The 1990 Italian film
It turns out that the kids are all doing badly, and the whole trip is drenched in nostalgia and regret for what might have been. When the father gets home, he can't bring himself to tell his wife the truth, even though — the audience discovers — she's been dead and buried for years. In the last scene, we see the old man at his wife's grave, reassuring her, "Everybody's fine."
One common defense: He was just being ironic or sarcastic.
New York magazine's Jonathan Chait insists that Obama meant it "the same basic way that I did this week when I was slowly recovering from a horrendous head cold and told people I was 'fine'.…" On Monday,
The only problem: There's pretty much no evidence that's how Obama meant it.
In his news conference last week, Obama argued that the private sector isn't holding back the economy, the public sector is — hence "the private sector is doing fine." When given the opportunity to retract his gaffe, he basically repeated it. "It's absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine," the piqued president said. "That's why I had a press conference." (Something's wrong when you have to explain why you had a press conference.)
Why is the economy "not doing fine"? Because, he explained, the public sector isn't keeping up with the private sector. "Now, I think if you look at what I said this morning and what I've been saying consistently over the last year, we've actually seen some good momentum in the private sector."
Two things are going on here, one substantive, one political.
Substantively, Obama believes that we can save the economy — or at least his reelection efforts — if we open the sluices of more federal spending (with money borrowed from China) and devote it to hiring a lot more government workers. Basically, it's stimulus 2.0 (3.0, really, since Bush had a stimulus too). Obama, as he correctly insisted, has been saying this "consistently."
Politically, however, this is a very hard sell. As we've seen in Wisconsin and California, lavishing more borrowed money on public sector workers is less popular than asking them for some shared sacrifice.
More important, the private sector isn't doing fine. The only reason the unemployment rate is as low as it is, is that millions of Americans have lost hope that it's worth looking for a job. You can't have the weakest recovery in generations and the highest sustained unemployment rate since the Depression and say the private sector is doing fine.
Actually you can say it; it's just that no one will believe you.
And that's Obama's real dilemma. He can't concede the private sector is doing badly because 1) he wants to burden it even more to spend more on the public sector and 2) if he admits the private sector is still doing badly, he's conceding the heart of
Obama has failed economically.
So he's stuck claiming he's done everything right, and the only problem is the GOP's refusal to lavish more money on state governments. And nobody in his family of advisors and supporters has it in them to tell him otherwise. It's like he's talking to a tombstone marked "Obama Campaign 2012."