Pundits predicted that the slow recovery would doom the president. Why were we wrong? Maybe we ignored the power of slow incremental improvement.
I've written hundreds of articles about the economy in the last two years. But I think I can reduce those thousands of words to one sentence. Things got better, slowly.
Of course, there were peaks and valleys along the way. We tip-toed toward recession last summer. We flirted with a capital-R Recovery in the winter. We returned to the sad new normal in the spring. But basically: Things got better, slowly.
That's a simple observation. Maybe even simplistic. But it's meaningful. Politicos are wondering now how the president has managed to soar above the gravitational pull of the weak recovery, or orchestrate the "collapse of the economy as a political issue." But maybe the fault is in us, the prognosticators. Maybe, in a slow but even recovery, the economic numbers were never as damning as we made them out to be.
Let's consider two key economic variables: GDP and unemployment. If you go all the way back to Obama's first month in office, the president's record looks as bad as almost any incumbent in the last half century. GDP fell sharply in his first two quarters and has grown slowly since. We still have fewer total jobs than we did on the first day of his presidency. Some voters surely hold that against him. But let's assume that the vast middle is evaluating Obama on a more recent time frame to account for the fact that he inherited an economic collapse beyond his control.