Tim Pawlenty projects in his economic plan that the gross domestic product (GDP) would grow by 5 percent in real (inflation adjusted) dollars every year for a decade. The debate is now raging over whether such projections are realistic, but the more important consideration is whether the growth rate actually achieved by the Obama administration is sufficient. Moreover, unlike in Pawlenty’s case — where we’re dealing with abstract projections — President Obama’s record can be evaluated on the basis of tangible evidence.
According to figures from the Obama administration’s own Bureau of Economic Analysis, for the nine economic quarters that Obama has been in office (including the first quarter of 2009, during which President Bush held office for 19 of the 90 days), real annual growth in GDP has been just 1.5 percent. That’s less than half the annual GDP growth during the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s. Even more striking is that the rate of growth under Obama has been only slightly higher than during the 1930s — which, of course, was the decade of the Great Depression. In the 1930s, real annual GDP growth was 1.3 percent — just 0.2 percent less than under Obama.
Such strikingly low growth has been in spite of (or perhaps partly because of) Obama’s $787 billion economic “stimulus,” a major portion of his historic deficit spending binge. Obama is already responsible for $4.4 trillion in actual or projected deficit spending, which amounts to deficit spending at a rate of 9.7 percent of GDP. To put that into perspective, the only deficits in more than 200 years of American history that have exceeded even 6.0 percent of GDP have all involved either the Civil War, World War I, World War II, or Obama.
Obama likes to talk about the economic hardships he inherited, and it’s true that real GDP growth was flat (0.0 percent) in the first half of 2008 before dipping 2.7 percent in the second half of that year (a fact that helped fuel his election). But that’s a far cry from the year before Franklin Roosevelt took office, in which real GDP growth was negative-13.1 percent — the worst tally on record.
Yet during FDR’s first two years in office, real annual growth in GDP was 4.8 percent. In FDR’s first three years, real annual growth in GDP was 6.2 percent. The year FDR sought reelection, real GDP growth was 13.1 percent — the highest tally on record apart from during the World War II defense buildup in 1941, 1942, and 1943. (Even if just to spur the economy, perhaps Obama should have spent some of that $787 billion on national defense.)
To be sure, there’s far more to the presidency than merely promoting economic growth. There’s securing liberty; there’s respecting the Constitution and the rule of law; there’s showing wise and steady leadership in international affairs. But simply based on the economy alone, it’s no wonder that FDR won reelection in a landslide — and it’s no wonder that most Americans think Obama does not deserve a second term.