GOP Argument For Obama's Failure Relies On Impossible Standard

June 08, 2011 12:45 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein

At this point, the GOP playbook for taking on President Obama isn't a secret: blame him for the slow pace of the economic recovery while steering the policy debate toward austerity measures that will prevent the recovery from accelerating in the near term. That bit of misdirection is vexing in and of itself, but the GOP's key "evidence" of Obama's supposed failure is downright absurd.  

House Republicans recently put out a one-page document on job creation, which prominently featured the following graphic:

Obama's opponents have been contending that the administration promised the Recovery Act would keep unemployment below 8 percent since at least July 2009 — a claim that relies, as independent fact checkers have explained, on the GOP's perversion of a report on the potential impact of hypothetical legislation issued while George W. Bush was still in the White House.

But even if the president had personally claimed before the bill passed that it would hold unemployment under 8 percent, that's an unreasonable standard for evaluating the Recovery Act. That's because the unemployment rate exceeded 8 percent in February 2009 before funds from the bill — which was signed on February 17, 2009 — started flowing into the economy. The greater-than-expected spike in unemployment did not indicate that a just-passed law had failed, but that the economy Obama inherited was in significantly worse shape than most people realized.

Indeed, the GOP timeline pictured above conveniently begins in January 2009, leaving out the months that preceded Obama's inauguration. A more complete representation of the rise in unemployment — and who should be held responsible — would include the previous year when the economy shed hundreds of thousands of jobs per month:

Here, for example, is a chart showing private-sector job losses per month in the year before President Obama took office.

It's obviously not a pretty sight. The month Obama was inaugurated, America's private sector lost a remarkable 841,000 jobs. That was just in one month.

Contrary to GOP rhetoric, experts agree that unemployment would be even higher without the Recovery Act. The private sector has added jobs in 15 consecutive months and Republican leaders have actually attempted to take credit for the jobs gained under Obama's watch, which totaled more in 2010 than in the entirety of the Bush administration.

It's no wonder the people who used to argue the Recovery Act did not create any jobs at all have decided to measure Obama's success by a standard that is literally impossible to meet.