Obama on manufacturing: ‘There are some jobs that are not going to come back’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Did Barack Obama hand Mitt Romney a cudgel to use against him in Rust Belt states?

During Tuesday’s debate, the two differed over the future of manufacturing jobs. While Romney stressed the U.S. can “compete with anyone in the world as long as the playing field is level,” Obama conceded: “There are some jobs that are not going to come back.” (His point was that he wants to replace them with high wage, high skill jobs, but the damage was probably done.)

Interestingly, this same debate played out  four years ago, in the 2008 Republican primary.

Back then, it was John McCain playing the role as courageous truth-teller. Unfortunately for McCain, it cost him dearly in Michigan.

As Michael Shear recalled, Sen. McCain

 gave them this straight talk, which was, “A lot of these jobs aren’t coming back.” …

Romney hammered him with it, and that is basically how Romney won Michigan: “This guy is going to give up on you. This guy says your jobs aren’t ever coming back. I’m not going to give up on you.” And there was a moment where McCain, I think, thought, “Well, let’s see, maybe straight talk isn’t so great.”

At least Romney is consistent about the somewhat quixotic notion that manufacturing jobs can come back to America.

He “hammered” McCain on it four years ago, so one can probably expect Obama’s comments to end up in some swing state ads.

Romney’s position is probably smart politics, but is it realistic?

We can hope for that, but it seems unlikely. As NPR reported, “The percentage of Americans working in manufacturing fell under President Reagan. It also fell under Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama (respectively).”

This issue has been with us a long time now.

* * *

“They’re closing down the textile mill

across the railroad tracks

Foreman says these jobs are going boys

and they ain’t coming back to

Your hometown”

– Springsteen

Matt K. Lewis