In today’s Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger writes about the similarities between President Obama’s campaign message and that of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1936 reelection message. Henninger argues that Obama won’t be nearly so successful as FDR was in championing a big government agenda of heavy regulation and income redistribution because, being “a pretty grim guy,” Obama lacks FDR’s “natural personal buoyancy.” That’s certainly true. But an even more important difference is that, in 1936, FDR presided over perhaps the greatest year of peacetime economic growth in American history, while Obama has presided over by far the worst “recovery” from a lengthy recession in the past six decades.
According to the Obama administration’s own Bureau of Economic Analysis (see “Percent change from preceding period”), real (inflation-adjusted) growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) was a whopping 13.1 percent in 1936. (In 1938, real GDP growth hit minus-3.4 percent, as America plunged into the second deep trough of the Great Depression, but by then FDR’s reelection had long since been secured.) To put that 13.1 percent tally into perspective, the finest year of real GDP growth in the past half-century was in 1984, when real GDP growth hit 7.2 percent under Ronald Reagan. No wonder FDR won reelection in 1936 in a landslide.
In comparison — again, according to the Obama administration’s own figures — real GDP growth under Obama has been an abysmal minus-3.5 percent (in 2009), a modest 3.0 percent (in 2010), and a puny 1.7 percent (in 2011) — for a miniscule 3-year average of 0.4 percent. Moreover, there’s no evidence of 13.1 percent real growth, or 7.2 percent real growth, or even 5 percent real growth, anywhere on the near-term horizon. Furthermore, even if real GDP growth were to surprise everyone and hit 6 percent this year, Obama’s 4-year average would still be under 2.0 percent — which was President Bush’s 8-year average. Obama’s stewardship of the economy has been that bad.
You can’t blame Obama for wanting to focus this election on the economy. After all, what else is he going to talk about? Obamacare? The national debt? His leadership abroad? No, he has to keep the focus on the economy to have any hope of winning. But he’ll be lucky if real economic growth in the year that decides his electoral fate is even one-third as high as it was when voters cast their votes as a referendum on FDR’s first term.