"The Republican argument against the president's re-election (is) actually pretty simple: We left him a total mess. He hasn't cleaned it up fast enough. So fire him and put us back in." -- Former President Bill Clinton, speaking last Wednesday at the Democratic convention.
If voters seriously consider the question of whether they and the country are better off now than they were four years ago, they need only remember the white-knuckle fear that gripped most Americans when the economy and job losses went into free-fall in the October-November-December plunge around the presidential election in 2008.
The subsequent catastrophic loss of jobs then -- an average of 712,000 a month for six consecutive months until March 2009 -- marked the entrance, under the previous Bush administration, into the dark cavern of the deepest recession since the Great Depression. The final tally for job losses in the Great Recession of 2007-2009 was 8.8 million, more than the previous four recessions combined. And the job market didn't begin to level out at the bottom until January 2010.
Digging out of that hole has been a monumental task -- a task larger than anyone, including President Obama, could anticipate at the time it was happening. Why? Because economists have a hard time gauging how wide and deep the ripple-effect of such a steep in-motion crash will be until it is actually charted in hindsight by hard facts and figures. That's why economists are always adjusting and amending, months later, even their regular initial reports on monthly job gains or losses. By contrast, the depth of the Great Recession was an uncharted beast for the past 85 years.
That made it virtually impossible at the time to gauge how large a stimulus package was needed to ignite recovery. But in hindsight, it's clear that Republicans were wrong to limit the stimulus to less than $800 million, and they've been even more wrong to make defeat of Obama -- not revival of the economy -- their top priority since then. Surely the economy would have recovered more quickly had Republicans agreed to pass his proposed job bills, most of which included earlier GOP recommendations. But they wouldn't go along. As Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell bluntly declared, making Obama a one-term president was their top priority.
President George W. Bush's TARP program bailed out the banks; the Obama stimulus package went primarily to middle-class tax cuts and a three-year roll-out of grants to state governments to stabilize state services, education and health care; infrastructure investments and tax incentives to help create new jobs got far too little. The political issue is not that the stimulus didn't work; it's that it wasn't allowed to be large enough to dramatically jump-start a recovery.
The notion that so many businesses shuttered for lack of customers in the depths of the recession could all magically reopen in the past two years of recovery ignores the reality of such deep recessions and shutdowns. When plants close, terminate leases, lose employees and customers, and sell off equipment, machinery and buildings, there is too often no way to reopen. Trained workers have moved on; surviving customers have fled to surviving companies; entrepreneurs have been bankrupted or demoralized.
Yet the credit windows that the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve opened to make capital available when banks stopped lending surely helped nurture recovery and the nation's resilience, reviving confidence and restoring vital consumer spending.
Restoration of the economy has since generated 29 consecutive months of job growth and 4.5 million private sector jobs. Despite the current recession in much of Europe and the slowdown in China, the rising job-growth curve under the Obama recovery should well surpass the timid 12 million figure that Mitt Romney now promises for the next four years.
The quickest way to short-circuit the reviving economy is to allow Republicans room to do what they promise to do: to undo banking reform and allow Wall Street to re-ignite their disastrous casino trading; to gratuitously cut, again, taxes on the richest top 1 percent, and raise taxes by an average of $2,000 on middle-class families by ending their home mortgage-interest deductions and other credits; to undo health care reform and unleash private insurers to again abuse customers and randomly deny coverage at affordable prices; to give the Pentagon $2 trillion more than it is requesting; to slash Medicare and Medicaid, undermine Social Security, and cut funding for everything from food safety to environmental protection, from education and student aid to research and transportation.
This would be a repeat of a failed agenda. If Republicans can see past their captivity to manipulated wedge issues -- guns and gays, abortion and limitless war-mongering -- they might well comprehend the benefit of Bill Clinton's other key summary: In the 52 years since 1961, Republicans have held the presidency for 28 years, and Democrats 24 years. "The job score: Republicans, 24 million; Democrats, 42 million."