Republicans are having a tough time justifying why they deserve to win back the White House in Election 2016, and as President Obama’s time in office winds down, they are truly grasping at straws.
Convincing registered Republican voters is easy, as the GOP’s electorate base has been spoon fed exaggerations, mistruths, and outright lies about Democrats, and especially Obama, but convincing independents and even conservative Democrats to switch sides is likely going to be impossible this election.
Perhaps the most basic question to ask in a presidential election is “Are you better off than you were four or eight years ago?” The answer in 2016 is a resounding yes.
Economically the country is incomprehensibly better off than it was when Obama was inaugurated. The President was absolutely correct in his latest State of the Union speech when he said: “Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.” When Obama took office, the economy was literally in free fall heading towards a world-wide depression on par with the Great Depression. Every single American is economically better off now than eight years ago.
Despite the economic catastrophe threatening the nation, the Republican Party was virtually united in their disinterest in helping Obama fix it. Let that sink in for a moment…when Obama and the Democrats cobbled together an economic stimulus plan to fix an economy actively burning to the ground, not a single Republican in the House of Representatives voted to save the economy. In the Senate, only three Republican senators voted for it.
And it worked. Despite repeated Republican themes of America being a barren wasteland devoid of any economic hope, Obama has had a successful presidency. The organization FactCheck has crunched the numbers of Obama’s entire presidency, and the numbers look good. First the positive:
Homicides are -13%
Violent crime is -16%
Gun buyer checks are +58%
Jobs are +9.265,000
Unemployment rate is down to 5.0%
Long-term unemployed is -614,000
Job openings are +97%
Corporate profits are +166%
S&P 500 is +139%
Real weekly earnings are +3.4%
Uninsured rate are -15.3 million
U.S. crude oil production is +87%
Petroleum imports are -62%
Wind & solar power is +273%
Exports of goods & services are +31%
New car MPG is +19%
Guantanamo prisoners are -57%
If America is somehow crippled with Obama’s score sheet, what was America before these positive developments? Can Republicans admit that George W. Bush was much worse for America? They probably never will, least of all in an election year, but Obama’s presidential statistics make it hard to argue that Democrats do not deserve another four-year term in the White House.
Now let’s look at FactCheck’s negative evaluation of President Obama’s presidency so far. The negative list is much shorter:
Consumer prices are +12.4%
Food stamp recipients are +42%
Home ownership is -3.8 points
Debt held by public is +116%
Federal spending is 11%
US military fatalities are up a total of 2,022 in both Iraq and Afghanistan
Let me note briefly that these negative statistics are still better than in comparison to George W. Bush’s last year and a half in office when the economy was burning down. President Obama was handed a bleak economic outlook, yet has dramatically cut down America’s annual budget deficit. Also important is that our debt inflation is much higher than the inflation of federal spending. Obama has done a lot for America’s economy while not spending that much more per year than his predecessor.
Because the economy is doing great, Republicans have to wax politic with mistruths and lies to try and convince voters that the economy is actually terrible beneath the evidence to the contrary. Donald Trump, for example, has repeatedly claimed that the unemployment rate is not 5%, a statistic most economists agree is healthy and functionally near full-employment, and that the real unemployment is somewhere near 42%. Yikes.
Imagine if Trump was right. During the Great Depression unemployment only reached 25%, so if a full 42% of Americans were unemployed now, there would be tens of millions of families living destitute in the streets. If you take a drive around any town in America, do you see thousands of families—children, their grandparents and everyone in between—walking around in abject poverty? Do you see almost half of our country’s entire population begging for money and jobs? Of course not. Trump is peddling fiction.
But Trump keeps saying it because the vogue criticism for President Obama’s economic record uses the percentage of Americans working. As Ted Cruz pointed out in January’s Fox News debate, we currently have the lowest amount of Americans working than at any point since 1977. Now, while this statistic is technically true, Cruz’s interpretation that America’s economic gains are a pittance is flawed. The percentage of Americans working is a loaded statistic in which there are many complicated factors, and Ted Cruz is not explaining his 1977 line in context.
For starters, the statistic of how many Americans are working commonly measures the percentage of all individuals over 16 years old who are currently employed or actively looking for a job. Currently, this statistic stands at just below 63%. So 63% of Americans over the age of 16 are either employed or looking for a job, and this is comparable to the year 1977.
Now intuitively you might think that this sounds bad, or that it means that 37% of Americans are either unemployed or cannot find a job. This interpretation suggests that maybe Trump is making some sense after all. However, a more nuanced evaluation of this statistic demonstrates that the number of working Americans is functionally useless in understanding the current state of the economy.
Because this metric that Republicans love to cite begins by counting everybody over the age of 16, it means that the statistic includes all the elderly Americans who are retired and are no longer seeking active participation in the workforce. Because they are retired. It also includes all the stay-at-home mothers and fathers who have purposely left the job market to be with their children. It also includes a good number of high school students and college students who are above the age of 16 but do not want a job yet because they are still in school, and all the people who have quit their jobs for any number of other reasons. As we can see, the number is not really that accurate of an indication to the economy’s health after all.
When you understand this statistic in its rightful context, it does not seem as alarming, though Ted Cruz will likely never take the time to explain the context within a 30-second soundbite during a debate. Especially when citing the statistic without relevant context makes Obama look like a worse president than he really has been.
In a lot of ways, this low labor participation rate could theoretically, and actually does, indicate really positive things about the state of our economy. Perhaps individuals are making so much money now that only one spouse needs to have a job to support the family. Perhaps adult children are making enough money to support their elderly parents so they can retire. Perhaps more people are going to college now and are staying out of the job market for longer. Perhaps more people have healthcare because of Obamacare and no longer need to have a job just for affordable health insurance. There are a lot of positive reasons for our economy to have a decreasing number of workers.
When Donald Trump and Ted Cruz try to make themselves look better by dragging down President Obama’s economic record it is enlightening that of all the economic indicators researched and compiled by relevant institutions, such as the Office of Management and Budget, the World Bank, the IMF, etc., Republicans choose this one to debate…because there are so few economic indicators available for them to argue Obama has been a bad president.
Meanwhile, America’s GDP growth is hovering around 2%, which is much higher than most industrialized countries still reeling from the Great Recession. Especially when one considers how America’s GDP dwarfs every other country’s gross domestic product. This means that our 2% growth is still much more expansive than the GDP of other countries even if they proportionally have higher GDP growth rates.
Beyond GDP, America’s unemployment is way down, job growth has seen unprecedentedly sustained growth, and the budget deficit is down by two-thirds. Every basic economic indicator points to a competent Obama presidency, one that fixed the recession and grew the economy.
Republicans like Ted Cruz can pull an all-nighter hitting the books and cherrypicking obscure statistics to pretend otherwise, but the reality is that the Democratic Party deserves another presidential term. Republicans caused both the Great Depression and the Great Recession, and Democrats fixed both.