does Benen think he is helping Obama by posting 10k times explaining/defending the remark?

    You win in politics by playing offense not defense. Or, as they say, "if you're explaining, you're losing".

  • SW on November 19, 2011 11:23 AM:

    Don't you see, Obama called THEM lazy. Policy makers. The lapdogs of the 1%. How dare he. He must be made to pay a price for that. Even if they have to lie about it.

  • chi res on November 19, 2011 11:23 AM:

    There’s us, then there’s him.

    Well, DUH! He's not even the same COLOR as US!

  • Mimikatz on November 19, 2011 11:26 AM:

    Easiest way to understand anything the GOP says is projection. They always accuse Obama and the Dems of what they themselves believe or do. That, plus the demonization of the other, explains a great deal of the rhetoric. The ,motivation is always money and power.

  • qwerty on November 19, 2011 11:30 AM:

    Hate to say it, but Americans are lazy. If they weren't they spend a little more time paying attention to reality and vote the lying assholes out of office.

  • hells littlest angel on November 19, 2011 11:34 AM:

    It pains me to say it, but square1 has a point. Sometimes I think this blog should be renamed, "Complaint Department."

  • chi res on November 19, 2011 11:34 AM:

    Does Benen think he is helping Obama by posting 10k times explaining/defending the remark?

    Does square think he is helping anyone by posting 10k times complaining about Benen's posts?

  • Gus on November 19, 2011 11:41 AM:

    What is it about liars, thieves and cheats that makes them so totally lacking in self awareness? As the comment by square clearly demonstrates, Benen's post is an iron fist punch in the republican snoot.

  • jlt on November 19, 2011 11:42 AM:

    What is the matter with the hearing of repub bagger voters? Do they not hear their elected officials calling them dumb and stupid and hobs and worse?

    Disgusting and blind

  • c u n d gulag on November 19, 2011 11:48 AM:

    Moral relativism, Congressman Ryan?

    You sure were willing to take 'Social Security's moral relativism,' Congressman Ryan, when your father died and you used that money to go to college, weren't you?

    And exactly what jobs has this MFer ever held that weren't in the government that he hates so much?

    Conservatism is a mental disease.
    Sadly, curable only by death.

  • Danp on November 19, 2011 11:53 AM:

    Moral relativism has done so much damage to the bottom end of this country - Mitt Romney

    Talk about elitism! It wasn't the bottom end that fought for lower captital gains taxes so they could make money through investments instead of producing goods and services. It's not the bottom that fights regulations rather than create safe environments.

    Meanwhile, it's the top of the Republican party that is too lazy to study foreign affairs or economics, to raise money from the masses, to design policies that compete with India through inovation rather than imitation.

    And moral relativism? Like pro-life, but only until birth? Like unchecked freedom to buy guns, but not vote? Mitt is the last person who should criticize other people's lax principles.

  • Danp on November 19, 2011 11:55 AM:

    Oops. That was Ryan's quote. Sorry.

  • Dredd on November 19, 2011 11:58 AM:

    The lazy must plunder to maintain their 1% status leaving those 100 million who must live life on the edge of financial oblivion little time to compete with them.

  • Michael on November 19, 2011 12:08 PM:

    square, imo, ... you are pretty pathetic.... lets leave it there...

  • TCinLA on November 19, 2011 12:18 PM:

    There's no "borderline" racism involved, it's flat out white supremacy with the dog whistle, i.e., "he doesn't like you because you're white and he isn't."

  • LJL on November 19, 2011 12:34 PM:

    Again an excellent piece. Republicans believe in using racism in service of their capitalist greed. No political movement whatsoever in the last one hundred and fifty years has been anywhere as evil as today's GOP.

  • SYSPROG on November 19, 2011 1:23 PM:

    No you guys this ISN'T the 'complaint department'...this is where we say it over and over again for those that didn't hear it the FIRST time. Dems time and again sit back and ASSUME that people know what liars the GOP is. The answer is NO THEY DON'T...see 'qwerty'...if the voters think ANYTHING it's that 'they all do it'...after all, that is what the MSM says all the time!

  • jcricket on November 19, 2011 1:29 PM:

    Twisting Obama's remarks into such a piece of garbage is a deliberate tactic to make this topic so poisonous that no one wants to really explore it. "Let's just call it bunk and move on" type of reaction.

    But, we should pause and look very closely. Not only is Obama saying that America's governing policies over the last 30 years have not been conducive to bringing in more foreign business entities, he's saying that our priorities over the last 30 years have not been in our own best interest.

    The 1% and their Right Wing enablers don't really want the topics of conversation to include re-examining our priorities, energies, and policies of the last 30 years.

    Within this time frame, there are too many unfavorable comparative contrasts to make. Over the last 30 years it's pretty clear to see the success and failure ratios of governing policies.

    We have to set aside their present day attempts to poison all valid subjects of conversation. Trying to shut down this conversation like they are, should make us want to delve into it even more.

