Until Jennifer Rubin returns from vacation, coverage of the comedy gold of Robert Gibbs’s press conferences will necessarily be inadequate, but there was a moment yesterday that bears noting in her absence, starring (as usual) Jake Tapper as the straight man:
TAPPER: . . . In a letter sent last week to the White House from the National Association of Postal Supervisors, the president of that union, Ted Keating, said that his union had a, quote, “collective disappointment that you” — meaning the president — “chose the Postal Service as a scapegoat and an example in efficiency.” Does the president — has the president seen that letter? Has he responded? Does he regret using the post office as an example of inefficiency?
GIBBS: I doubt he’s seen that letter, and I don’t have any reason to believe he regrets it, since he repeated it.
It might have been better to say something like “I don’t know if he has seen the letter yet, Jake, but I am sure he will respond because he holds the Postal Service and its employees in the highest regard”—rather than assert that Obama must not regret using the post office as an example of inefficiency, since he did it twice.
Keating’s letter informed the president that the U.S. Postal Service, with its 35,000 employees, has been suffering during the economic downturn, has eliminated a lot of overtime and thousands of management positions, and that:
With all these efforts underway within the Postal Service community, it was a kick to the chest to have you take a shot at a group of federal employees who are working hard every day to support this country.
Employees of the Postal Service are largely represented by unions and management associations, all of whom strongly supported your candidacy last year. For our support we do not expect any special consideration. However, we would like to be treated fairly and not have our current situation misrepresented, especially by the Commander-in-Chief.
So in addition to his unfortunate use of the post office—twice—as an example of what his health-care plan would look like, Obama insulted federal employees, antagonized campaign contributors, and heard his press secretary effectively reaffirm the insult.
It is not clear how Obama can now correct the situation (much less remove the image from the minds of the public of a health-care system gone postal). It is probably not possible to invite 35,000 people to the White House for a beer.
UPDATE: I am indebted to Boyd Klingler for writing to note that the 35,000 figure in my post was a bit off:
At the end of September 2007, according to Fortune’s list of the world’s largest employers, the U.S. Postal Service had over 785,000 employees. Now I know service seems to get worse every year, but we do eventually get our mail, so I have a feeling the figure cited in your post is slightly low. I also think we might have heard about the layoffs of 750,000 postal workers in the less than two years since fiscal 2007 . . .
I should have referred to 35,000 management employees, since Keating was writing on behalf of the 35,000 members of the National Association of Postal Supervisors. As of 2009, Fortune Magazine lists the U.S. Postal Service as No. 84 in its list of the 500 largest corporations in the world, with 765,000 employees, so I should also have noted the absolute impossibility of serving beers to all the people affected by the Obama/Gibbs remarks.