Many in the media seem fascinated by President Obama's off-hand comment about the private sector doing "fine" relative to the public sector, but the more significant comment on Friday came a few hours later.
Campaigning in Iowa, Mitt Romney adopted a pro-layoffs agenda when it comes to school teachers, police officers, and firefighters. Overnight, the Obama campaign released a new video on the subject.
As a rule, gaffes tend to capture the political world's attention, but in this case, we have something more significant than a soundbite -- we have a policy position. Indeed, the Republican nominee for president seriously believes we can "help the American people" by laying off, not just public-sector workers in general, but specifically cops, firefighters, and teachers -- and his background as a one-term governor makes clear he means it.
This is so far from the mainstream that even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) wouldn't endorse Romney's line. Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday, the Republican governor said, "I know in my state our reforms allowed us to protect firefighters, police officers and teachers. That's not what I think of when I think of big government."
I realize the out-of-context "private sector is doing fine" line is the official new plaything, but Romney's position is substantive and important, and apparently even controversial among conservative Republicans. The differences between Obama and Romney on this have the potential to drive the presidential campaign: does it help or hurt America when hundreds of thousands of school teachers and first responders lose their jobs?
For the first time in generations, the two major-party presidential candidates answer that question differently.
Coincidentally, President Obama's weekly address, which was also recorded Friday, touched on this.
"[I]t should concern everyone that right now -- all across America -- tens of thousands of teachers are getting laid off. In Pennsylvania alone, there are 9,000 fewer educators in our schools today than just a year ago. In Ohio, the number is close to 7,000. And nationwide, over the past three years, school districts have lost over 250,000 educators. Think about what that means for our country. When there are fewer teachers in our schools, class sizes start climbing up. Our students start falling behind. And our economy takes a hit.
"The point is: teachers matter. One study found that a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can change the course of a child's life. So the last thing our country needs is to have fewer teachers in our schools."
Romney clearly disagrees, and neither he nor his aides have walked back Friday's comments. So let's have the debate and see what voters think.
Keep in mind, Obama's Jobs Act intended to protect or create 400,000 jobs for school teachers, police officers, and firefighters. A CNN poll taken at the time found that 75% of the public -- and 63% of self-identified Republicans -- endorsed this jobs proposal. It would suggest Romney has a tough case to make to the nation.
But he planted a pro-layoff flag anyway, which clearly deserves some follow-up. The question for the GOP candidate seems pretty obvious: Dear Mr. Romney, please explain why America will be better off when more teachers, cops, and firefighters are unemployed.