  • Ted Frier on November 19, 2011 2:05 PM:

    But Steve Benen's got to get his vocabulary straight. When Republicans talk about "Americans" they do not mean all of us who live in "America." They mean the particular Americans who prove their loyalty, prove they are part of the tribe -- "prove" their American-ness -- by voting Republican.

    That is how Republicans are consistent in their own mind when they assert "the American People" sent them to Washington to cut spending and cut taxes, when polls clearly show a substantial percentage of living, breathing human beings living in America think the opposite.

    That is how they can ignore with a clear conscience their own attacks on American laziness while accusing Obama of the same, because Republicans didn't mean that other Republican-Americans were lazy -- only those other Americans, who are not "Real Americans" at all.

  • emjayay on November 19, 2011 2:30 PM:

    That's right Ted. As Ms. Palin explained in her campaign, there are Real Americans who live in the Real America, and the liberal moral relativist Not Real Americans who live in Not Real America.

  • Tom Marney on November 19, 2011 2:31 PM:

    The REAL irony is this: millions of Republicans believe that there are actually zillions of jobs out there, but we have nine percent unemployment because several tens of millions of people decided simultaneously that working sucked and it was better to stay at home and collect (largely nonexistent) government benefits. IOW, because they're lazy. They get claim that Americans are lazy, but they have a total cow if anyone on our side even says anything that could be pretzel-twisted to ostensibly mean something like that.

  • Cha on November 19, 2011 2:46 PM:

    Hi Steve.. Have you seen the DNC Ad that came out a couple of days ago that exposes Perry and Romney's "lazy" attack? It's brilliant!


  • Cha on November 19, 2011 2:51 PM:

    @ square1

    If you don't like Steve exposing the republicons then go read something else. Quit your whining. You're the one who's always crapping all over everything.

  • Cha on November 19, 2011 2:55 PM:

    @ hell's littliest angel

    It doesn't pain me to say..go read something else if you don't like what Benen writes.

    Steve is exposing the fucking republicons.

  • Tanya on November 19, 2011 3:19 PM:

    IMO, Benen is right, this is one of many lies the repubs. been sprouting and the msm & TV pundits (left & right) been pushing since this Pres. took Office...

    This Pres. just increase our exports revenue by $32B, seal a deal with our foreign allies & Amer. aviation corps. which will net over 100,000 Amer. jobs & secured military allies with SE Asia countries, while all the while standing up to China without causing a international incident, while showing our Southeast Asia partners that U.S. knows how to use our diplomatic skills instead of acting like arrogant asses & beating our chest and making good reality TV spot for the media...

    This Pres. & SOS Clinton made history that NO previous president administration done in over 50 yrs....

    And what msm, pundits & Sunday talk shows get excited about? The clown show, REPUB. CANDIDATES along with their inadequacies to pump-up a opponent for PBO in the 2012 election... Where IMO their really isn't one... So, the question becomes, how long are the America people will let this side show continue?

  • Robert on November 19, 2011 4:06 PM:

    The rethugs speak for the moneyed elite and the elite has a promise for American workers:

    “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

    When the economy grows, the moneyed elite says the so called "free enterprise system" and the entreprenuers are entitled to the rewards, its their success. When it falls on its ass and we sink into recession, its the fault of the lazy workers.

  • bmoodie on November 19, 2011 4:15 PM:

    Great post, Steve!

    I have to agree with chi res on this one. When Republicans criticize lazy Americans, they assume their audiences will visualize the (mostly dark-skinned) shiftless poor. When they claim Obama is making this remark, they get to feign outrage that a (black, liberal, elite, entitled) leader is allegedly criticizing an "all-American" (read, white, hard-working, moral, people-like-us) audience.

  • Sparko on November 19, 2011 5:56 PM:

    The actual meaning of the lie was to pair an African American with an old outlandish false stereotype, lazy. It is one of the oldest Southern lies, meant to take the edge off of slavery because they were after all helping them work instead of lying prostrate in their supposed lazy proclivities. It is shameful that this has been allowed as a line of attack. It is a dog whistle that should be summarily shoved up Republican's collective asses.

  • DK on November 19, 2011 6:10 PM:

    When the republicans say talk about Americans being lazy, they mean that only certain unworthy Americans are lazy. See in republican-world, if you are poor, it is because you suffer from a lack of a work ethic and the wrong value system.

  • SYSPROG on November 19, 2011 8:18 PM:

    Thanx TANYA for your post. My brother, 'the' republican and engineer for Boeing sent me an email yesterday whining about the President 'taking credit' for the export of planes to Indonesia. I IMMEDIATELY blasted him for bitchin'...I told him the GOP wants to whine and snivel about AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM and how the President denigrates 'real' Americans especially overseas but when he clearly is touting America he is 'taking credit' and 'bragging'...my brother didn't reply.

  • andy markham on November 20, 2011 4:15 AM:

    nice, cogent analysis of the propagandistic language the GOP and rightwing radio have used from the outset with Obama.