A GAFFE IS WHEN A POLITICIAN EXPECTS YOU TO BE AN ADULT
The political world loves Michael Kinsley's definition of a political gaffe: "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth -- some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say."
What President Obama said at his news conference today is a slightly different sort of gaffe: a statement that requires you, as an American, to be a goddamn grown-up, and not to believe fairy tales (particularly right wing fairy tales):
President Obama: The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone.
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? Because the recipes that they're promoting are basically the kinds of policies that would add weakness to the -- to the economy, would result in further layoffs, would not provide relief in the housing market, and would result, I think most economists estimate, in lower growth and fewer jobs, not more.
Obama's huge mistake here was expecting Americans to understand that government needs to exist. The right-wing fairy tale is that the answer to the question "How much government do we need?" is always "Less," which is also the answer to the question "What's the proper level of taxation?" We never have too little taxation or too little government, and no matter how much we shrink government or cut taxes, right-wingers will always tell us government is too big and taxes are too high.
Obama knows this is crazy -- but you're not supposed to say so. So this is a gaffe. It's certainly a gaffe to say that, under some circumstances, we might need more government -- more infrastructure, say, or perhaps a reconsideration of plans to turn off half the streetlights in a municipality.
It's also a gaffe to say that government workers are paid in American dollars just like private-sector workers, and that they spend these American dollars at private-sector stores, so if we pay them, they use the money to help stimulate the same economy that's stimulated by the spending of private-sector workers. You just can't say that. You can't say that government spending is part of the economy.
Obama's predecessor as a Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, expected Americans to be adults when he said he voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it. Adults should be able to understand that legislators vote on various versions of bills, and cast votes on versions of bills for strategic reasons. But Americans aren't adults, so it cost him.
Maybe this will cost Obama the same way. Maybe it will be worse. Maybe it won't matter in the long run. But if it hurts him even temporarily, it's because he spoke to the public as if the public is made up of adults. That's never a good idea.