The Wrong Campaign Gaffe Comparison

As he often does, Barack Obama made a Freudian slip on Friday that once again revealed his Marxist approach to political economy. This is unsurprising, now that we have confirmation that he ran as the candidate of a socialist party in the nineties, despite denials by his campaign four years ago. In saying that “the private sector is doing just fine,” many, even some of his allies, have accused him of simply being out of touch with economic reality — a charge for which there is an abundance of other evidence. Some, including the Romney campaign, have implied that it was Obama’s own McCain moment, recalling when the Republican nominee said that the “fundamentals of the economy were sound” amidst the imploding credit markets in the fall of 2008.

But that’s not the real nature of the gaffe. A better analogy would be to compare it to a Romney gaffe from earlier this year, when the phrase “I don’t care about the poor” was taken out of context to indicate his supposed heartlessness. Of course, when one reads the entire paragraph from which it was gleefully extracted, it is clear that he is saying that the poor are being taken care of by existing government programs, whereas the objects of his concern are being punished by government policies (let’s leave aside for now the issue of how “compassionate” it is to cruelly keep the poor dependent on government programs).

But while Mitt Romney is not actually indifferent to the plight of the poor, in almost all of his actions (if not always his words) Barack Obama has made it abundantly clear that he does not care about the private sector, or worse, is hostile to it, even though its vitality is essential to provide the “other people’s money” that the president needs to fund his continuing socialist schemes. From his willingness to increase taxes on small business owners through higher rates on the wealthy to cramming new carbon restrictions on the economy with no statutory basis in the guise of saving the environment, he has indicated his preference for government jobs and workers over private jobs and private property.

This weekend, on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, admitted former communist Van Jones said that the president was a lifeguard throwing a life preserver to the drowning swimmers. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee appropriately retorted that when it came to private swimmers he was tossing concrete blocks. As a result of all this, America reportedly has 129,000 fewer millionaires than it did a year ago (it lost over a quarter of them), and that probably suits Barack Obama “just fine” as long as the remaining ones continue to fill his campaign coffers.

But as Marc Thiessen points out, in Barack Obama’s America it’s public-sector jobs that are “doing just fine.” When the president complains that the public sector is shrinking, he is being both disingenuous and revealing of the real problem. Yes, state and local government workers are losing their jobs, but there has been no shrinkage at the federal level. The jobs that are disappearing are in locales where the local government has run out of money. What the president and the Democrats are actually advocating is for the federal government to bail out profligate states like California, so that they can maintain their “police, teachers and firemen” at the expense of the private economy — an economy that while growing all too slowly in absolute terms to create enough jobs to employ those who want them can’t shrink fast enough with regard to the government sector to please Van Jones and Barack Obama.

But there are two problems with this. First, it is clear that “police, teachers and firemen” (and in the not-longer-so-Golden State of California, prison guards) have become the new “Washington Monument” (that is, the popular item that politicians threaten to cut first lest they actually have to trim bloat and bureaucracy). But as laudable as firefighting, teaching, and policing may be, they are not now, and never have been constitutional federal responsibilities. The notion that they are — this creeping perversion of the Founders’ intent — started with Johnson’s Great Society in the sixties, accelerated with the creation of the Department of Education under Carter, and was unfortunately cemented with Bill Clinton’s program to put a hundred thousand police on the streets. Now, too few bat an eye when Barack Obama and the Democrats propose that Washington (i.e., the rest of us) fund things that are properly in the realm of states and local governments.

But even if it were the proper role of the federal government, despite the popularity, it’s not clear that “saving or creating” (yes, he’s really still using that numerically meaningless phrase) the jobs of teachers will lead to improved educational outcomes for children. California is certainly a striking counterexample to the notion; it is almost dead last in educating, while having some of the highest-paid teachers in the nation. And Wisconsin has shown that by implementing reforms (particularly in reining in out-of-control public-employee unions) more money can be made available for teachers and education can improve.

It is also unclear that higher wages for public employees improves services in general. On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace repeatedly grilled (wildly successful) Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels about what he thought about the fact (assuming it was) that his state was 47th in state-employee wages, as though that were a useful metric, or as though the governor was supposed to be in some sort of race with other states to have the highest-paid employees. But as the governor should have pointed out more directly, what matters is not how much people are paid, but how happy the taxpayers are with how they do their jobs, and what their retention rate is, and Indiana indicates that it is quite high in both, regardless of their pay in absolute terms. To reward the profligacy of California or Illinois with federal taxpayer dollars (or more correctly, more borrowed money from the Chinese) because they refuse to get their houses in order would be a slap in the face to not only the American taxpayers, but also to those states like Wisconsin and Indiana and Texas who have actually done so.

Whether Mitt Romney’s policies will be good for the poor remain to be seen, partly because we don’t yet know what they will be, but based on both his words and deeds over the past four years (and much of his life, really) we can be sure that Barack Obama’s will continue to be bad for the private economy. And as far as he’s concerned, that’s just fine.