I found this recent column from the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg really helps put Obama’s position in perspective. When FDR came into the White House, the Great Depression was already over three years old. When Obama came in, the bad times were just starting– he’s been here for the fall. Sure, Obama has tried to do much more than Hoover, but when the economy suffers most of its collapse under your presidency, your going to get the blame regardless of why it happened. In many ways, I think this excerpt really tells you pretty much all you need to know about Obama’s popularity as president:
Under Bush, the wages and incomes of average families actually declined. But when Obama declared his candidacy, in February of 2007, unemployment—the most politically salient of economic numbers—was below five per cent. When he accepted the Democratic nomination, in August of 2008, it was still “only” 6.1 per cent. When Lehman went under, it was 6.2 per cent. Only after the Democrats won the election did the full impact of the disaster kick in. On Inauguration Day, the jobless rate was 7.7 per cent. A month later, when President Obama signed the stimulus bill, unemployment was 8.2 per cent, and by the end of the year it was in double figures. The most recent report, for September, puts it at 9.6 per cent.
Of course, without the stimulus, that unemployment figure would have probably fallen far worse– to about 12% or so– but in the real world politicians just don’t get credit for seeing only one million jobs lost instead of two million. Anyway, when it comes time to explain the midterm election results on Wednesday, I’ll be thinking about those figures above as much as anything.