by Rod D. Martin
October 17, 2012

Facebook has been filled lately with charts and graphs making the case for Mitt Romney or for Barack Obama, and some of them I find quite compelling, such as:

and this one:

By contrast, Business Insider recently posted a set of charts making the opposite case, a case with which my friend Patrick Breitenbach concurs.  He posited these on my Facebook wall for discussion.  Here is my take on them.


As to your charts, I won’t quibble too much, but I will make a couple points. The main one is that, in general, they show almost none of the Bush years — focusing entirely on the period (a) when the Democrats controlled Congress, (b) right before and during the crash. This means we’re comparing two years of Bush — and indeed, Bush years when Pelosi and Reid were in charge of the budget process and passing a lot of very significant legislation like Dodd-Frank — to the entire Obama administration.

This raises several subsidiary problems:

(1) It’s not really true that you’re comparing “the Republicans” to “the Democrats”: the entire chart is Democrat on the legislative (budget-making, spending) side.

(2) you’ll correctly note that the drop-off in the crash is steep — which is to say that, for the most part, things weren’t too bad or were actually much better pre-crash — but in most of the charts, it has taken the entire four years of Obama to get back to all, part, or in some cases just a tiny fraction of where we were at the beginning of the chart (i.e., AFTER six years of Bush not shown). And as the wording of that sentence indicates, some of that isn’t anything to brag about: highest sustained unemployment rate since the Depression (by some measures higher), anemic GDP growth, real household income down an average of $4,000, housing starts still dead in the water, consumer confidence still abysmal, business investment off markedly, oil still astronomical (and much higher than the Bush years not charted).

(3) Some of these charts are highly questionable because they’re “up” but only on a sea of newly-printed money: we can debate whether that’s good or bad, but you would certainly agree that the question IS debatable. I would include in that household net worth, corporate profits, business investment, personal income to a degree, retail sales to a VERY high degree (go to the grocery store: you’re paying at least 2X for everything now compared to late 2008), treasury yields, stock indexes, even GDP. Again, a good Keynesian would fret over these items at least as much as a good Monetarist or Supply-Sider, so this is not a partisan point.

So these charts show historically nasty unemployment, a sluggish economy, and four long years spent getting “there”, wherever “there” is. They also show the record of a Democrat Congress and a Democrat Treasury Secretary under Bush (Geitner’s former Goldman Sachs colleague) for two years vs. the record of basically those same Democrats plus Obama. Where’s the pre-crash context? Where’s the pre-2006 election context? They don’t show either.

Bottom line: I do not think these really make a case for Obama. They almost make a case that he’s not as bad as he looks, but only almost: we nowhere see a comparison to the previous all-GOP government Obama likes to blame for all things. Moreover, none of this even addresses the obvious questions from a Republican perspective: Democrats like to rail against Bush and blame him for the crash, but what about the insane, affirmative action-driven lending practices forced on banks by the Community Reinvestment Act (Bill Clinton) which created all the toxic debt in the first place? What about the corruption at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, led throughout the period by senior Dems? What about the refusal of senior Democrats such as Dodd and Frank and Raines — even while in the minority — to allow significant reform of these things, to heed Bush’s people’s warnings about the danger of exactly what happened? What about the sweetheart deals key Dems — like Chris Dodd — got from banks like Countrywide? None of these things have been examined properly, of course, because the Democrats took over in 2007, the beginning point of your charts (not that your charts would address them, of course).

Okay, I said I wouldn’t quibble too much, and in fact, I totally have. But you gave me a lot of data, and I wanted to give you a reasonable response.