Conservatives pounced this morning when President Obama said the following:
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.
Okay, I’m being slightly misleading. Conservatives pounced on only one sentence: “The private sector is doing fine.” Already, politicians and pundits on the right have written a thousand variations of “No, Mr. President, the private sector is not doing fine.” Before Republicans get too wrapped up in the quote, though, I’d suggest they first take a look in the mirror, and then at the record of the last GOP president.
After all, everything Obama said about the relative strengths of the private and public sectors is true. Both Republican and Democratic mayors and governors have been forced to make cuts, but Republicans have taken a much larger bite out of public-sector employment. Republicans have blocked more federal aid to state and local governments. And Republican governors have cut government services to make room for tax cuts for businesses and the wealthiest residents, with barely any effect on job growth.
Yes, “fine” is probably too strong a word, given Obama’s record on private-sector job creation. (As David Leonhardt said, “If you mean ‘between bad and good,’ yes. But no, not if you mean ‘satisfactory.’” I suspect most people would agree the latter usage is more common.) But his record is still noticeably better than the George W. Bush years, which Mitt Romney shows every indication of wanting to bring back. Under Bush, after eight years of deregulation and tax cuts that Republicans insisted would produce jobs, the private sector lost 673,000 jobs. By contrast, since February 2009, the economy has added 780,000 private-sector jobs.
Finally, as my Post colleague Greg Sargent has pointed out, respected economists have said that Romney’s jobs plan would do little to help the economy in the short term, and could even do harm in the long term. Much of its weakness lies in Romney’s refusal to increase government spending, which blatantly ignores that the current recession, at its heart, is due to a lack of demand, not of supply, and thus is best addressed by filling the gap with government spending until demand recovers.
As for the president, his jobs plan acknowledges economic reality and increases government spending, including programs targeted at stemming the tide of public-sector layoffs. So yes, Obama screwed up this morning. But at least he has a track record and a plan in which private-sector job growth actually has existed and has a chance to continue.