Today’s New York Times mentions but then quickly glosses over President Obama’s statement in early 2009, in which he said, “One nice thing about — the situation I find myself in is that I will be held accountable. You know, I've got four years. And…— and — and —…and, you know, a year from now I think people — are gonna see that — we’re starting to make some progress. But…[i]f I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s gonna be a one-term proposition.”
The Times then writes, “Whether you are better off today than in 2009 may not be the most useful question to ask about an economy emerging from its most severe downturn in 80 years. A more illuminating question is how we have done relative to other countries that were caught in the global financial cataclysm. By that standard, economic growth in the United States has done surprisingly well.”
In other words, the Times suggests that the appropriate standard for judging Obama is, Are we doing better than other countries that also aren’t doing very well? Is this really what Obama meant by being “held accountable”?
Maybe a better question is how we’ve done relative to our efforts to emerge from that downturn of 80 years ago, which even the Times must confess was a far, far greater downturn than the one Obama inherited.
Eighty years ago, Franklin Roosevelt was elected president and inherited the Great Depression. Four years later (in 1936), when he was running for reelection, real (inflation-adjusted) growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) was a whopping 13.1 percent. That’s according to the Obama administration’s own Bureau of Economic Analysis (see “Percent change from preceding period”). According to that same source, in 2012, under Obama, annualized real (inflation-adjusted) GDP growth has been a puny 1.7 percent — less than one-seventh as high as under FDR. It’s no wonder that FDR wasn’t a one-term proposition, while Obama will be one if voters apply his own criteria (or the criteria of whether they like his centerpiece legislation).
(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.)
The Times ignores this clear evidence of how miserably Obama’s economic record in year-4 of his presidency compares to FDR’s economic record in year-4 of his. It opines that Obama’s mistake (if in fact he made one) was that “he didn’t try hard enough” to increase deficit spending even further, even beyond the $831,000,000,000 debt-fueled cost of his failed economic “stimulus.” And it ignores the question of how we would ever have paid off an even larger addition to our already 14-figure national debt.
If the Times is going to succeed in its efforts to run interference for Obama, it’s presumably going to have to do much better than this.