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For Barack Obama, the the three-word rejoinder to Republican attacks on his handling of the economy quite rightly ought to be: Stay the course.

That was the slogan for Ronald Reagan's second and successful presidential campaign. And while conservatives and especially Republicans still revere the late Reagan, the truth is that, in terms of the US job outlook, he was in almost the same exact place as Obama is today -- arguably, perhaps, in worse shape than Obama when you take other economic factors into account.

In October 1984, the month before the landslide presidential election that secured Reagan's second term, the national unemployment rate was 7.4%. It had declined markedly from a high of 10.8 percent over two months in 1982. Reagan's team focused on that slow but sure progress from awful to mediocre in proclaiming that the country was on the right path out of recession, although the job was far from finished.

Today, under Obama, the unemployment rate has stubbornly held at a shade over 8 percent for all of 2012 so far. When Obama took over for George W. Bush, the rate was 7.8 percent and on a fast-developing upward rise, as part of an economic collapse arguably greater than any since the Great Depression.

The jobless rate peaked at 10 percent for one month, October 2009 -- nearly a full point lower than the multi-month peak under Reagan -- and began declining thereafter, as Obama's policies along with hesitant but substantive monetary adjustments by the Fed began taking hold.

So, Reagan and Obama's first terms approached their end with very similar experiences in the matter of jobs. Indeed, the unemployement rate over Reagan's eight years averaged 7.5 percent, within a point of what Obama has overseen in the past year. Yet few voters then or now seem to have perceived Reagan as an economic failure -- and, remember, the recession Obama inherited was far worse than the serious but still lesser malaise that Reagan faced.

Meanwhile, a couple of other key economic differences further demonstrate just how well Obama has done under the circumstances.

For one thing, Reagan presided over a relatively typical increase in public employment, which helped lower the overall unemployment rate. Obama, meanwhile, has had to deal with dramatically reduced public unemployment. Adding up state, federal and local government performance, the past three years have been the worst on  record for public sector job losses, with more than 700,000 public employees laid off -- many of them public school teachers. And public-sector job layoffs are likely to continue.

Economist Paul Krugman holds that if public employment had grown under Obama the way it did under George W. Bush, another 1.3 million Americans would be employed, and the unemployment rate would now be 7% or less, more than a full percentage point below the current level.

As ThinkProgress.org has detailed, Obama's maligned recovery and stimulus act stemmed the public-sector job meltdown awhile. Unanimously oposed by Republican legislators, the stimulus act for about a year provided federal dollars to lower units of government that greatly helped retain public employees even when those units were bleeding badly thanks to the economic crash . But the stimulus money ran out, and congressional Republicans blocked all but a few Democratic efforts to extend cash assistance.  

If House Republicans had agreed to continuing the public-sector job support, Obama likely would be heading into November with a national unemployment rate in the low seven-percent rage -- equal if not better than the number Ronald Reagan's touters cited in 1984 as "morning in America."

The other big difference between the Reagan economic recovery and today's situation is that Reagan presided over huge, double-digit inflation that badly pinched consumers. The rampant inflation was not really of his own making, but rather an outgrowth of the Fed's tight-money policies, but neither was the Gipper blamed for that ding in everyone's pocketbook. Mainstream banks offered mortgage interest rates reaching 20 percent in many markets. Obama, by contrast, presides over very low inflation, which may be the one thing at the moment that is keeping the US economy afloat.

Obama has said that he patterned his presidency in some respects after Reagan's own approach to governing. Interesting approach, coming from a man many Republicans regard as a socialist or communist. But there is resonance between the two presidents, at least on some practical, statistical level, if not philosophically.

Presidents can only do so much to influence the economy and job creation; they simply are not responsible for many components of inflation and unemployment. In Obama's case, for example, we must look to the badly under-regulated, reckless financial investment markets to explain the Great Recession. Reagan arrived at the tail end of a stubborn "staflation" problem that bedeviled the economy for more than a decade, beginning in the Nixon years.

Despite their limits, however, presidents can push the economy in directions that lead to healing. For instance, both presidents Bush and Reagan abandoned their anti-Keynesian rhetoric in the face of serious economic distress and agreed to major government infusions of cash (for the younger Bush, that included the trillion-dollar TARP program whose origin is often wrongly assigned to Obama; for Reagan, that included serious tax hikes in his second term). Obama has been supremely pragmatic, often moving rightward in a mostly futile effort to enlist bipartisan support.

After all, even when presidents can influence the economy, they must rely on the support of Congress. Obama, unlike Reagan, received next to no bipartisan support for his efforts and thus those efforts have been constrained. Nevertheless, the nation's economic performance during his first term so far has compared favorably with that of Reagan's first term.

How to explain, then, why many Republicans would still like to see Reagan's face carved into Mt. Rushmore while simultaneously convinced Obama isn't even a real American, much less a patriot or relatively effective administrator. In short: It's not about the well-being of the nationk, it's nothing other than hypocrisy and naked, power-seeking partisanship.

