Obamateurism of the Day

Today’s the last of the OOTDs for 2011, barring any earthshaking gaffes that just can’t wait for January 2nd, 2012 — and let’s hope we don’t have anything that bad.  (I’ll keep collecting your submissions, though, for when the feature returns at that time.)  Starting on Monday, I’ll have polls every day but Christmas to choose the Obamateurism of the Year, so we” take a look at the history of the OOTDs and OOTWs from 2011 for the next couple of weeks.

So it’s fitting, then, that we take a look at Barack Obama’s grasp of history in our final entry for 2011.  Lately, Obama has tried to claim the mantle of Teddy Roosevelt, having apparently abandoned the mantles of Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR during less than three years of trying to define himself.  Obama hailed TR’s independent, progressive approach to politics and paid homage in his Kansas City speech:

[T]oday, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what [Teddy Roosevelt] fought for in his last campaign [of 1912]: [including] political reform and a progressive income tax.

Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there is a certain crowd inWashington who, for the last few decades, have said, let’s respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune….If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes –  especially for the wealthy – our economy will grow stronger….

Now, it’s a simple theory. And we have to admit, it’s one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government….And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It has never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the ’50s and ’60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade. I mean, understand, it’s not as if we haven’t tried this theory.

Well, actually the problem is that Obama has botched his history, as Brian Domitrovic  explains at Forbes.  He didn’t just make a slight error, either, but manages to get a whole lot of things wrong:

With these words, the president hung himself by his own rope. He is wrong on every count.

Domitrovic wrote a book on this subject, Econoclasts, which he says is already in the White House library.  Perhaps someone needs to read it to Obama:

There is one major inflection point in U.S. economic history. Before this point, growth was high, at about 4% per year for a century. Also in this period, there was remarkable price stability and so little unemployment that the nation had to import tens of millions of workers from abroad.

After this point, growth was moderate, at about 3% per year for the long term, with variations in the form of major depressions and recessions and a 23-fold inflation which had no like in the previous epoch.

This inflection point was 1913 – the very year which the reforms TR plumped for in his last campaign, the income tax and the Federal Reserve, came into being. 1913 marks the one secular shift in American economic history toward lower growth and more economic unpleasantness in the form of unemployment, inflation, and serial recession.

But wait — there’s more!

The President says, “It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression.” These would be the years 1921-1929, when on account of a tax cut put together in 1921, the economy boomed at 4.8% per year as unemployment and inflation (the latter recently on a 100% run) both collapsed. How does a president, in a major, prepared speech make such an indefensible factual error?

Have you seen the job his researchers do?  That’s the least surprising aspect of this entire OOTD.  And there’s still more:

“It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the ’50s and ’60s.” No? The trough of the recession at the end of World War II was 1947, when the Republican majority in Congress conspired to win a tax cut over President Truman’s veto. Result: a 6-year run of 4.8% growth.

In 1953, when recession came, President Eisenhower resisted calls for another tax cut, and recessions came again and again such that Eisenhower left office in 1960 with a record of 2.4% annual growth on his watch. John F. Kennedy followed, as every schoolchild should know, with another big tax cut. The great 1960s boom ensued, with 4.9% growth from 1961 to 1969.

At this point, Domitrovic asks a rhetorical answer — and then supplies the answer himself:

I have to wonder what historical scholarship the president and his speechwriters are consulting as they come up with their strange counter-narrative of American economic history. … Then again, you can find the stuff the President reiterated in Kansas here and there in left wing redoubts, Berkeley, California and the like – on bumper stickers.

That actually explains everything about Obamanomics, doesn’t it?

Got an Obamateurism of the Day? If you see a foul-up by Barack Obama, e-mail it to me at [email protected] with the quote and the link to the Obamateurism. I’ll post the best Obamateurisms on a daily basis, depending on how many I receive. Include a link to your blog, and I’ll give some link love as well. And unlike Slate, I promise to end the feature when Barack Obama leaves office.

Illustrations by Chris Muir of Day by Day. Be sure to read the adventures of Sam, Zed, Damon, and Jan every day!