Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

By Meghan Ashford-Grooms October 23, 2011

Rick Perry says Barack Obama labeled Americans as 'soft'

Just before the Oct. 18, 2011, CNN Republican presidential debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign posted a video online powered by excerpts from a recent speech he gave unveiling his energy plan.

In the video, Perry also levels a charge against President Barack Obama, saying: "The central issue facing Americans is a lack of jobs. There are 14 million Americans without work today. Our president has labeled Americans as soft. Well, I believe our people have toughed it out the best that they can, but they are looking for leadership and they are looking for optimism."

We wondered if Obama had really labeled Americans as soft.

To support Perry's statement, his presidential campaign pointed us to a Sept. 29 Wall Street Journal blog entry about an interview Obama gave that day to a news reporter from WESH-TV in Orlando. According to the Journal blog, Obama said in the interview that the U.S. has lost some of its competitive edge and had gotten a "little soft."

That comment generated a lot of criticism, from conservative bloggers and politicians alike, who saw in Obama's comment criticism of the American public. On Oct. 1, two days after the Obama interview, Perry told Fox News that it's not Americans who are soft, but the president. "We've got some bad policies on tax and regulation in Washington, D.C., that are kicking people out of jobs every day," Perry said. "That's the real tragedy."

We listened to the eight-minute interview of Obama by reporter Jim Payne.

Featured Fact-check

Obama's "soft" comment came about a minute into his response to Payne's question about whether the president shared his concern that younger Americans won't have as many opportunities as their parents did. "Oh, absolutely," Obama began. "And keep in mind that first of all, this is the worst financial crisis and recession that has existed in our lifetimes. I mean, you have to go back to the 1930s to see something like this, and so it's challenging for young people who are coming up in the midst of those kinds of circumstances."

Obama continued: "But even before the financial crisis hit, one of the reasons that I ran for president was that wages, incomes had flat-lined at the same time that costs were going up. I think people felt that opportunities were becoming more constricted for the next generation. And that's why making sure that we're revamping our education system, making sure we've got world-class infrastructure, investing in basic science and research and technology, making sure that we are moving manufacturing back to the United States and that we're being tough with our trading partners, making sure that they're not taking advantage of us."

And then: "There are a lot of things that we can do. And the way I think about it is, you know, 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 countries on Earth. We still have the best universities, the best scientists and best workers in the world. We still have the most dynamic economic system in the world, so we just need to bring all those things together."

Reporters had different interpretations of Obama's comment, hinging primarily on timing. For example, a news article on the CBS News website described Obama as saying the United States "had gotten a little soft" before he took office. Other reports, including one by Fox News, interpreted Obama's comment as saying he thinks the country got soft and remains so.

In an Oct. 3 briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Obama's "soft" comment was part of his explanation of why he ran for president and "why we need to take every measure we can to ensure that America remains the strongest, most powerful country around the world." Carney also said that the comment pertained to political leaders in Washington and that previous administrations had not acted to ensure the economy was as robust as possible.

Our sense is Perry took Obama's "soft" comment and amped it up for maximum effect. Saying the country had gotten soft in the past, as Obama did, is less immediate, personal and provocative than saying Americans are currently soft.

Also, Perry's statement ignores that Obama also told the TV reporter that he "wouldn’t trade our position with any countries on Earth" and that American universities, scientists and workers are the best in the world.

We rate Perry's comment Half True.

Our Sources

Rick Perry presidential campaign, website, "Video: Gov. Rick Perry announces plan to energize American jobs and security," Oct. 18, 2011

C-SPAN video library, Rick Perry speech on energy policy, Oct. 14, 2011

Wall Street Journal, "Obama: U.S. has become a 'little soft,' " Sept. 29, 2011

Fox News, website, "Perry: Obama is 'soft,' not the American people," Oct. 1, 2011

WESH-TV, "Jim Payne interviews President Obama: Part 1," Sept. 29, 2011

WESH-TV, "Jim Payne interviews President Obama: Part 2," Sept. 29, 2011

WESH-TV, "Obama's interview with WESH makes headlines," Sept. 30, 2011

CBS News, "Obama says U.S. 'had gotten a little soft' before he took office," Sept. 30, 2011

Fox News, "Obama calls America 'soft,' offers to whip nation into shape," Sept. 30, 2011

White House, "Press briefing by press secretary Jay Carney," Oct. 3, 2011

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Meghan Ashford-Grooms

Rick Perry says Barack Obama labeled Americans as 'soft'

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up