Well, what's sauce for the goose. To those Obama naysayers in the GOP we can only say: Stay the course! Indeed, stay that course even when the guy delivering Reaganesque results and better isn't one of your own. Would that be too much to expect? Evidently so.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It's President Barack Obama. (5+ / 0-)

    I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it's for or against. Malcolm X

    by amazinggrace on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 12:54:01 PM PDT

    •  I don't think the diarist meant the title... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lawrence, skohayes

      to be insulting to President Obama.

      The diarist is simply making the case that the GOP doesn't have a leg to stand on when criticizing Obama's economic policies.

      How about I believe in the unlucky ones?

      by BenderRodriguez on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 01:33:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Terrible title, though. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        amazinggrace, FG

        And the diarist is definitely missing his audience by posting this at DailyKos... some Republican or indie website would be better for this.

        Furthermore, Ronald Reagan isn't even in the same league as Barack Obama.

        "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

        by Lawrence on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 01:52:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Please. (0+ / 0-)

          Yours truly is no Reagan fan, but a.) even Obama pays him some due and b.) the point here is quite narrow. If you're GOP, and you love Reagan for his economic performance, logic dictates you regard Obama at least as well. I hate to point this out but, you know, reading a headline and stopping there isn't the ideal way to develop any level of understanding beyond that of your average, low-information teahadist.

          •  I read the diary, too. (0+ / 0-)

            You're addressing the wrong audience here.

            This is a Democratic site.  ;)

            "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

            by Lawrence on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 04:34:32 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well.... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              BenderRodriguez

              I think it's a progressive site, not necessarily limited to one political party's interests. But ask Kos himself if you remain uncertain. In any case, Democrats and progressives ought to be open-minded and free thinkers, because that's what's going to help us win, eventually. Freaking out because a headline conflates Obama with Reagan, irrespective of the substance of my post, is the kind of thing Republicans and conservatives do to us, and which we're so very busy fighting. I'll know I'm on the side of right the moment a conservative blunders onto this site and complains that I'm equating Reagan with Obama -- representing, I may say, the mirror image of your complaint.

      •  What you said (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BenderRodriguez

        Just trying to make an analogy (and get some headline-based attention, of course). -- Your blogger

    •  Well, how about if... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BenderRodriguez

      I rename him Ronald Obama? Sorry to have upset you. But I don't think my usage is any more outrageous or disrespectful or otherwise inappropriate than some of the snark on, say, The Daily Show. The meme here needs to be that with respect to the economy, Obama's doing about as well if not better than conservative omni-star and landslide winner Reagan managed. An effective frame for this meme must needs link the two men, and that title was the quickest, most noticeable way I could think of to do it. The reactions thus far suggest to me it's a show stopper, all right.

  •  stay the course? (0+ / 0-)

    'A thouuuuusand points of light'?

    •  Heh, heh! But, no. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BenderRodriguez

      Obama's performance transcends that of Bush the elder. Again, the point here is to draw a narrow analogy. If 7-plus percent unemployement was sufficient to garner Ronnie a landslide re-election, why shouldn't Obama mop the floor with an obviously inferior GOP nominee this time around?

  •  Now All Barack Obama Has To Do (0+ / 0-)

    Is pull a Plaza Accord out of his pocket.

    I won't be coming home tonight, my generation will put it right - Genesis 9:3

    by superscalar on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 01:23:44 PM PDT

    •  I'm afraid if Obama tried something like that .... (0+ / 0-)

      ... assuming, of course, there was a reason for it, then the right wingnuts would assault him for selling out the mighty dollar. Never mind the purpose or design or international implications. Reagan was far more of an ideologue than Obama could even be accused of being, but Reagan or at least those with whom he surrounded himself managed policy on a more or less pragmatic basis, from, of course, a conservative perspective. People who love Reaganomics and general Reagan rhetoric really would not like some of his more important and actual initiatives, if they took time to study them and understand them. They are, in some cases, the real-world equivalent of what Obama is merely accused of being. Reagan, for instance, liked Head Start. If Obama made any overture to expand that program, he'd be accused of another socialist turn. Or if he announced he wanted to get rid of nuclear weapons, as Reagan did. [Never minding, of course, whether Reagan actually and not just rhetorically wanted to abolish such weapons worldwide, or worked all that diligently to achieve same.] Likewise, Reagan was on occasion as strident in some of his statements about the value and worth of labor unions as Obama ever has been, but unlike Obama, he's somehow not treated as toxic because of that view. See, I think the Reagan-Obama comparisons are very instructive, if unsettling to truly self-reflecting conservatives.

  •  There are some similarties. Like a trickle down (0+ / 0-)

    Tax policy and large deficits.  The gross debt to GDP ratio increased  over 30 points under both of their tenures.

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