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Obama: Small-Town Midwesterners "Bitter," American Businessmen "A Little Bit Lazy," America "A Little Soft"

2:34 PM, Nov 17, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Rick Perry released an ad yesterday attacking President Obama for saying that Americans have gotten a "little bit lazy." But ABC's Devin Dwyer writes that the Perry ad "distorts" Obama's words. How so? "Obama replied [in an interview] that 'we’ve been a little bit lazy' about actively trying to attract private foreign investors to U.S. soil — referring broadly to American government and business sectors, not the American people themselves," Dwyer writes.

Obama in Cairo

Obama in Cairo

The ABC writer's logic is a little bit bizarre. Why don't American businessmen count as "the American people themselves"? By Dwyer's logic, Obama didn't call Americans "bitter" at a San Franscisco fundraiser in 2008 because Obama was only referring to Midwesterners from economically-depressed small towns, not all Americans.

If you want to be scrupulously precise, it would be most fair to say that Obama was referring only to American businessmen* and the American government as "a little bit lazy." Likewise, Obama merely said in 2008 that Midwesterners from "a lot of small towns" are "bitter" xenophobes who "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them."

And earlier this year, Obama said that America is a "great, great country that had gotten a little soft, and we didn’t have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades." Maybe Obama meant to say "the government" had gotten soft. But what he actually said is that the "country" had "gotten a little soft." As Bill Kristol pointed out in a recent editorial, the critique that America has gotten soft usually comes from the right

*Slate's Dave Weigel writes that Obama's remarks in the Perry ad are taken "completely out of context" because the "question, and the answer, were about the government's role in making America a more attractive place to invest, not about the relative get-up-and-go of Americans."

But the question to Obama was not narrowly focused on the government: 

 QUESTION: I think one related question, looking at the world from the Chinese side, is what they would characterize as impediments to investment in the United States. And so that discussion I'm sure will be part of whatever dialogue you have. And so how are you thinking about that?

And Obama's answer referred broadly to American culture before he said "we've been a little lazy." He then went on to cite things his administration has done to make investment more attractive: 

OBAMA: Well, this is an issue, generally. I think it's important to remember that the United States is still the largest recipient of foreign investment in the world. And there are a lot of things that make foreign investors see the U.S. as a great opportunity -- our stability, our openness, our innovative free market culture. But we've been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades. We've kind of taken for granted -- well, people will want to come here and we aren't out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America. And so one of things that my administration has done is set up something called SelectUSA that organizes all the government agencies to work with state and local governments where they're seeking assistance from us, to go out there and make it easier for foreign investors to build a plant in the United States and put outstanding U.S. workers back to work in the United States of America.

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