Ten Miles Square


June 11, 2012 10:25 AM (You Ain’t Nothing But) Fine, Fine, Fine

By Jonathan Bernstein

You may have heard that Barack Obama said that the private sector is “doing fine” during his press conference last week. I was one of the thousands (it seemed) who immediately tweeted on it…so here’s the deal.

In context, what Obama said was that state and local governments are a drag on the economy, while the private sector is doing fine. The first part of that is true, but the second half, even in context, is still both wrong and a gaffe, in my book.

We’re already seeing some immediate pushback from some of the press that others are going after this one unfairly (see David Weigel, not an Obama apologist, here), but I think that’s wrong. Yes, the private sector is creating jobs — but not nearly enough to get back to normal unemployment. And that’s almost certainly true even with a very generous estimate of the effects of the public sector hits (hits which, as regular readers know, I think are a very big deal, and I’m happy to see the president pushing the point). It seems to me that defenders of the president are making a real mistake if they try to argue that he was correct and that the economy is “fine” other than state and local government jobs. After all, Obama’s jobs proposals are intended to help the not-really-all-that-fine private sector as well as state and local governments.

The flip side of this is that gaffes, especially in June, aren’t going to matter. It’s not even likely that Obama will suffer a temporary hit in the polls from this, but it’s as certain as these things can be that it won’t affect voters in November. Oh, the Romney campaign is sure to make sure that everyone hears this one, but no one is going to care unless they already are looking to punish Obama over the economy — and for people in that category, if this didn’t come along something else would have done just fine. In other words, we’re exactly where we were before the press conference: what matters is the actual economy, not how Obama or Romney talk about it.

So: real gaffe, doesn’t affect November outcome. Everyone okay with that?

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.


  • square1 on June 12, 2012 8:35 AM:

    Here is the irony: the truer that Obama's statement is, the more it is an indictment of his handling of the economy. He had the power to protect state and local jobs and he blew it.

    Day by day, I find it harder and harder to respect the political skills of Obama. When Republicans oppose more stimulus, they don't do so on ideological grounds. Government spending doesn't shrink under GOP administrations. Rather, Republicans oppose stimulus because they don't want the economy to grow. Somehow, President Obama has been too stupid to figure this out. Not only has Obama capitulated to the GOPs anti-stimulative policy suggestions but he has repeatedly tried to outflank the GOP on the austerity, freezing federal worker pay, calling for a 5 year spending freeze, and cheering the budget cuts that Republicans pushed for. IOW, Obama has taken ownership of the job-killing policies and now can't figure out how Mitt Romney -- Mitt Romney! -- is going to run as a job-creating populist.

  • Fabio on June 12, 2012 9:25 AM:


    I'd say this is an out-of-the-ordinary accomplishment, considering the obstructionist opposition, the false "compromise", the senseless cutting of govt programs and the watered down interventions.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 12, 2012 1:08 PM:

    I tend to disagree. I think implicit in Obama's admittedly careless words were that in relation to the public sector the private sector was doing fine and also that it is very, very much easier to put more teachers, etc. BACK to work than motivating the private to hire NEW workers.

    Contrast that to Romney knowing, mendacious lies and ask yourself why this gets the oxygen to burn the media fires.