Barack Obama brought his brand of cool, dignified arrogance to Las Vegas on Monday, stumping for Nevada Democrats during a speech at UNLV. Political rallies always carry a scent of snake oil, but the former president couldn’t resist spreading on an extra thick layer of the liniment.
“When I walked into office 10 years ago,” Mr. Obama said, “we were in the middle of the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. By the time I left office, wages were rising … poverty was falling and that’s what I handed off to the next guy. So when you hear all this talk about economic miracles right now, remember who started it.”
It’s true that ascribing various economic successes or failures to a particular presidential administration can be tricky, given that trends often take time to materialize. And, yes, Mr. Obama inherited a difficult situation when he entered the Oval Office in 2009. But it’s also true that policies matter. And it’s worth remembering a few facts that Mr. Obama has conveniently forgotten.
First, in attacking the Great Recession, Mr. Obama followed a progressive anti-business agenda that empowered the administrative state and led to the worst recovery since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Not surprisingly, small-business growth was in decline and larger corporations pulled back investment thanks to an openly hostile presence in the White House. In addition, it took more than six years before Mr. Obama’s economy had recovered the jobs lost during the downturn. That’s another modern-day U.S. record for futility.
Second, the Obama administration’s own economic team repeatedly explained away the country’s sluggish GDP numbers by arguing that 2 percent growth and high unemployment was the “new normal.” Even seven years into the Obama presidency — well after the downturn — growth was abysmal by historical standards, and the workforce participation rate had plunged. Not since Jimmy Carter donned a cardigan to deliver his infamous “malaise” speech had a president presided over such a woeful state of affairs throughout his tenure.
In stark contrast, Donald Trump’s agenda represents an alternative reality. The president has slashed regulations, cut taxes and created an atmosphere of optimism among innovators, entrepreneurs and job creators that was wholly absent when his predecessor was in charge. Mr. Obama, remember, warned in 2016 that these policies would make things worse. He’s no Kreskin. We’ll leave aside the issue of cause and effect, but wages are up, GDP exceeds all expectations, unemployment continues to drop, the market sits at record levels and business investment has soared.
All this must be frustrating for the legacy-challenged Mr. Obama. But not nearly as frustrating as it was for the millions of Americans forced to endure the virulent anti-growth economic agenda embraced by the former president.