The theme of the president’s 2012 reelection campaign is that George W. Bush left such a terrible mess that Barack Obama could hardly be expected to clean it up in four years.
In other words, 44 months of unemployment rates above 8 percent, $5 trillion in new borrowing, $16 trillion in aggregate debt, gas prices of nearly $4 per gallon, a dive in average family income, and involvement in two wars were all due to George Bush and simply too difficult for anyone to overcome. So Obama cannot be judged on his record between 2009 and 2012.
At first glance, this is a most unusual claim. Gerald Ford followed the mess of Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal and the Arab oil embargo. After serving for less than three years, he failed to win reelection. His successor, Jimmy Carter, seemed to make a bad situation even worse. He exited four years later, tagged with a high “misery index” fueled by rampant unemployment and roaring inflation.
Ronald Reagan took office under Carter’s baleful legacy but ran for reelection successfully in 1984 based not on “Carter did it,” but on the recovery he engineered.