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Obama's 'Lazy' Comment Is Energetically Attacked By GOP

President Obama and W. James McNerney, Jr., Boeing's CEO at APEC in Honolulu, Nov. 12, 2011.
Andres Leighton
President Obama and W. James McNerney, Jr., Boeing's CEO at APEC in Honolulu, Nov. 12, 2011.

In a classic case of taking a political opponent's comments out of context, some of the presidents Republican opponents are attacking President Obama for a remark in which he said U.S. policymakers have been "lazy" in recent decades for not creating the best environment to attract foreign direct investment to the U.S.

During a question-and-answer session at the recent meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama responded to a question from moderator James McNerney Jr., Boeing Co.'s CEO who was serving as moderator. McNerney asked the president about impediments to foreign investment, specifically by Chinese, in the U.S.

Obama responded that part of the problem was that U.S. federal, state and local policymakers hadn't done enough to streamline the process for potential foreign investors to make it easier for them to invest. He thought policymakers had become complacent, displaying an attitude best described as: why wouldn't foreigners want to invest here?

Here's an excerpt from the president's answer:

PRESIDENT 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.

"And we think that we can do much better than we're doing right now. Because of our federalist system, sometimes a foreign investor comes in and they've got to navigate not only federal rules, but they've also got to navigate state and local governments that may have their own sets of interests. Being able to create if not a one-stop shop, then at least no more than a couple of stops for people to be able to come into the United States and make investments, that's something that we want to encourage."

But the president's critics have whittled this down to: "Obama says Americans are lazy."

A new campaign ad by Texas Gov. Rick Perry shows the out-of-context attack in its purest form in which the Republican presidential candidate says.

"Do you believe that, that's what out president thinks is wrong with America, that Americans are lazy. That's pathetic. It's time to clean house in Washington."

Meanwhile, Politico reports that Republicans hope to use the president's "lazy" comment to great effect in not just the presidential campaign but congressional races.

While it took the word "lazy" a few days to amble into the political sphere — Obama was speaking at last weekend's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Hawaii — it is now spreading across the campaign landscape on winged feet. Republicans say it's another example in a troubling trend of the president trash-talking his own country, and they warn that the video is now sitting in the vault, ready to be rolled out for campaign ads at all levels next fall. Moreover, some Democratic strategists privately concede that it was a bad moment for the president, even if it's harder to pin the remark on other Democrats...

"I would bang that drum like I was in Occupy Wall Street," said the strategist, who requested anonymity to speak freely about how to campaign against Democrats.

Democrats well know the power the use of an out-of-context comment by a political rival can have since they have used the same trick to beat up Republicans.

When GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously told a heckler in Iowa that "Corporations are people, my friend" he took much flak from liberals for that though what he was saying, in the context of the larger point he was making, was indisputably true. Corporations are essentially groups of people organized for the purpose of making money. If you raise taxes on corporations, ultimately people will be paying those taxes.

What the partisan ad makers and political combatants on both sides bank on in these instances is that voters will be too lazy (there's that word again) to examine the entire context of the comment in question and to give the benefit of the doubt to a politician from the opposite party.

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.