I strongly agree with Greg’s point that while Barack Obama’s claim that the private sector is “fine” was a real, honest-to-goodness gaffe of the first order, Mitt Romney’s response specifically denying the need for “more fireman, more policeman, more teachers” is more important substantively because it reflects an actual public policy proposal.
Which presents something of a test for the news media: will they use this exchange to begin to take seriously the differences between the Obama agenda and the Romney agenda?
It’s absolutely the job of the press to discuss the current state of the economy and exactly what Obama has tried to do, how it’s worked out — and what he would do if he is re-elected and gets a Congress which will pass the initiatives he’s running on. But surely it’s also the job of the press to take seriously what Romney says he’ll do. And this flap is an excellent opportunity to do so.
There’s clearly a major gap between the candidates on this issue. Moreover — and this is a tricky one for the press to get right — on the question of state and local government jobs, it’s very clear that Romney’s policies, not Obama’s, are being followed right now. The Romney campaign is trying to obscure this fact. Note, for example, that Soledad O’Brien on CNN this morning raised the issue with Romney campaign adviser Bay Buchanan, who made the audacions claim that Obama should be faulted for public sector layoffs.
“He says 450,000 local, state, and governments have been being laid off. Why do they think they are being laid off, Mr. President?” Buchanan said, adding that Obama’s policies were to blame.
Of course, Obama has been pushing for aid to the states that Republicans in Congress — and Mitt Romney, we see — opposes.
Look, Barack Obama is President of the United States of America, and he said something foolish at a press conference. It’s going to get noticed. It would be a mistake for the press to entirely ignore it just because it doesn’t actually “mean” anything. But after taking notice of it, the next step is to think about what should be front and center in campaign coverage. What’s more important: public policy, or meaningless gotcha junk? Friday’s exchange offers a terrific opportunity for substance; the issue of state and local government jobs, and their relationship to the health of the economy, happens to be both an enormous one in substantive terms and one in which the candidates clearly have very, very different ideas about what should happen.
So, news media, what’s it going to be? Five more months of etch-a-sketch, “doing fine”, and other meaningless flap-of-the-days? Or a real exposition of what the two candidates want to do if they are elected?