Memo to the average American worker: Jeb Bush doesn’t think you’re working hard enough.
Jeb, who was born on third base and nurtured by a wealthy family, thinks that you need to work more hours. Jeb, whose net worth is in the neighborhood of $20 million, who in fact gets 50 grand whenever he opines at a podium, thinks that you need to work more hours.
Since the median American household income, for an entire year, is roughly 50 grand, you would be correct in deducing that this patrician Republican is wildly out of touch with the way people live – and tone-deaf to boot. Sort of like the way Mitt Romney was in 2012, when he dissed “47 percent” of Americans as moochers and slackers. And look what that episode did for Mitt.
Here’s what Jeb said earlier this week in a New Hampshire interview: “My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it is a four percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive. Work force 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 are going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”
In Jeb’s defense, it’s reasonable to argue (as he was trying to do, in his ham-handed fashion) that a productive economy is a healthy economy, that an economy grows when its people work harder. And he later sought to clarify his remarks, insisting that when he initially said that “people need to work longer hours,” he was referring to part-time workers, not full-timers.
But, politically, he screwed up big time.
First, the optics: When a preppie elitist says that the average working stiff isn’t working hard enough, it’s like handing an early Christmas gift to the opposition. Hence, Hillary’s instant tweet: “Anyone who believes Americans aren’t working hard enough hasn’t met enough American workers.”
Second, the killer soundbite: It’s arguably unfair to pluck “people need to work longer hours” out of context, but nobody ever said politics is fair. Just look at what happened to John Kerry in 2004. In that race, Jeb’s brother plucked a clumsy Kerry utterance out of context and dined on it for months. Kerry had said on the stump, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” He was trying to explain a complicated Senate parliamentary maneuver, concerning supplementary funding for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Bush team pounded him successfully for that sentence alone.
Third, the work statistics make Jeb look even worse. We’re not exactly a nation of slackers. According to a Gallup poll conducted last summer, the average American already works 47 hours a week; nearly four in 10 said they work more than 50 hours a week, and nearly two in 10 said they work more than 60 hours a week. And according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (an international group), we already work longer hours than our counterparts in most western industrialized nations. Check out the chart; if we work a wee bit longer, we can catch up with the likes of Lithuania, Russia, and Greece.
(Which brings to mind the classic episode, in February 2005, when Jeb’s brother encountered a divorced mom in Nebraska. The mom said that she worked three jobs. George W.’s response: “You work three jobs? Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that.”)
Fourth, Jeb’s overall prescription for the economy is the standard Republican mantra – lower taxes (“lower rates,” as he said in that New Hampshire interview), and that includes lower taxes for the rich (natch), “reducing the size of government,” yada yada. The real problem is not the hours that Americans work, it’s the long-stagnant wages that they earn (the wages have been stagnant for decades, under administrations of both parties). But Jeb doesn’t even get to square one on wages; he even opposes raising the federal minimum wage.
Fifth, Jeb complained that workforce participation has sunk to “all-time modern lows,” and his spinners subsequently said that “under President Obama, we have the lowest workforce participation rate since 1977.” Which, again, makes it sound like we’re a nation of slackers. But the reality – which Jeb ignored, because either he’s clueless or just willfully oblivious – is that baby boomer retirements are what’s accelerating the drop in the participation rate.
But hey, the guy who was born on third base wants us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. I wonder whether that message would play well with working stiffs in the fall of ’16.
The Confederate flag is finally gone from the South Carolina Capitol grounds. Don’t be surprised if Gov. Nikki Haley winds up on the short list for GOP veeps in ’16.