President Obama's Shovel-in-Mouth Gaffe

"The problem is, is that spending [stimulus money] out takes a long time, because there's really nothing--there's no such thing as shovel-ready projects."

Who said that: a Republican senator, Tea Party activist, or think tank conservative? Answer: None of the above. It was President Obama, in an interview with the New York Times.

As Andrew Sullivan said of the interview, it's nice to have a president who is reflective and intellectually honest. But this isn't merely reflective and intellectual honest. It's actually reflective of intellectual dishonesty. In January 2009, the president said there were "shovel-ready" jobs across the United States waiting for government money. Now he's making the more nuanced argument that paying contractors isn't as easy as taking money out of the stimulus pot and giving it to some guys on an empty road with shovels.

He's right! Paying the private sector to do things like build dams takes a long time. But this would have been good to know in January 2009 when we were debating how best to stimulate the economy with a politically palatable stimulus package that allegedly had to be under one trillion dollars to pass Congress. If the president's economists knew that "shovel-ready" meant "shovel-almost-ready-right-after-we-work-out-these-contracts-and-regulations," then maybe we should have used the money to save teachers or cut taxes.