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Obama Learns 'Lazy' Is A Four-Letter Word


President Obama has spoken for hours during his specific tour this week to CEOs, world leaders and military troops. As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, one brief remark caught the ear of Republicans and you're likely to hear a lot of it in the months ahead.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: On Saturday in Honolulu, President Obama sat down with the CEO of Boeing for a wide-ranging question and answer session in front of global business leaders. The president kept saying that U.S. officials need to do more to attract business with countries in the Asia Pacific region, both by opening new markets to sell more American goods overseas and by attracting foreign businesses to U.S. shores. Then he said this.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, 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 businesses into America.

SHAPIRO: We've been a little bit lazy. In context, the we in that sentence refers to U.S. policymakers. The president believes they've done too little to attract foreign business. He went on to say that his administration is trying to streamline federal, state, and local rules to make it easier for foreign companies to invest, but to Republicans, the lazy phrase rang out like a siren.

Within hours, the Romney campaign sent out an email with the headline, "Obama to Americans, you're lazy." The Romney campaign tied that statement in Honolulu to other comments Mr. Obama has made in the past, such as this interview with a local TV station in Orlando.

OBAMA: This is, you know, a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and, you know, we didn't have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades. We need to get back on track, but, you know, I still wouldn't trade our position with any country's on earth.

SHAPIRO: At a briefing in Hawaii on Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Republicans were distorting the president's message.

JOSH EARNEST: What the president was talking about, was the president was making the case that it is time for the United States and our foreign policy to focus on the Asia Pacific region.

SHAPIRO: But by then, the Americans are lazy mean was already taking hold.

MITT ROMNEY: He was other disparaging things about America. I just don't think he - he was saying that we just weren't working hard enough. I don't think he gets what's happening in this country.

SHAPIRO: This was a Romney campaign event in Columbia, South Carolina.

ROMNEY: Our problem is not that the private sector isn't productive enough. The problem is that the government sector is too heavy and too burdensome and is keeping the private sector from growing and thriving like it should.

SHAPIRO: The Obama campaign hit back. In a statement spokesman Ben Labolt said only Mitt Romney would criticize the president for encouraging CEOs to promote the United States abroad in order to create American jobs. He went on, maybe that's because when Mitt Romney was a finance executive, he was more focused on outsourcing American jobs and creating profits for investors without any regard for the impact of his decisions on middle class families. But Romney was not the only Republican to run with the lazy comment. Rick Perry's presidential campaign released this video.


OBAMA: We've been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades.

RICK PERRY: Do you believe that? That's what our president thinks is wrong with America, that Americans are lazy? That's pathetic.

SHAPIRO: The Democratic National Committee released a web ad in response accusing Romney and Perry of manipulating and distorting the facts, but political analysts of both parties predict that the lazy clip will likely become a staple of the 2012 campaign season. And President Obama has learned that no matter the context, in this race, lazy is a four-letter word. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.