For over a year, Mitt Romney argued on a nearly daily basis that President Obama inherited a brutal recession but then "made it worse." By March, even the Republican candidate gave up trying to say this with a straight face, and switched to a new line -- the economy improved under Obama, but the president shouldn't get credit.
Yesterday, however, Romney's running mate picked up the old talking point as his own. "Now, let's be candid, President Obama clearly inherited a very difficult situation," Paul Ryan told supporters in North Canton, Ohio. "There are no two ways about that. Problem is, he made things much worse."
It's tempting to just send Ryan a copy of Michael Grunwald's new book, "The New New Deal," which is arguably the best book on the Obama presidency to date, but since I doubt he'd read it, let's instead review some charts I first published in June after Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, joined economists in arguing emphatically that the Recovery Act was a success.
Here, for example, is a chart showing the nation's GDP before and after the stimulus. Note, once the stimulus kicked in, the economy immediately started growing.
Here's a chart showing private-sector job growth before and after the stimulus. Note, once the stimulus kicked in, job growth immediately improved.
And here's a chart showing the Dow Jones Industrial Average before and after the stimulus. See that low point in March 2009? That's just before the stimulus kicked in.
Now, Ryan might look at this and argue, "Yeah, but the gains didn't last." That's true; they didn't. In the spring of 2010, the Eurozone debt crisis rattled international markets and through the global economy a curve ball. The U.S. gains quickly stalled, right around the time the stimulus funds started to wane. In 2011, unrest in the Middle East, coupled with a Japanese tsunami and Eurozone austerity, provided more global troubles. Ryan's caucus threatening to trash the full faith and credit of the United States didn't do us any favors.
But that's not an argument against the stimulus; it's an argument for more stimulus. The most accurate criticism of the Recovery Act comes from the left -- it was too small.
And even putting all of that aside, the economy still isn't worse than when Obama took office. Then the economy was hemorrhaging jobs, now it's adding jobs. Then the economy was shrinking, now it's growing. Then the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse, now it's thriving. Then Wall Street was collapsing, now it's climbing.
The challenge for Paul Ryan, then, is explaining why he thinks "better" means "worse," and why he believes "something" means "nothing."
The economy was failing, then the Recovery Act started spending, then conditions quickly improved. In Ryan's mind, where government spending is awful -- unless it's in his congressional district -- how is that possible? Was it magic? Was it a coincidence? How does he explain why every relevant economic metric showed sharp improvements immediately after Obama's stimulus took effect?
That's not a rhetorical question; I genuinely want to know.