In recent weeks the White House has been pushing a new argument about the economy: "We didn’t know how bad it was."
President Obama used this line Tuesday in an interview with KIRO in Seattle, saying that he wished he understood just how deep the economic problems were when he took office. Obama said: “I think we understood that it was bad but we didn’t know how bad it was.” He added: “I think I could have prepared the American people for how bad this was going to be had we had a sense of that.”
So was Barack Obama surprised by the seriousness of the economic problems in 2008, as he now claims?
In a word: No.
On September 28, 2008, in the first head-to-head debate with John McCain, Obama said: “We are going through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.” He called it “a defining moment in our history.”
A post on the Obama administration’s transition page said that the United States “faces its most serious economic crisis since the great depression.”
“Our country faces its most serious economic crisis since the great depression. Working families, who saw their incomes decline by $2,000 in the economic ‘expansion’ from 2000 to 2007, now face even deeper income losses. Retirement savings accounts have lost $2 trillion. Markets have fallen 40% in less than a year. Millions of homeowners who played by the rules can't meet their mortgage payments and face foreclosure as the value of their homes have plummeted. With credit markets nearly frozen, businesses large and small cannot access the credit they need to meet payroll and create jobs.”
If Obama was exaggerating, others believed him. The depth of the recession was widely reported when Obama was elected. On November 5, one day after the election, Agence France Presse reported that “Obama faces the biggest global crisis since the 1930s Great Depression and a host of domestic economic ills, including rising unemployment, falling home values and deeply shaken confidence when he takes office on January 20.” An analysis by the Associated Press sounded a similar note, arguing “the president-elect must immediately confront the worst economic conditions since the 1930s Great Depression.” The Boston Globe called it “the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.” A memo from the Obama-friendly Center for American Progress called the situation “perhaps the most daunting economic challenge faced by a new president since the Great Depression.”
Why would Obama say something so easily refuted? Perhaps he’s simply hoping the media won’t call him on it – a reasonable expectation. Or maybe he’s hoping for the opposite – that the media will call him on his current mendacity and, as a consequence, remind voters just how bad the economy was when he came to office. Who knows?
Either way, the White House’s current claim that it was unaware of the depth of the economic problems is not true.