"Shovel-ready was not as ... uh ... shovel-ready as we expected," Barack Obama joked the other day at a meeting of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Republicans jumped on Obama's comment as insensitive. "He joked about the wildly mistaken predictions he and others at the White House made a couple of years back about the job-creating potential of the stimulus," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "Well, I don't think the 14 million Americans who are looking for jobs right now find any of this very funny."
I'm sure they don't, but the fact that the president laid an egg when he tried to be self-deprecating isn't the scandal here.
After all, Obama has pretty much said the same thing several times. In a New York Times magazine profile last October, the president admitted he had to learn the hard way that there's "no such thing as shovel-ready projects."
This is a staggering indictment of the president, the team he assembled and the journalists who accepted this administration's arrogant assertions that they knew exactly what to do, how to do it, and what would happen as a result. Remember, this is the administration that to this day insists it is "pragmatic" and simply cares about "what works."
"I think we can get a lot of work done fast," President-elect Obama said shortly after gathering of governors in December 2008 "All of them have projects that are shovel-ready, that are going to require us to get the money out the door."
Jared Bernstein, the economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden -- the White House's point man on the stimulus -- said in a cable news interview in February 2009: "I think what people need to understand is that this really isn't rocket science." Spend a bundle on public works projects and -- boom -- you get a lot of people working.
They were wrong.
They were wrong not just about the effect of infrastructure spending -- even an analysis by the Associated Press found no evidence unemployment was significantly improved by the Recovery Act's public works projects -- but they were wrong about the existence of shovel-ready jobs in the first place. (They were also misleading, since only a tiny, tiny fraction of the stimulus went to any infrastructure at all. The bulk went to social programs.)