I’ve been asked recently whether the Democrats can nationalize the Wisconsin recall vote or spin it into a national issue. I believe President Obama tried to do that last week with his “the private sector is doing fine” statement. It’s difficult not to ignore it.
At first blush it comes off like the John McCain gaffe the Arizona Republican made in 2008 during his failed bid for the presidency. This is where he said the fundamentals of the economy are fine.
At the time, the McCain statement was seen as probably just some bone-headed messaging mistake. Or maybe he really did mean it based on the reality he was living in – I mean, it’s not like it had all fallen apart at the onset of market meltdown. But, I’m not too sure about Mr. Obama’s statement as being so much bone headed versus part of an ill-conceived strategy to escalate the class warfare narrative through the Scott Walker recall vote.
Why do I call it an escalation? First, it’s a way of mobilizing certain segments of his base, much of that African American and many who have depended on the public sector employment for years as a steady pathway into the middle class. And by saying that the private sector is doing fine while the government sector isn’t is another way of saying Wall Street is doing fine while the low paid government worker whose collective bargaining rights may be threatened by the next Scott Walker wannabe is not. The only brilliance in the statement was that the media was quick to call it poorly chosen words when in actuality it was a poorly chosen strategy.
Mr. Obama does not appreciate that this divide and conquer strategy does not mend the social fabric of a republic. Governing a republic means weaving the distinct pieces into one; acknowledging not just its differences but more importantly acknowledging that each piece plays an important role. Government should promote the sense of aspiration among the distinct pieces of cloth in order to place a check on the jealousies that can rip that fabric apart.
Yet, the President would rather score points by picking off certain segments of society with the offering of trinkets to the groups he believes he can get the most traction with. Supporting gay rights. Equal pay for women. Refinanced mortgages for those of us underwater on our homes. No evidence that we are part of one nation; one culture. Putting our diversity (which to outsiders is damned near non-existent because to them we are all Yankees) before the things that bind us.
One could argue that karma is at work; that Mr. Obama is getting his oats handed to him for jumping on Mr. McCain’s gaffe four years ago. I think the chickens have come home to roost, but for different reasons.