Texas Gov. Rick Perry has had some game-losing fumbles, but his campaign ad faulting Barack Obama’s remark about “lazy” America isn’t among them.
Put simply: Yes, Obama did say that American laziness is keeping foreign nations from investing here. And self-styled “fact checkers” who suggest Perry lied are wrong.
Here is the question Obama got during a conference in Honolulu:
Interviewer: “I think one related question, looking at the world from the Chinese side, is what they would characterize as impediments to investment in the United States. And so that discussion I’m sure will be part of whatever dialogue you have. And so how are you thinking about that?”
Obama replied: “Well, this is an issue, generally. I think it’s important to remember that the United States is still the largest recipient of foreign investment in the world. And there are a lot of things that make foreign investors see the U.S. as a great opportunity — our stability, our openness, our innovative free-market culture.”
Pause right there. If you read nothing more of his response and were asked, “Whom is he talking about when he refers to ‘our stability, our openness, our innovative free-market culture?’ ” what would you say? He patently means the United States as a whole, and thus the American people who make up this country. There is no other rational interpretation. And since he’s being complimentary, the fact checkers don’t suggest otherwise.
But to whom — other than the United States and Americans — could the “we” in his very next sentences possibly refer? “But we’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades,” he said. “We’ve kind of taken for granted — well, people will want to come here, and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America.”
He obviously doesn’t mean the Belgian Kennel Club or the Tasmanian Air Force. He means Americans. He couldn’t mean anyone else. Only further into his response, once he caught himself and realized what he had said, did he offer some filigree about “outstanding U.S. workers.”
So Perry hit him, and the excuse-making for Obama promptly began at the theoretically nonpartisan “fact-checking” organizations. It included one particularly laughable rationalization from PolitiFact.com, whose “Truth-O-Meter” labeled Perry’s ad “mostly false.”
“Looking at the context, we found that Obama wasn’t characterizing the American public at large. He could have been talking about U.S. corporate practices or even his own administration,” PolitiFact argues.
Obama’s own words prove he wasn’t talking about his administration. He says the purported loafing has taken place “over the last couple of decades.” Even if PolitiFact thinks history didn’t begin until Obama took office, it must realize he has been in the White House only three years (though admittedly it seems far longer). Moreover, he boasts in the same interview that his administration created an investment-drawing program to mend the disappointing idleness he sees around him.
And PolitiFact engages, by its tacit admission, in speculation by claiming that Obama “could have been talking about U.S. corporate practices.” He could have been talking about rampaging marmots, too, but he didn’t give any indication of it, moving seamlessly, as he did, from a discourse on America and Americans to a scolding on shiftlessness.
An outfit by the name of FactCheck.org also got it wrong, while demonstrating a knack for making a distinction where no difference exists. The president “actually referred to collective efforts to promote foreign investment in the U.S., and not to American workers or voters as individuals,” a FactCheck writer claims.
OK, so he thinks we’re slackers “collectively.” But collectively or individually, he can still be referring only to America and Americans.
But why let real facts, much less good judgment, spoil the fun? In 2009, PolitiFact went on CNN to discuss its analysis of — I kid you not — a skit on “Saturday Night Live” that spoofed Obama’s lack of accomplishments. The point-by-point study, whose touchiness was punctuated by a transparently bogus “just for fun” disclaimer, gave every assurance that Obama wasn’t an underachiever — you know, to all us folks who make such determinations based on drab late-night comedy routines.
Not to be outdone, CNN’s Wolfman Blitzerberger pondered: “How should this White House deal with ... a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit like this? Do they just ignore it or do they deal with it?”
Wish somebody had asked CNN that.
Oh wait! Somebody did! Democrat Paul Begala was mystified after witnessing so freakishly partisan an attempt to ensure that never a discouraging word about Obama goes unchallenged: “I thought it was amusing that we actually went to people to fact check a comedy sketch,” he said.
James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal later summed it up: “It’s as if CNN and the St. Petersburg Times [which operates PolitiFact] are trying to reinforce the impression that they are in the tank for Obama.”
They don’t have to try hard.