Lest We Forget
I have a confession to make: in the 2004 election, I voted for George W. Bush.
At the time, I was mostly uninformed on economic issues, and everything seemed to be going OK. We were in two wars, and I felt an obligation to support a president in wartime. I believed in Jesus, that being gay was a choice, and that most of my taxes were going to lazy minorities who bred too much.
Yeah, it was that bad.
To demonstrate my commitment, when I left for college, I drove my lifted truck from San Diego to Santa Cruz, defiantly emblazoned with a Bush-Cheney sticker. I read Atlas Shrugged on the bus to and from class, and at parties, I took delight in seeing the look on people’s faces when I introduced myself as a Republican.
However, that all changed in 2008. After struggling to find a job for two years, going without healthcare, and realizing that we were duped into the war in Iraq, I had a massive change of heart and voted for Obama. Granted, I had already been softened on the social issues living in Santa Cruz and France (I guess that’s what happens when you meet people who are different from you), but the switch in party affiliation was a huge milestone in my adult development.
Now, if any of you have been following the things I post on my blog or on facebook, you probably think I’m just another firebrand liberal, but if you know me, this is only a recent development. While I used to take a lot of personal credit for this trasformation, lately I’ve realized I’m a much simpler animal than that. My political leanings are easily elucidated by the maxim “once bitten, twice shy,” and I got bitten pretty hard at the end of the Bush years.
That’s why, in 2010 when Republicans took control of the House, I remember being astonished that the rest of America hadn’t shared my deeply personal transformation; half of them still thought that conservatism was a viable option! Admittedly, since then I’ve learned a lot about ingroup loyalty, confirmation bias and selective amnesia, although I’m still surprised.
These days, I spend a lot of time listening to conservative talk radio, and it’s particularly surprising how myopic these pundits’ view on our economy is. Obama gets the brunt of the blame for everything from gas prices, to the national debt. At best, they blame him for an “anemic recovery” and at worst they fabricate lies that he’s “doubled the national debt.”
I want to use this blog post to put some of these claims in context. I’m sure these facts will be effortlessly deflected by the force-fields of cognitive bias that surround most of my conservative friends, but I have to try, since I’m living proof that the force-field is not impenetrable.
Claim #1: “Obama has made the economy worse.”
Jobs are slowly getting better:
Qualitatively — in the second graph — the rate of jobs addition (tangent line) under Obama is similar to that under Bush. This, in spite of a Republican controlled House and a filibuster-happy Senate that have stonewalled the president at every turn. Do you remember the American Jobs Act? Neither do most people, because it died the death of a thousand cuts in Congress. This makes it hard to blame him for an “anemic recovery.”
The stock market, on the other hand, has made a speedy recovery (insofar as that’s an indicator of economic health)
Claim #2: “Obama is responsible for the terrible gas prices.”
Meh, probably not. The cause of high gas prices is multifactorial. Lifting Obama’s moratorium on drilling wouldn’t have an effect for many years, and even if it did, it wouldn’t drop prices much here at home.
Slate has a really cool presentation on why, here. In it, they explain that gas is a commodity sold on a world market. So, even if we dramatically increased domestic production, it wouldn’t have that much of an effect on the going price of a barrel of oil, which is what primarily dictates what we pay at the pump.
Also, in the continuing theme of cognitive bias (perhaps Rosy Retrospection?), prices were worse at the end of the Bush presidency:
Claim #3: “Obama is responsible for the skyrocketing debt.”
True and false, but mostly false. In four years, the Obama administration has overseen nearly a $5 trillion increase in the debt, amounting to a +45% change. Bush increased the debt by almost $5 trillion over the course of eight years, amounting to an +86% increase at the time. The total debt currently stands at $15.7 trillion. Without context, that doesn’t mean much, so here’s a graph of dollar amounts, which helps to visualize:
Again, Obama’s increase happened over a shorter period of time, so it represents a more rapid accumulation of debt. This can be put into perspective by scaling debt to GDP:
However, it’s important to remember where this debt came from. The Congressional Budget Office reports that, since 2001, we’ve paid
$3.0 trillion for the Bush tax cuts
$3.6 trillion in reduced revenue (due to recessions)
$1.4 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
$1.4 trillion for stimulus after 2008 crisis
$0.3 trillion in unfunded drug benefits
$9.7 trillion attributable to Bush or his recessions
Given these numbers, it becomes unconscionably disingenuous to blame the debt on Obama. The same goes for the related criticisms about the deficit, as most of the budgetary shortfall is not due to Obama’s policies.
Growing up, I thought the media, courts, and places of higher learning were united in a conspiracy against conservatives, but over the the last few years this veil has been lifted. I realized what these edifices have in common is that they’re institutions concerned with facts, and — as Steven Colbert says — reality has a well-known liberal bias. Most of the facts are probably going to be ignored in this election, as the Right has been phenomenally successful in hanging the albatross ’round Obama’s neck.
Personally, I’m disappointed with Obama because he hasn’t closed Guantanamo, he’s stepped up federal marijuana raids, and he blew his political load on a shitty healthcare bill, but it’s tragic how soon people forget why he was elected with a mandate, and why his predecessor shafted us all.
3) Google Finance