In the last 48 hours, President Obama made a point about the private sector “doing fine” which the Romney campaign quickly seized on and has since loomed large in media coverage. Now, the Obama camp is using a vulnerability in Romney’s response to shift the conversation.
In going after the president, Mitt Romney doubled down on his opposition to hiring public sector workers — and the Obama team saw an opportunity, arguing Sunday that Romney has gone too far in demonizing teachers.
The back-and-forth started with a press conference Friday, when President Obama made the comment that the private sector is “doing fine” as part of a larger point about a stalling public sector that is dragging down the rest of the economy:
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.
Then came a torrent of bad press coverage and a stark rebuttal from Romney, asking, if Obama is “really that out of touch?”
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.
Obama called another news conference Friday to clarify his remark and mitigate the fallout. On Sunday, Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod acknowledged that the private sector needs to do better, then quickly moved to offense.
“The president is out of touch — out of touch? We have lost 250,000 teachers in the last” couple of years, he said on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “So I would suggest he’s living on a different planet if he thinks that’s a prescription for a stronger economy.”
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Axelrod added that laying off teachers is bad for education. “What planet is he living on where he thinks that we can take this kind of hits in our education system and progress as a country?” he said.
Team Romney isn’t backing down either, setting the stage for a larger argument about education and the economy. The ex-governor has said smaller class sizes don’t necessarily improve education. On Sunday, now-surrogate Rick Santorum defended Romney’s opposition to hiring more teachers.
“Teachers are great, we love teachers,” Santorum said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But if anybody believes that hiring more teachers as we did over the many, many years in this country, under President Clinton, even President Bush and under the early part of President Obama’s administration, if that’s dramatically improved the quality of education, you got to show me the numbers because it’s not. … What we need to do is have education reform, not throw more money at teachers. And Mitt Romney understands that.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.