Political coverage of President Obama can be odd sometimes. We've reached the point at which media professionals no longer evaluate the president's comments at a press conference, for example, but rather evaluate how the comments might be used against him later.
What matters isn't the substance, then, but whether the substance has the potential to be wrenched from context in future attack ads.
Take this morning, for example. Obama hosted a press conference at the White House, starting with a seven-minute opening statement on the economy and the need for Congress to act on pending job legislation. Then he opened the floor to questions, most of which dealt with the Eurozone crisis.
At one point, a reporter asked, "What about the Republicans saying that you're blaming the Europeans for the failure of your own policies?" Obama responded:
"The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we've created 4.3 million jobs over the last two, 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, oftentimes cuts initiated by, you know, governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don't have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in."
Reporters figured Republicans would seize of the notion of the private sector "doing fine," so pretty much every other word uttered during the press conference has been deemed irrelevant. Now, the "gaffe" is what matters -- include Obama's important explanation of the policies needed to improve the economy and the damage done by austerity-like measures in the public sector.
As gaffes go, this strikes me as extremely weak tea. The choice of words probably could have been slightly better, but really, to treat this as some kind of breakthrough moment in the campaign is pretty silly. Indeed, what Obama said, in context, is largely correct -- compared to the public sector, the private sector really is doing fine.
This isn't complicated. Corporate profits have soared, the stock market is up, and private sector job growth has fueled the recovery entirely on its own. In fact, private sector job growth last year was the second best year we've seen since the late 1990s, and 2012 is on track to be even stronger.
The public sector, meanwhile, continues to be a drag on the economy, laying off workers and cutting budgets. Comparing the two sectors, there's nothing shocking about saying one is "fine" and the other isn't.
If the media pushback is that the current growth rates aren't yet good enough, that's certainly fair -- but I think everyone realizes Obama has said the same thing several thousand times. Republicans and reporters may enjoy being opportunistic with these comments, but that doesn't make the story legitimate.
For his part, Mitt Romney quickly learned of the media reports and told voters that the president is "out of touch." Yes, Mr. Elevator For My Cars who isn't concerned about the poor and who enjoys firing people wants to talk about which presidential candidate is "out of touch."
The election is 150 days away. It's only going to get sillier.