If you have any members of the Tea Party in your immediate circle of friends or family, you may want to take all sharp implements away from them, and make sure they’re not anywhere near any tall ledges, cliffs or bridges once they read this story. That whole “Obama’s ruining our economy” meme that right-wingers keep leaning on is becoming increasingly difficult to spin to people outside the conservative bubble, especially when the unemployment rate hits the lowest point its been in nearly five years, and that is precisely what happened in July.
The chart below shows the unemployment rate under President Obama’s White House. Though it’s still trending up when he takes office in January 2009, we now know that’s because the effects of The Great Recession were still setting off aftershocks in our economy as we bled out nearly a million jobs a month. The right’s argument since Obama got his stimulus passed is that it has done no good and that Obamacare still threatens to destroy our economy as we know it.
Yet, this chart shows a steady, if not frustratingly slow at times, march downward, even after Obamacare was passed, signed into law, and held up under scrutiny by the Supreme Court. Whether or not employers are behaving like selfish fools and withholding hours and employment based on their paranoia about the Affordable Care Act, the reality is in the graph. Despite heavy opposition that has all but blocked every single effort made by the administration to jump-start the economy, some marked progress has been made.
This is of course why you’re going to hear nothing but incessant downplaying and demagogueing of the July jobs numbers. The right, and even some on the left, will rightly point out that the jobs that are being added are by and large low-wage and even sometimes part-time work. Of course, they do so with the notion that it shows Obama’s policies aren’t working. To me though, the fact that the middle class hasn’t recovered as well as it could have from The Great Recession also shows just how much of a handbrake to recovery the GOP obstruction has been.
The facts of the case are that both sides own a share in this anemic but steady recovery, but only one side has been actively working against recovery. You may feel that Obama hasn’t done enough to get middle class jobs, real jobs that pay more than minimum wage, growing like they have in the past. Perhaps that’s a valid criticism, especially when you take into account the fact that none of the big banks that nearly destroyed the world’s economy have even been remotely held accountable. It can be really easy, and in some ways you’d be completely validated, to blame Obama for not fighting the Republicans hard enough to get his jobs bill passed — a bill that would conservatively create a million more jobs, or about eight months’ worth of the current growth trends.
The fact that our unemployment rate is still ticking downward despite Washington’s ineptitude still indicts the GOP in a fare more harsh and truthful way. If they’d had been willing to deal with Obama like their predecessors were willing to deal with President Clinton, who knows where we’d be on the road to recovery at this point? With all the talk of a possible government shut down later this year, it would seem that indeed no lessons were learned in the 1990’s, when they faced nearly the same situation — a fairly popular president whose agenda is working but just isn’t being felt by enough Americans yet, and they think the answer is to further stymie Obama.
Meanwhile, Americans are desperate for real growth and real progress. I think on both sides of the aisle there is room for compromise, but the two sides have to be willing to engage, and right now it’s still about going to the brink of made-up disaster. As long as the unemployment graph keeps moving that line downward though, the GOP’s time is running out. At some point most Americans, even those who tend to vote Republican, will be forced to reckon with the notion that we’ve come as far as we can go without compromise, and that while both sides deserve blame as to created the mess we’re in, one side deserves the lion share of the blame for trying to keep things just as broken, if not add a few more cracks and fissures themselves.