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For Obama, the Context is the Killer

According to David Axelrod and White House press secretary Jay Carney, the controversy about President Obama’s comment on Friday that “the private sector is doing fine” is a manufactured one. Obama’s comments were taken out of context, his top aides insist.

Nice try, but here’s what the president said in context:

The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve 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 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, 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.

What the president is arguing, then, isn’t simply that the private sector is doing fine; he’s also making the case that the federal government right now is not spending enough, that it’s too frugal, that our trillion-dollar-a-year-deficit is evidence of parsimony, and that creating post-World War II records in federal spending as a percentage of GDP, the federal debt as a percentage of GDP, and the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP hasn’t quite satisfied his spending ambitions. By his own logic, President Obama believes the path to prosperity is for the federal government to spend more, and more, and more – and that the GOP, if it was a responsible political party, would help him do just that.

It looks like we’re going to get that clash of visions the president has been longing for.

What Obama did on Friday was to lay out, in 136 words, what his economic theory is and what he would like his second term to look like. What happened at the Obama press conference, as Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post points out, wasn’t a gaffe; it was a window into the philosophy that animates the president. He’s committed to doubling down on a policy that has been an utter failure. That is what will eventually prove most damaging to the president – and it explains why his aides are peddling the ludicrous line that Obama’s comments were taken out of context. In fact, it’s the context that is the killer.


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