President Obama has a problem. When it was announced last week that the nation’s economy had actually shrunk in the fourth quarter of 2012 (GDP decreased by 0.1 percent), it undermined the essence of the president’s long-standing economic message, which, broadly, has gone as follows: After inheriting a catastrophic situation, I have begun to right the ship. The recovery has not been spectacular, and what progress has been made has been hard-won, but it has nonetheless been consistent.
The nation hasn’t seen negative economic growth since the second quarter of 2009, when the president’s preferred tactic of blaming his predecessor for the wreckage was still utterly plausible, if not an all-encompassing explanation. With these new numbers arriving in the early days of his second term, the White House is running short on alibis – though it wasted no time in pinning culpability on congressional Republicans.
Critics of the president’s economic performance (in whose ranks we are often counted), can occasionally be overblown in their judgments. We’ll concede, for instance, that Mr. Obama did inherit a miserable economic landscape upon assuming office, even if the excuse since has become shopworn. That factor, however, should not add a handicap to his score. A president who goes out of his way to cultivate comparisons to predecessors like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt can’t plausibly blame his failures on being overmatched by circumstances.