At a press conference on Friday morning, President Obama uttered a phrase he’s going to regret.
While speaking about the economy, he said, “The private sector is doing fine.” By some measurements, that may be true. But by making such a declarative statement, he handed his opponents a perfect opportunity to label him as “out of touch.”
In case you can’t watch the video, the president said:
“The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we 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.”
Single sentences are all it takes to destroy—or hamper—political careers. On Sept.15, 2008, John McCain insisted “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” He said that at the very moment Lehman Brothers was collapsing and the stock market was plummeting. That clip was used to show how out of touch he had become, and it proved fatal.
How fatal? Check out this Gallup daily tracking chart below:
Sen. McCain had a slight lead until he uttered that phrase, but never regained the lead afterwards. Other factors contributed to his slipping poll numbers, of course, such as the declining popularity of Sarah Palin and erratically postponing his campaign to deal with the economy. But that moment certainly cemented an impression that McCain didn’t “get it.”
President Obama was facing a similar challenge before today’s ill-conceived quote. Wide swaths of the electorate believe that the president doesn’t “get it” when it comes to the economy. And he handed his opponents evidence to support their position.
There’s an alternative theory, of course: that the President said this on purpose to force news organizations to report on the growth of private sector jobs during his presidency. If that was the plan, I’m skeptical that the benefits of that strategy outweigh the negatives.
This sentence will, by itself, not prove fatal. But expect to see Republicans use it in hundreds of ads this fall in an effort to paint a picture of a President removed from economic reality.
Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog. His firm, Phillips Media Relations, specializes in media and presentation training. He tweets at @MrMediaTraining.