It’s clear in context what he meant and ABC did a creditable job in the clip below backing him up with numbers, but a damaging soundbite is halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.
“My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours” and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”
Already the Democratic National Committee has pounced, releasing a statement that calls his remarks “easily one of the most out-of-touch comments we’ve heard so far this cycle,” adding that Bush would not fight for the middle class as president.
In a statement, a Bush aide clarified that he was referring to the underemployed and part-time workers: “Under President Obama, we have the lowest workforce participation rate since 1977, and too many Americans are falling behind. Only Washington Democrats could be out-of-touch enough to criticize giving more Americans the ability to work, earn a paycheck, and make ends meet.”
He wasn’t asking full-time workers to spend more time at work. He was calling for more full-time jobs for the many millions who have been stuck working part-time in the Obama economy, thanks to the incentives ObamaCare creates for employers to reduce workers’ hours. That’s why he prefaced it by mentioning workforce participation. Part-time work is a miserable experience — odd hours, few benefits, often not enough pay to eke out a decent living. Get those people real jobs, Bush is saying, and their standard of living will rise while the extra cash they’re bringing home will stimulate growth.
Naturally, though, what he said will be pared down to the “work longer hours” line and inserted into a million Democratic ads if he’s the nominee to mislead voters. It reminds me a bit of Romney saying at one point during the 2012 primaries that he liked being able to fire people who provide bad service. He was making an argument at the time for giving people more options in health insurance — why be forced to stick with a bad provider when you could go with someone else? — but of course the quote was twisted to make it sound like miserly Old Man Romney got his kicks pulling the trapdoor on maids and butlers who didn’t fetch his slippers quickly enough. Phrasing is important in a country where swing voters only have time for five-second soundbites before flipping back to that Kardashians marathon on E!
So let the campaign begin:
Anyone who believes Americans aren't working hard enough hasn't met enough American workers. pic.twitter.com/wyS1p8zcDo
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 9, 2015
Anyone who discounts 6.5 million people stuck in part-time work & seeking full-time jobs hasnt listened to working Americans @hillaryclinton
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) July 9, 2015
The good news for Jeb is that he said this early enough in the campaign that few people will remember it next fall. I don’t think he has to worry much about attack ads on this point: If Democrats want to really hurt him, they’ll skip this “longer hours” dust-up and just run the clip of him awarding Hillary Clinton a medal for public service. The bad news for Jeb is that saying this during the primaries means he’s going to get hammered for it by conservatives too, just in case it’s useful in persuading Republican undecideds not to nominate Bush 3.0. Had he said it a year from now, we’d all be in circle-the-wagons mode, outraged that Clinton could be so dishonest as to twist what was obviously a knock on part-time employment. As it is, his poor communication skills on this point and in his bumbling answers to questions on Iraq will be treated as further evidence that Bush isn’t ready for primetime. Can’t wait until Donald “You’re Fired” Trump rips his head off for being insensitive to the working class.