Should Romney assume the Oval Office next year, however, his job would be a lot easier than Obama’s was in 2009. Before you start howling, consider the evidence. History tends to measure presidents, at least in part, by how well the economy performs on their watch, regardless of whether their policies are actually helping or hurting the nation’s fortunes. (Of course, their policies are rarely that powerful anyway.) So let’s start there. When Obama took office, the economy was hemorrhaging an average of 700,000 jobs a month and shrinking at a 6.7 percent annual rate. Because of the crisis, he was forced to set aside the rest of his domestic agenda and spend massive amounts of political capital to pass the largest (and perhaps least-popular) stimulus package in American history.
Unless another economic apocalypse strikes between now and next January, Romney wouldn’t have the same problem. In fact, the economic outlook for 2013-17 is relatively rosy at this point. According to the latest Federal Reserve forecast (PDF), for example, GDP growth is expected to hover around 3 percent in 2013; unemployment is expected to fall to 7.5 percent or so. The following year, those numbers should hit 3.5 percent and 7 percent, respectively, and joblessness should return to “normal” (i.e., about 5.5 percent) soon thereafter. And remember: these projection don’t factor in any of Romney’s economic proposals. No 59-point plan. No tax cuts. No rolling back of government regulations. Nothing. If Romney simply sits at the Resolute Desk, twiddling his thumbs, he will soon be able to tout economic numbers that are, in all likelihood, more robust than any Obama has enjoyed for the entirety of his administration. And if Romney passed some economic legislation, the public would probably credit his policies for whatever improvements they might see—even the ones that would’ve happened anyway.
Health care is a similar story. At the start of Obama’s term, one in every three Americans had lost their coverage at some point during the previous two years. More than 30 million citizens couldn’t get coverage at all. Meanwhile, the shared cost of caring for the uninsured—-i.e., funding their ER visits—was adding $1,000 to the typical family’s policy. Obama chose to spend most of the rest of his political capital pushing (and eventually enacting) ambitious legislation designed to solve these problems, polarizing the country and depressing his approval ratings in the process.