Political Animal


January 17, 2012 1:45 PM Who gets the blame for early ‘09?

By Steve Benen

Consider a thought experiment. Imagine you could go back to March 1, 2009, when the global economy is on the brink of collapse. The White House’s Recovery Act had just been signed into law, but the investments hadn’t even begun, and President Obama, still unpacking, did not yet have his full economic team in place.

Then imagine a Republican arguing, “Mr. President, the economy has lost 726,000 jobs on your watch, and we’re blaming you for the losses.”

Would any serious person find this fair or reasonable? Of course not. And yet, it’s the basis for the Romney campaign’s entire economic critique of the Obama administration.

As you may have heard, David Axelrod and Eric Fehrnstrom exchanged a series of angry tweets yesterday, debating recent economic trends. The Obama campaign strategist pointed to a chart that will look very familiar to readers of this blog. The Romney aide was unmoved.

“Sometimes you don’t need a picture to tell a story. The numbers speak for themselves — 1.7 million jobs lost under Obama.”

Well, for those interested in the truth, numbers don’t always speak for themselves — serious people want a sense of context in order to better understand the meaning of the numbers.

The argument between Fehrnstrom and Axelrod really comes down to one straightforward question: who deserves the blame for the job losses in the early months of 2009? It’s really as simple as that.

For Romney and his team, the clock started on Feb. 1, 2009, just 11 days after the Obama inauguration. Every job lost on Feb. 1, 2009, counts against the president, as does every subsequent job loss. Period. Full Stop.

And when you go by this measure, Obama is in the hole 1.66 million jobs (though that figure has shrunk every month for over a year).

But then there’s a less ridiculous count. Obama took office when the global financial system was on the brink of collapse, inheriting a recession that began a year before his inauguration, looking at an economy in free-fall. A fair count would say the job losses from early 2009 couldn’t possibly be blamed on Obama, since he’d just gotten there, and the crisis wasn’t his fault.

Romney and Fehrnstrom say the clock starts on Feb. 1, 2009, but if you move the start date to July 1, 2009 — arguing, in effect, that Obama’s first five months shouldn’t be counted against him since he was dealing with a crisis that was not of his making — the economy has added over 1.4 million jobs. Looking only at the private sector, it’s 1.97 million jobs.

And if we said Obama shouldn’t be blamed for 2009 at all, the economy has added 2.58 million jobs overall, and over 3 million in the private sector.

That’s not spin; it’s arithmetic. Those numbers “speak for themselves.”

So, what it’s going to be, political world? Does Obama get the blame for job losses that occurred before his policies had a chance to take effect? A fair analysis makes this obvious.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • John Dillinger on January 17, 2012 1:59 PM:

    The economic meltdown occurred in Sept. 2008, the same month Romney addressed the Republican convention. Here's the transcript of his speech:


    Full of pablum. Not a single recommended solution.

  • Ian A on January 17, 2012 1:59 PM:

    What he meant was "We don't want a picture -- it tells the story all too well.'

  • flyonthewall on January 17, 2012 2:00 PM:

    It's the MO of these folks to blame someone else. Clinton is to blame for 9/11 even though it happened on Bush's watch. Carter is responsible for the housing crisis because of the Community Redevelopment Act, with the help of the minority ranking member of the Banking Committee (Barney the Frank). They constantly play the victim card and point the finger at someone else.

  • John Dillinger on January 17, 2012 2:03 PM:

    I meant to add that Romney styled the country's economy as having "slowed down."

  • c u n d gulag on January 17, 2012 2:07 PM:

    Well, in all fairness, Obama started off slowly.

    Within just a couple of weeks of their inaugurations:
    -Nixon had already stolen most of the White House silverware.
    -Reagan asked, "Nancy who?" But Nancy did, finally replace what Tricky Dicky had taken.
    -Daddy Bush decided to eliminate his buddy, Noriega, who ran drugs for him and Ronnie.
    -Little Boots had taken a few strokes off his golf score, and had the Iraq Invasion and occupation plan dusted off.

    Based on those accomplishments, how can we not hold Obama responsible for job losses from day one?

    Mitt and his people are assholes.
    But they're assholes who have a legitimate shot in November.

  • Eeyore on January 17, 2012 2:08 PM:

    Job losses from early 2009 are Obama's fault, even if he couldn't have done anything about them.

    Job gains in firms managed/acquired by Bain that occurred after Romney left are to his credit, even if Romney had nothing to do with them.

    My head hurts.

  • Mnemosyne on January 17, 2012 2:18 PM:

    flyonthewall said what I was thinking -- the same people who claim that Bush II was not responsible for 9/11 because it happened 8 months into his term are now claiming that Obama is fully responsible for all job losses 11 days into his term?

    They really are incapable of accepting responsibility for anything, aren't they?

  • Grumpy on January 17, 2012 2:19 PM:

    Thatís not spin; itís arithmetic.

    It's both, really.

  • MattF on January 17, 2012 2:22 PM:

    Problem is that the whole structure of lies and fabrications is fragile-- admit -anything- positive about Obama and the game is over.

  • me on January 17, 2012 2:28 PM:

    the same bunch of guys who blame reagan's recession on carter, and gwb's recession on clinton. what else do you expect from these clowns?

  • ploeg on January 17, 2012 2:34 PM:

    It seems that the point at which it would be fair to start the clock would be the time at which Obama's proposed solution took effect (that is, the stimulus package). And wouldn't you know, the improvement was immediate and sustained. Arguably, there should have been more stimulus, but then again, arguably Congress would not have voted for more stimulus if Obama asked for it.

