When Republicans attack public workers, they often take care to exempt cops and firefighters, because they are culturally sympathetic figures, and muddle the message that government workers are parasites who are destroying the economic conditions of ordinary Americans.
But today Mitt Romney got a good deal more specific, claiming we do not need to hire more cops or firefighters specifically, which would, he said, cut against the interests of the American people. He also specifically named teachers.
Romney made the comments in response to Obama’s presser today, at which the president claimed the “private sector is doing fine.” Per CNN:
Romney said of Obama, “he wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”
It’s hard to argue that the message from Wisconsin was that Americans don’t think we should hire more firefighters and cops. They were exempted from Scott Walker’s crackdown on public employee bargaining rights, which enabled him to “divide and conquer” labor.
But beyond that, this could resonate in the presidential race: It will allow the White House to reframe the debate over public sector workers and job creation on more favorable terms.
One of the components of the American Jobs Act that Obama continues to demand that Republicans pass would invest $35 billion in federal funds to keep cops, firefighters, and teachers on the job. Republicans, Romney included, oppose this plan. Central to their argument against this type of investment is to keep the focus on public sector workers as a class, arguing that they are bilking the taxpayer and are to blame for the economic plight of struggling Americans. As Romney recently put it: “We have 145,000 more government workers under this president. Let’s send them home and put you back to work.”
At the same time, however, Romney takes care to show great sympathy with first responders. As Jonathan Chait has noted, Romney has spoken movingly of the financial plight of firefighters under Obama, even though they belong to the parasitic class that he is trying to scapegoat for the economic misery of other Americans. Since teachers are associated with the education of our children, Republicans generally refrain from attacking them directly and instead target teachers union bosses. And in his quest for the female vote, Romney has spoken sympathetically about women bearing the brunt of the Obama economy, even though many of them are teachers, and hence, public workers, too.
This time, however, Romney deserves points for honesty: He has forthrightly declared that the class of government workers holding back other Americans does include cops, firefighters and teachers. And in so doing, he has singlehandedly reframed the debate from one over despised government bureaucrats to one over whether we should hire more cops, firefighters and teachers to get the economy going. This is a debate the White House will be happy to have.
Or, to put it another way: #WedgeFail!
UPDATE: The Obama campaign is now circulating video:
The Obama campaign responds:
In Iowa today, Mitt Romney shockingly promised to cut jobs for firefighters, police, and teachers if elected. As President Obama urges Congress to pass his plan to put cops, firefighters, teachers, and construction workers back to work — after they left as many as 1 million jobs from his plan on the table — Mitt Romney has decided we need less jobs for middle class Americans, not more. That’s the message he received this week.