All Gaffes Aren’t Created Equal

by Ramesh Ponnuru

On Friday, President Obama said that “the private sector is doing fine.” In response Govenor Romney said, “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.” The Obama campaign is trying to mitigate the damage of its candidate’s comment by pouncing on Romney’s. The governor’s comment was maladroit: He would have been better off, I think, saying that whether or not we need more policemen, etc., hiring them is not an economic-growth strategy.

Be that as it may, I don’t think Romney’s comment is going to hurt him nearly as badly as Obama’s will hurt him. The central message of the Romney campaign, and Obama’s central vulnerability, is after all that Obama doesn’t get, and has failed, the economy. His just-fine comment reinforces that message. Romney’s comment is a vulnerability because people like firefighters, teachers, and policemen. But it doesn’t reinforce a central argument of Obama’s. There is, to be sure, a connection to Obama’s message that Romney is too extreme and too anti-government. But that connection is indirect, and the message itself doesn’t strike me as especially powerful. To put it another way: The number of persuadable voters who might turn against Obama because they think he doesn’t get the economy is larger than the number who might vote against Romney because he doesn’t want to hire more firefighters.

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