The outcome of the 2012 Presidential election will depend upon voters’ perception of the US economy and the jobs market. Republicans have labeled Obama a failed president claiming he could have done more to create jobs. In the GOP response to Obama’s State-of-the-Union, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said, "The President did not cause the economic and fiscal crises that continue in America tonight. But he was elected on a promise to fix them, and he cannot claim that the last three years have made things anything but worse.”
The Great Recession began in 2007, although most Americans didn’t notice until the fall of 2008. In his State-of-the-Union address President Obama recalled: “In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly 4 million jobs. And we lost another 4 million before our policies were in full effect.” He continued: “Those are the facts. But so are these: In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than 3 million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005. American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s.”
There’s little dispute the economy is gaining strength. In the last quarter of 2011, the US Gross Domestic Product grew by an annualized rate of 2.8 percent. The good news is that we gained 200,000 jobs in December and the US has had 22 straight months of job increases. The bad news is that we are still down 6 million jobs from the peak pre-recession unemployment of 146 million. The unemployment rate has dipped to 8.5 percent and there are 13.1 million unemployed. (Another 8.1 million work part time and there are 945,000 discouraged workers.)
In his State-of-the-Union address, President Obama spoke of an American economy “built to last” and suggested the US manufacturing sector will be reborn thereby creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs. That prediction is shared by the Boston Consulting Group in their recent report, “Made in America, Again.”
Liberal economist Paul Krugman recently provided a more skeptical economic perspective, “…the state of the economy remains terrible. Three years after President Obama’s inauguration and two and a half years since the official end of the recession, unemployment remains painfully high. But there are reasons to think that we’re finally on the (slow) road to better times. And we wouldn’t be on that road if Mr. Obama had given in to Republican demands that he slash spending, or the Federal Reserve had given in to Republican demands that it tighten money.”
On the other hand, Republicans paint the economy black, the color of Governor Daniels message. Ignoring the fact that employment fell under George Bush and then rose under Barack Obama, Daniels disparaged Obama’s job-creation efforts: “The late Steve Jobs - what a fitting name he had - created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the President borrowed and blew.” USA Today fact checked Daniels remarks: “Jobs at or for Apple pale in comparison to estimates for jobs created by the stimulus legislation… Under the stimulus, meanwhile, up to 3.6 million more persons were working than would have been the case without the law, at its peak in the third quarter of 2010.”
In their zeal to brand Obama a failed president, Republicans don’t want to compare him to George W. Bush but rather to Ronald Reagan. James Pethokoukis, a columnist for the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, compared the Obama Recovery to the Reagan Recovery in the eighties and concluded, “The Obama Recovery stinks” because the economy isn’t improving fast enough to make up for years of lost growth. Liberal columnist Joe Weisenthal responded, “The conditions behind the Great Recession were far worse than anything Reagan inherited, and Obama has pulled off a recovery with less of a sustained growth in Federal Government spending.”
If this level of economic analysis makes your eyes glaze over and prompts you to reach for your favorite beverage, welcome to the American electorate. Nonetheless, you’ll soon have to make a choice between Barack Obama and (probably) Mitt Romney. In the process you’ll be bombarded by ads with widely differing assessments of the economy and what the President did or didn’t do. Over and over Republicans will call Obama a failed President.
When you encounter Republican propaganda, remember this: not only did Republican ideology cause the Great Recession, since then Republicans have done everything they could to thwart the US recovery. The GOP made the decision to block Obama on all fronts, betting that a failed economy would improve their chances in 2012. They haven’t been part of the solution but rather contributors to the problem.
Given Republican treachery it’s a miracle the US economy shows any life. To the extent that it does, credit Barack Obama. He’s not a failed President; he’s succeeded despite perfidious Republican obstruction.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org