Sound-bite duel lacks context

Posted: June 13, 2012

Compared with Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden wasn't such a bad guy.

That sentence just goes to show you the importance of context. Without the Hitler reference, the statement appears to be absolutely batty.

In that same vein, President Obama's comment that "the private sector is doing just fine" seems out of touch with reality when removed from the context in which he made the remark.

Here's his whole statement: "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, cuts initiated by governors and mayors who are not seeing 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."

Does the complete statement sound like Obama is out of touch? No, he's absolutely right in saying the private sector is doing "fine" when compared with the government sector in creating jobs, which doesn't mean anyone should be satisfied with the employment figures on either front.

While Obama noted that 4.3 million private-sector jobs have been created since February 2010 — or only 3.1 million, if you count from the end of the recession — the government sector, in comparison, has lost more than 650,000 jobs. That's an unacceptable drag on the economy.

The number of state and local government jobs as a percentage of the nation's population has dropped in 37 of the last 40 months. And by some estimates, the current unemployment rate of about 8.2 percent would be closer to 7 percent if jobs in the government sector had grown like those in the private sector.

It's too bad that once again a presidential campaign has been reduced to a game of table tennis in which the candidates volley with sound bites. But if that's the case, people should be more disturbed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's retort to Obama's saying the "private sector is doing fine."

"He wants to add more to government. He wants another stimulus. He wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more firemen, more policemen, 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," said Romney.

Since when did firemen, policemen, and teachers stop being Americans? Since when did it stop hurting towns across America when their laid-off firemen, policemen, and teachers couldn't pay their bills or taxes? That's not to say Romney was wrong about Wisconsin's showing the need to cut some government-employee benefits. But to suggest that government job losses don't hurt the economy is ludicrous.

The modest growth in private-sector jobs is a far cry from where it needs to be. But that growth has to be placed in context by comparing it not only with the continuing job losses in the government sector, but also with the pre-recession profit margins being enjoyed by some companies that prefer sitting on their cash to hiring.

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