Imagine the date is September 12, 2001. President George W. Bush goes on TV and announces that the day before, the United States military and intelligence services had thwarted a plot by terrorists to blow up the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and White House. It was a tremendous victory by the government, saving thousands of lives.
My prediction is that President Bush would get a few slaps on the back, and within a day or two, we'd be back arguing about the budget, Star Wars (GWB was pushing to re-institute the anti-ballistic missile system in 2001), abortion and taxes. My point is that credit for preventing a horror pales in comparison to the horror itself.
In a nutshell, this is President Obama's problem. When historians write about Obama's first term, they will talk about health care and avoiding a second Depression. His efforts to avoid massive unemployment, bank failures, and a complete stalling of the economy, will be viewed as his greatest achievement. His enemies claim we "got nothing" for the trillions of dollars in Federal stimulus. In fact, we got a lot of worthwhile road, bridge, mass transportation, and energy projects [among others]. General Motors and Chrysler were saved, as were the jobs at these companies, and the millions of feeder jobs from the parts suppliers to the luncheons that fed the workers. For a better list, see http://www.dailykos.com/... .
But the sum of the individual successes pales in comparison to what would have happened had a full blown 1930's-style Depression happened. Virtually all economists on the right and left agreed that had Obama not done something, we would have had such a Depression.
But having done something, a lot in fact, does not appear to be inuring to Obama's benefit. in fact, he's being pilloried because the bad economy he inherited is not as good as the populace would like it. High unemployment, dropping home prices, inability of businesses to borrow, and the huge expansion of the federal debt are supposedly all Obama's fault. Yet the rational response is that we would have been so much worse had he not done what he did. That's hardly a good campaign slogan.