Why Obama’s ‘The Private Sector Is Doing Fine’ Gaffe Matters
June 11, 2012 - 7:26 am
1. It lit up social media. Within seconds of the president making his comment, Twitter went hot with a new trending hashtag: #doingjustfine. That hashtag, usually the province of people tweeting that they’re fine without someone they just broke up with, became an anti-Obama feed and shot to #1 in the U.S.It was probably the hot social media action that forced the president to walk the comment back later in the day. Twitter put the president’s comment directly into the American bloodstream before he even realized that it was a gaffe and could do any damage control.
2. It echoed what other unpopular Democrats think and believe. President Obama’s comment was not offhand, as Powers said on Fox. Sen. Harry Reid has said the same thing. Over the weekend, Obama adviser David Axelrod refused to repudiate the comment, even though the president himself had walked it back late Friday. The fact is, Democrats on the left (and who are largely unpopular beyond the left) believe that the answer to U.S. unemployment is to increase government spending and government jobs. Americans who have spent their lives in the private sector, though, know intuitively that government hiring only adds to their own tax bills. In one comment, Obama sided with Beltway liberals over Main Street. For those who really pay attention, it also exposes Obama for hypocrisy: When John McCain uttered a similar gaffe in Sept. 2008, Obama jumped on it and used it to maneuver himself to a position of strength on the economy. The more he and his allies complain about the GOP reaction to Friday’s gaffe, the worse they and the president look.
3. It hit two of Obama’s softest spots. Barack Obama has only held one true private sector job (at a Chicago law firm) in his career, and prior to the presidency he had never been an executive at any level. He has papered over this glaring hole in his resume with gauzy rhetoric, but saying that the private sector is doing fine, when it demonstrably isn’t, tore that hole wide open again — and it was Obama himself doing the tearing. The second soft spot the comment hit was the economy itself. The numbers are not good, and they’re easy to look up: In May 2012, the U.S. private sector economy created just 82,000 jobs. Over the past four years, the U.S. private sector is down nearly 5 million jobs. In no reasonable definition is the private sector doing just fine. By saying that it is doing fine, Obama exposed his own lack of private sector experience, and just how out of touch with real American life he is.
4. It capped an awful week for the president, driving the narrative that he is now a loser. Just last week, the president’s re-elect efforts suffered bad national jobs numbers, Big Labor’s recall debacle in Wisconsin, the three California municipal reforms, the swarm of scrutiny over the administration’s national security leaks, and the president’s own press conference. The president intended that press conference to generate some positive press and force the Republicans on the defensive regarding passing his stimulus bill. His previous stimulus bill failed, so there was already little interest in passing the second one. He also wanted to take the heat off the leak scandal by addressing it directly. He wanted to end a rough week on a positive note. But instead of generating positive press, the president finished off a bad week by making things much worse, and in a way in which he cannot blame anyone else. He said what he said, and everyone heard it. He seemed to be saying what he really thinks, and what he thinks is at odds with what most Americans know. His gaffe was not ideological, but practical: He spoke out of sync with what most Americans know and think. He looks like a loser now, and has given voters a reason to take a chance on giving someone else the job he currently occupies. Like the 1992 Bush gaffe, Obama tells voters that whatever his other merits might be, he is not familiar with their daily lives and thus is unlikely to be capable of making things better.