After reading this post by Digby today, I decided to crunch a few numbers to see just how badly these two were exagerating about whether anyone could ever fairly call Robert Gibbs' salary of $172,000 a year "relatively modest pay" or not.
More on that below the fold but first here's this from Digby.
Begala and Matalin on Biltzer this afternoon:
Blitzer: In an interview the other day with the New York Times, the president said about his press secretary Robert Gibbs, Paul let me read it to you:
He said "We've been on this ride together since I won my Senate primary in 2004 ... He's had a six-year stretch now where basically he's been going 24/7 with relatively modest pay."
Now realtively modest pay has caused a bit of a stir out there. We've checked and he's getting 172,200 dollarsa year. The president says that's relatively modest. the bureau of labor statistics says the mean annual salary in the US is 42,000 dollars. the question is, is the president out of touch? Is he giving the impression that he's out of touch when he says someone making 172,000 a year is getting a relatively modest salary?
Begala: It that adverb, it's that modifier "relative." The president is exactly right. I'm going to defend him on this. Robert Gibbs is an astonishingly powerful man who's been serving our country. And yeah that's a good paycheck, it really is. 172 grand? But just to put it into context, the chief flack for Goldman Sachs makes over a million bucks a year, just for being a spokesman for an investment bank! Sarah Palin, some obscure pundit on some other channel, makes ten to fifteen million a year if you add in the coloring books that she publishes.
Gibbs should be in that range. It's a relatively small amount compared to what he could or should be making in the private sector.
Blitzer: What do you think Mary?
Matalin: I think the president is out of touch, but not for that statement. These jobs, if you take them apart, that salary is little more that three times, maybe four times than the average salary. But he's not working an average job, he's not working at an average government job. He really is working, and Paul did this too in the Whiter House, you really do work three shifts a day. you work 24 hours a day. You eat lunch at your desk. There's many days when you are lucky if you can get to the bathroom. And when you do that for a sustained period, your brain starts to bubble away. So I think it's a little unfair to attack the president on this, I do.
Blitzer: But does the impression, I guess ... what folks out there ... take a look at nearly 10 percent unemployment right now, and the president is saying spomebody making 172,000 dollars a year is relatively modest, the impression you get is that the president coulod be out of touch with average folks out there around the country Paul.
Begala: But, but, I do think ... again, it's that word "relatively." You know a factor in a campaign, in what was otherwise a terrific interview with pastor Rick Warren, John McCain was asked by Pastor Warren what constitutes rich, McCain said "five million dollars a year." Now he was kind of joking, to tell you the truth. It doesn't mean John McCain's out of touch. He was trying to make a point that he wasn't trying to tax anybody. The President's trying to make a point here --- he's not trying to say that 172 thousand dollars a year is not a good paycheck. But compared to what the guy could be making... And, as Mary points out, if it's a hourly wage, then Gibbs is probably making about fifty cents an hour.
Blitzer: And we know he's working hard and deserves to take some time off because he's been working hard all these ... but, I'll, Mary, I'll let you have the final thought.Was the president correct when he said this is a relatively modest paycheck.
Matalin: Uh, uh, I'll go to your other question which is he ...
Blitzer: No no, answer that one...was he right when he said, "this is a relatively modest paycheck."
Matalin: To the average American it's a good paycheck. For those kinds of jobs, and those hours, it is minimum wage. That's how hard those jobs are.
Blitzer: We'll leave it at that guys.
Minimum wage? Fifty cents an hour? I don't think so.
So let's do the math here. There are 52 weeks in a year. That's 2080 hours a year if Gibbs just worked forty hours a week and never took a day off for vacation or anything else. If that's all he worked, no benefits included and no extra hours, that comes to $82.78 an hour. Pretty hefty salary there which I'm sure is more like $100 an hour plus by the time you add his benefits in there.
Now we can take it to the other extreme. If we assumed we were paying Gibbs to work seven days a week, twenty four hours a day, not time to sleep, eat, vacation, no time off. He's on call all the time, every day putting in tireless hours as these two made out. That would come to 8736 manhours, divided by his salary is still $19.71 an hour without him receiving any premium time for all of those extra work hours over 40 hours a week.
If you assume he'd be paid time and a half for those overtime hours like most of us out there but still being paid to work 24/7, that would mean he's making 2080 hours at straight time and 6656 hours at time and a half which would take his total manhours for the year up to 12,064 hours. Divide that into his salary and it's still $14.24 an hour, assuming he wasn't receiving any benefits, never took any time off and never slept. Not fifty cents an hour Paul. And not minimum wage Mary. And also completely unrealistic with how many hours the man puts in a week or whether most Americans would even consider what he does all day work.
So modest pay or not? I guess that depends on your perspective, doesn't it? I'm pretty sure if you're one of those evil union workers making a "modest" salary, Mary Matalin thinks you're a scourge on the tax payer. You're paid to sit through meetings and schmooze the press all day long, you're a tireless civil servant and worth every penny they're paying you.
And as Digby noted, the real pay off is the revolving door once they get out of there. Then it's time to cash in for that time working for that "modest pay" for a few years. Here's more from her post.
And evidently, they truly believe regular people don't eat lunch at their desks and work long hours and have huge responsibilities. Or if they do, they are in very important jobs like media and investment banking where people are paid what they are worth. Indeed, they seem to believe it's actually a huge sacrifice that someone should have to work for a mere 172k (plus BIG perks) a year even for just a few years until they can cash out like Gibbs is about to do and start making a decent salary of five million dollars a year or more.
This is one of the most revealing conversations Wolf Blitzer accidentally ever led. (Judging from their discomfort toward the end, I'd have to guess they wish they had been asked something else.) And it pretty well confirms for me that they are beyond "out of touch" --- they are living in their own universe. If they are comparing public servants to million dollar celebrities rather than average Americans (public servants, by the way, who leave public service and instantly become millionaires, so it's not like they are making any kind of a long term sacrifice) then it says everything you need to know about why they have placed all their faith in the magical markets to fix things. In their America, that's how it works.
You know, for me it's even beyond the lack of empathy and common touch. It's the political malpractice that I can't get over. Are these people really so insulated in green rooms and limousines and fat cat fundraisers that they have no idea that they sound like total assholes? Huge numbers of people in this country are living in economic terror right now, wondering if they are going to have a roof over their heads next month. They love to eat lunch at their desk --- in fact, they'd love to have a desk. And these idiots are trying to tell us that 172k a year is minimum wage?