  • slag on January 17, 2012 2:35 PM:

    Here's a way to settle this: No number speaks for itself!

    Otherwise, you're right, Steve. Sounds like the Romney circus is doing what the Romney circus does best...clowning everyone.

  • beejeez on January 17, 2012 2:53 PM:

    Let's see, 1.6 million jobs lost over 11 days ... Let's see, if we assume Obama was not responsible for those losses and was not president, everybody in America would be unemployed. Evidence for this statement is slightly stronger than that for Mitt Romney's.

  • Rathskeller on January 17, 2012 3:03 PM:

    The point is moot. The president is still unacceptably black.

  • schtick on January 17, 2012 3:04 PM:

    Do as I say, not as I do. Otherwise, it's your fault anyway.

    crapcha....end andciona....the end and see you on what?

  • June on January 17, 2012 3:15 PM:

    Apparently, Axelrod had not yet gotten the memo that the first law of "MittMath" is that the equation always comes out in Mitt's favor.

  • HelpThe99ers on January 17, 2012 3:27 PM:

    It comes down to this: how quickly can a President stop and reverse a runaway train?

    Take a look at the chart from the Calculated Risk blog - it compares unemployment rates during every post-war recession:


    The 2007 recession had huge momentum behind it - for Romney to argue that Obama could have stopped it in its tracks, and reversed those job losses, when most every public and private economist underestimated how bad things would be, is cheap hackery at its worst.

  • Cas on January 17, 2012 3:36 PM:

    Hi Steve,
    "Obamaís first five months shouldnít be counted against him since he was dealing with a crisis that was not of his making ó the economy has added over 1.4 million jobs. Looking only at the private sector, itís 1.97 million jobs."
    This is hardly something to cheer at. If the economy adds 100,000 jobs per month, just to keep u/e at the current rate, your stats do not fill me with any sense of joy at all, and rather point to the ineffectual nature of the government response. U/E has gone down--in large measure--because so many people are no longer counted as unemployed, because they gave up looking for jobs that aren't there. Can, "U/E is going down because so many people decided it was pointless to look for a job" really a campaign slogan one wants?

  • T2 on January 17, 2012 3:47 PM:

    " a fair analysis" ? we don't do "fair", we do "both sides do it" and let the chips fall where they may.

  • Durf on January 17, 2012 4:38 PM:

    The republican line makes perfect sense to me. Like how the person standing in the delivery room is immediately the biological father. The genetics don't matter, it's who's standing there. Right? Genetics all just amount to a belief anyways.

  • Chromehawk on January 17, 2012 4:46 PM:

    Reality is that Presidents get the blame.

    Reality is that what has really caused the prolonged slump is NOT Obama nor Bush.
    It is Harry Reid.

    Business can survive most environments as long as they can make predictions.
    They obviously prefer some environments to others ... but they can survive.

    Harry Reid has not passed a budget in 3 years and for 2 of them he had 60 votes. And don't count on one this year just before the General Election.

    The Presidents entire term has been one 6 month battle after another.
    He couldn't find a worse enemy than Harry Reid if he tried.

  • Cal Gal on January 17, 2012 5:07 PM:

    "A fair count would say the job losses from early 2009 couldn’t possibly be blamed on Obama, since he’d just gotten there, and the crisis wasn’t his fault."

    When have Republicons EVER been interested in a fair count of ANYTHING? Unfair counting is at the core of their politics, whether they are counting jobs (public sector jobs, for example, only count as negatives), tax revenues, cases of voter fraud, or cast votes in Florida.

  • chi res on January 17, 2012 5:14 PM:

    Rathskeller on January 17, 2012 3:03 PM:

    The point is moot. The president is still unacceptably black.


  • Doug on January 17, 2012 6:52 PM:

    "THIS." chi res @ 3:03 PM

    Well, to be fair, there's also the Democrat thing...

  • Texas Aggie on January 18, 2012 12:06 AM:

    As was mentioned, if Bush protected us from terrorism even though 9/11 occurred during his presidency, then Obama is not responsible for anything that happened before 9/11/09.

  • MassachussettsLiberalinDC on January 18, 2012 4:09 PM:

    And let's not forget that the Romney camp is being hypocritical about government jobs. I thought they were for less government and that means less government jobs.

    Government job losses account for more than one third of the number the Romney camp keeps spewing. One third of the lost jobs come from positions Romney has explicitly called for reducing!

    The job losses recorded for February account for another third. (fyi, the Feb numbers were for the week of Feb 8th, not the 1st, but your point still stands. The ARRA hadn't even passed yet.)

    An almost honest criticism could come concerning private sector jobs since Feb09, but you won't hear them making that case, because that job loss number is 332k. But honesty doesn't seem to matter, 1.7 million is much scarier. At least Romney has stopped rounding up to 2 million like he did when they first introduced the talking point.

  • lib4 on January 18, 2012 7:41 PM:

    Lets for a minute rewind to 9/12/01.
    Using a Republican metric we will call "The Clinton Metric" all events inclduing the horrific events of 9/11/01 were the fault of the previously seated President Bill Clinton.

    Ok fast forward to 2009 using this Republican created "Clinton Metric" all events prior to 9/12/09 would be the fault of the formerly seated President George W Bush.
    Therefore in closing using this metric Obama is responsible for almost 2 MILLION JOBS CREATED since 9/12/09.

    I rest my case...good night and god speed