Just over one year ago, President Barack Obama swept into office with the collective hopes of a nation shaken by a growing economic crisis and starved for change. With large Democratic majorities in Congress, it seemed that nothing stood in the way of a new era in American politics dominated by an energized Democratic Party. But congressional Democrats have bickered, and efforts at bipartisanship with Republicans have been rebuffed. At first glance, it may appear that the Obama presidency is somewhat adrift and that Washington is no different than before President Obama took office.
Republican wins in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts have given Republicans confidence that their "oppose Obama on everything" strategy is working. Senate Republicans have used the filibuster to grind the Senate to a halt, and House Republicans have refused to support anything President Obama has endorsed, even if they have supported it in the past. The Republican Party has spent the last year pushing a narrative that Mr. Obama is responsible for all of the nation's economic woes and that he is some sort of big-spending, big-taxing socialist who wants to destroy the country. The narrative is ludicrous, and it is unclear how transforming into the Anti-Obama Party, without any solutions, helps the country or the Republican Party.
Good and honest people can disagree on policy issues, but there are several basic facts that the Republican Party is hoping the American people forget. First, George W. Bush came to office with record budget surpluses, courtesy of the Clinton administration, and left office with record budget deficits. President Obama had to deal with a $1.2 trillion budget deficit for fiscal 2009 the day he walked in the door. Much of the deficit was the result of President Bush's bailouts of Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and AIG; the billions of dollars he had already committed to GM and Chrysler; and hundreds of billions committed to bank bailouts.
Second, the U.S. economy was contracting at a rate of about 6 percent per year - the worst GDP performance in nearly three decades. As a result, job losses and unemployment were rising rapidly. In January 2008, 72,000 Americans lost their jobs, and in January 2009, when President Obama was sworn in, 779,000 Americans lost their jobs. These job losses sent unemployment from 5 percent to nearly 8 percent that year.
Third, the stock market was in shambles and panic could be felt everywhere. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost about 40 percent - 5,000 points - in the final months of the Bush presidency. American wealth, retirement accounts and pension funds were devastated, and capitalism itself seemed to be on the verge of collapse.
As much as Republicans want to blame President Obama, there is no way the narrative will stick. All President Obama needs to do is use the bully pulpit of the presidency to cut through the media spin of the Republicans and remind Americans of the above-mentioned facts.
Blaming Republicans and George W. Bush does not solve the problems. But here is where President Obama and the Democrats differ from Republicans. In the first weeks of the Obama presidency, the president and Democratic Congress passed the $787 billion stimulus package. A third of the stimulus came in the form of tax cuts for 95 percent of Americans, a third went to extend unemployment benefits and cover state shortfalls in government services, and another third was committed to infrastructure projects. Even with nearly $300 billion in tax cuts, not a single Republican member of the House, and just three Republican senators (one of whom is now a Democrat) voted for the stimulus bill.
As we come to the one-year anniversary of the passage of the stimulus, we see clear signs of the change candidate Obama promised us. The economy has stabilized and is growing by almost 6 percent. The job losses have steadily decreased, and job creation will begin in coming months. The Dow is up nearly 60 percent from its March low and is up 2,400 points from where it was when the president took office. Liberal and conservative economists largely agree that the stimulus staved off an even more severe economic downturn.
As the economy improves, tax revenues will increase and the deficit will be trimmed. The president and Democrats will be able to take credit for the stimulus and point to the improving economy, growing numbers of jobs, shrinking unemployment, a healthy stock market and a shrinking deficit at the end of this year. All the Republicans will be able to offer is that they are opposed to the president and that they continue to support the Bush economic policies that created the mess in the first place.
Robert P. Singh is associate professor of management at Morgan State University. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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