Almost literally, in fact.  Barack Obama’s economic advisor tried to rebut critcisms made over Robert Reich’s remarks almost three weeks ago to Congress over how to structure the stimulus package, but in fact rebuts nothing and defends none of his remarks.  Reich accuses Michelle, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh of taking his remarks out of context, but fails entirely to provide context — and can only lamely link to Media Matters to rescue him (emphases mine):

In a time like this, when tempers are riding high and many Americans are close to panic about their jobs and finances, you have a special responsibility to consider the accuracy of what you say and the consequences of inflammatory and erroneous statements. In the last few days, manifestly distorting my words and pulling them out of context, you have accused me of wanting to exclude white males from jobs generated by the stimulus package. Anyone who takes a moment to examine what I actually said and wrote knows this to be an absurd misrepresentation of my position (see this). My goal is and has always been to create as many opportunities for as wide a group as possible, and not exclude anyone from access. There is and has never been any ambiguity about this. The hate mail I have received since your broadcast suggests that the mischievous consequences of your demagoguery are potentially dangerous, in addition to being destructive of rational and constructive political discourse. I urge you to take responsibility for your words. Words and ideas have real world consequences, and you have demonstrated a cavalier disregard for both.

Let’s recall Reich’s words:

I am concerned, as I’m sure many of you are, that these jobs not simply go to high-skilled people who are already professionals or to white male construction workers.  … I have nothing against white male construction workers.  I’m just saying that there are a lot of other people who have needs as well. … Criteria can be set so that the money does go to others, the long term unemployed minorities, women, people who are not necessarily construction workers or high-skilled professionals.

Michelle quotes from Reich’s earlier blog post, which Reich claimed provided more context:

The stimulus plan will create jobs repairing and upgrading the nation’s roads, bridges, ports, levees, water and sewage system, public-transit systems, electricity grid, and schools. And it will kick-start alternative, non-fossil based sources of energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and so on); new health-care information systems; and universal broadband Internet access.

It’s a two-fer: lots of new jobs, and investments in the nation’s future productivity.

But if there aren’t enough skilled professionals to do the jobs involving new technologies, the stimulus will just increase the wages of the professionals who already have the right skills rather than generate many new jobs in these fields. And if construction jobs go mainly to white males who already dominate the construction trades, many people who need jobs the most — women, minorities, and the poor and long-term unemployed — will be shut out.

What to do? There’s no easy solution to either dilemma…

People can be trained relatively quickly for these sorts of jobs, as well as many infrastructure j0bs generated by the stimulus — installing new pipes for water and sewage systems, repairing and upgrading equipment, basic construction — but contractors have to be nudged both to provide the training and to do the hiring.

I’d suggest that all contracts entered into with stimulus funds require contractors to provide at least 20 percent of jobs to the long-term unemployed and to people with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. And at least 2 percent of project funds should be allocated to such training. In addition, advantage should be taken of buildings trades apprenticeships — wich must be fully available to women and minorities.

We have two problems here.  First, Reich did indeed talk about excluding white males from access by advising Congress to create “criteria” for their exclusion in favor of … well, everyone else.  It’s rather absurd to argue otherwise, when Reich explicitly called for action to limit their access to these jobs.  Reich takes the rather cowardly way out by not explaining the meaning of his televised remarks to Congress, instead airily referring to “context” when Reich has made clear that he wants government to treat infrastructure spending as a welfare program rather than a construction project.  In fact, Reich was the one who specified “white male construction workers” as one group to avoid hiring.  What is that, if not exclusion?

The second problem is the actual advice to treat the stimulus as a welfare program.  When we build bridges and roads, we need to ensure that we do work of the highest quality.  Many of the jobs created in these areas won’t have skill requirements, but many of them will — and we should hire the best people available to ensure the highest quality work.  When we travel over these bridges and roads, we want to assume they’re safe and well built.  If one of them collapses from substandard work, the families of the dead won’t be comforted to know that politically correct hiring prevailed over skill and experience.

We’re supposed to be working towards a color-blind society.  People like Reich are an anchor on progress, dead weight that should be discarded, especially now.

My friend Chris Muir has an amusing take on the situation at Day by Day:

Tags: Barack Obama