Tuesday’s White House press conference was notable for what wasn’t asked. Though this was the first time in 60 days that President Obama had taken questions from the White House press corps, he wasn’t asked a single question about unemployment or other contemporary labor issues.
The absence of any questions about jobs was particularly striking, given that another jobs report is soon due from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their last report was rather grim, showing a slowdown in jobs growth and the lowest labor force participation rate in about 40 years. Yet although roughly 4.6 million people are counted among the long-term unemployed, the assembled journalists focused on other matters.
One of the very first questions asked was about the 2012 Benghazi consulate attack. The question was posed by Fox News’ Ed Henry, outgoing president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
Workplace safety also got short shrift, even though this was the first presidential press conference to follow the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. The blast, which killed 14 people and left hundreds more injured or homeless, occurred at a plant which seemed to lack basic safety precautions and had not been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. Yet there were no questions for the president about workplace safety regulations or regulatory enforcement.
This Wednesday—the day following the press conference—is May 1, celebrated internationally as Labor Day or International Workers’ Day. However, the United States government has a longstanding tradition, going back at least to Eisenhower, of dancing around the holiday’s roots in class struggle. Under Title 36 of United States Code, May 1 is typically referred to as Law Day, though in 2012, President Obama signed a proclamation declaring it “Loyalty Day.”