The New York Times’ Paul Krugman had an interesting item the other day on popular perceptions srrounding Ronald Reagan – or as the columnist put it, “Reaganolatry.”
[C]onsider the track of unemployment under two presidents. One is lauded as the ultimate economic hero and savior; the other reviled as an economic failure, who killed jobs by being nice to poor people and insulting job creators.
The former, of course, refers to Reagan, while the latter refers to President Obama.
Krugman added a chart, but with due respect to the Nobel Laureate, the image was a little confusing – it had Reagan in blue and Obama in red, which is now counteractive, and included all of Reagan’s eight years in office, while Obama still has a year and a half to go.
So, I made my own related chart.
Note, the x axis shows the months of the presidencies, while the y axis is the unemployment rate.
Obama’s numbers started off in worse shape – he inherited a far-greater mess – before unemployment topped out at 10%, followed by a steady improvement. Reagan started in slightly better shape, topped out at 10.8%, and the economy took longer to see the jobless rate fall below 6% again.
Granted, the presidents faced different conditions, but this arguably works in Obama’s favor – he faced a far more severe economic downturn, which couldn’t be fixed by the Fed taking its foot off the brake. Krugman added:
OK, you can come up with reasons why president#2’s record isn’t as good as it looks. But is there really enough contrast there to justify the difference in perception? How much of what we’re looking at is the psychological impact of a V-shaped recession – things got really bad, so there was a sense of relief when they got better? How much is simply the result of decades of propaganda?
Those questions strike me as more than fair, though a couple of caveats are in order. First, Obama’s second term isn’t done, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens to the unemployment rate over the next year and a half.
Second, perceptions of presidents invariably change after they’ve left office. Reagan has no doubt benefited from years of propaganda – the “Legacy Project” comes to mind, for example – but it remains entirely possible that Obama’s reputation as the leader who turned the nation’s economy around in the face of a global economic catastrophe may yet take root.