Frank J. Batavick | Columnist
I saw an editorial page cartoon of Hillary Clinton in a basket powered by three, small hot air balloons. The balloons were labeled “Tax & Spend” respectively, the two sandbags hanging over the side of the basket were labeled “Debt,” and the basket itself carried the legend “Obamanomics.” To top it off, the caption from Hillary’s mouth ironically read, “We can’t go back to the old policies that failed us before.” Any reasonable person would look at this cartoon and assume that President Obama had not been a good steward of the economy and that, given her mode of transportation, Hillary was promising to follow in his flight path.
This assessment of Obama’s economic performance has become common fodder among the Republican faithful and serves as an ongoing trope in their echo chamber, especially if you are a fan of the GOP pep squad on talk radio and the personalities on Fox News. According to them, the economy has been run into the ground by our dear president and all his gloom. But how true is this?
Just for grins, let’s see if some cold, hard statistics can chip away at this unfavorable image that the president’s critics have sculpted. What does Obama’s record really show and, over the years, who’s proved better at managing the economy, Republican or Democratic presidents? Spoiler alert: No matter what metric you choose, Democrats win hands-down.
Job growth? Under Bush II the economy had the slowest job growth of any administration in over 75 years. This was true despite the record tax cuts he enacted to spur growth. During Bush’s tenure, we lost around 850,000 jobs a month. Today? The economy is gaining over 200,000 jobs a month. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we added 223,000 jobs in June alone and the unemployment rate fell to 5.3%— a seven-year low. Bloomberg News and Labor Department figures back up this level of growth under Democratic presidents: “Since Democrat John F. Kennedy took office in January 1961, non-government payrolls in the U.S. swelled by almost 42 million jobs under Democrats, compared with 24 million for Republican presidents.”
How about wages? ThinkProgress reports that over the past 50 years, Republican administrations oversaw the largest decline in wages measured as a percentage of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. It doesn’t help that the GOP continues to block any current attempts to raise the national minimum wage.
The stock market? In 2008 the “New York Times” calculated that “a $10,000 investment in the S&P stock market index would have grown to $11,733 if invested under Republican presidents only.... Invested under Democratic presidents only, $10,000 would have grown to $300,671 at a compound rate of 8.9 percent over nearly 40 years.”
Comparing presidents at day 2,000 of their administrations, Obama ranked third behind top finisher Bill Clinton and runner-up Franklin Roosevelt in terms of stock gains, according to MarketWatch. For Obama, that meant stocks gained 142.1% in his first 2,000 days. At this writing, the Dow tops an unrivaled 18,000 and change.
Furthermore, in 2012 JP Morgan reported that real GDP growth from 1940 to 2011 under a Democratic president and Congress was 6.3%. When Republicans controlled both power bases, growth was only 3.1%.
Deficits? Clinton’s last budget left a $128 billion surplus. Under Bush II, federal government spending increased 88% and his last budget left a $1.4 trillion deficit. Under Obama, spending has increased just 3.78%, and in FY 2015 the budget deficit is estimated to be $474 billion. That's a third of the all-time record set by Bush II in FY 2009. (Source: Budget of the United States Government: Historical Tables Fiscal Year 2015)
What makes matters worse is that financial scandals and crises appear to follow Republican administrations. I’ll leave Herbert Hoover’s Great Depression out of this and start with Reagan and the Savings and Loan calamity. He largely caused this by eliminating loopholes in the tax code that included the "passive loss" provisions used to subsidize rental housing. Result: 747 financial institutions failed. Bush II oversaw the economic collapse and Great Recession of 2008. According to the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the debacle was caused, in part, by widespread failures of financial regulation.
Hence, today’s breakfast table topic: “Democrats are better stewards of the economy than Republicans.” Discuss among yourselves.
Frank Batavick is a graduate of Gloucester Catholic (‘63) and La Salle University ('67) with over 40 years of experience as a television writer/producer/director for public TV and media companies in IN and NJ. He has also served as adjunct faculty and visiting professor in Communications at colleges and universities in NY and MD. Frank now lives in MD with his wife Dori (GCHS, ‘63), where he is the vice chair of the Historical Society of Carroll County’s board of trustees, editor of the Carroll History Journal, and a weekly columnist and occasional feature writer for the Carroll County Times.