The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government. Oftentimes cuts initiated by, you know, Governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in.
And so, you know, if Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is how do we help state and local governments and how do we help the construction industry?
Mitt Romney responded immediately:
Now this morning, the President had a press conference. I don’t know if you heard it, but he called a press conference and pulled people in and said a number of things, and one of the most interesting things he said was this: he said the private sector is doing fine. He said the private sector is doing fine. Is he really that out of touch? I think he’s defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people. Has there ever been an American president who is so far from reality as to believe in an America where 23 million Americans are out of work, or stopped looking for work, or can only find part-time jobs and need full-time jobs, where the economy grew in the first quarter of the year at only 1.9 percent, where the median income in America has dropped by 10% over the last four years, where there have been record number of home foreclosures, for the President of the United States to stand up and say the private sector is doing fine is going to go down in history. It’s an extraordinary miscalculation and misunderstanding by a President who is out of touch, and we’re going to take back this country and get America working again.
Romney’s comments are certainly fair, but I think there is more going on here then merely another instance of Obama’s cluelessness. Rather, I think the belief that the private sector is rich and the public sector is poor, so that transfers of wealth from private sector to public sector are endlessly justified, is embedded deeply in Obama’s ideology.
The classic formulation of this proposition goes back to John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society, published in 1958. Galbraith contrasted the worlds of “private opulence and public squalor” in the course of arguing for massive government spending programs. Galbraith’s book was epically wrong-headed, but the idea that the private sector is rich and the public sector is underfunded lives on as one of the pillars of liberal ideology.
Most everyone knows that times have changed. Government spending consumes an ever-growing share of America’s wealth, and study after study shows that public sector workers are paid vastly better than private sector workers. In today’s world, opulence is far more a feature of the world of government than of private industry. But this is a fact around which leftists like Barack Obama simply cannot wrap their minds. They cling bitterly to the old stereotypes, because to do otherwise would call into question their entire worldview. To them, the private sector is always “doing fine;” if anything, in their hostile eyes, too well.
Obama’s friends in the press will try to minimize the significance of what he said today, I suspect unsuccessfully. Romney’s campaign will make sure that millions of Americans find out that Obama thinks the economy’s miserable performance over the last four years is perfectly acceptable, at least as far as the private sector–something like 85% of Americans–is concerned.
UPDATE: NPR used your tax dollars to editorialize on Obama’s behalf:
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