One of the ironies of the Obama presidency is seeing Democrats use the same tactics they once decried from the Bush administration (attacking dissent, etc.). The latest example comes from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who said the following on Fox Business:
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: On the pace that we’re on, with job creation in the last four months, if we continue on that pace, and all the leading economists say that it is likely that we will, we will have created more jobs in this year than in the entire Bush presidency.
But as former Bush administration official Keith Hennessey points out, Wasserman is cherry-picking the start date for Obama administration job creation in a misleading way:
Ms. Wasserman Schultz is picking her timeframes carefully, in particular by ignoring the four million jobs lost during the first 11 months of a Presidency that is so far 16 months old.
Even today, after five straight months of job growth, three million fewer people are working than when President Obama took office. That’s hardly something to brag about...
Let’s look at how Ms. Wasserman Schultz justifies her claim. As always, you can click on the graph for a larger view.
You can see two yellow dots in January 2001 and January 2009, and a thin yellow line extended so we can measure the difference between the two. The red arrows show that, if you measure only endpoint to endpoint, 1.1 million net net jobs were created during the Bush Administration (I’m using the payroll survey in all cases).
But this analysis misses most of the story. We can see a steady employment decline from early 2001 through mid-2003, followed by a steady, strong, and sustained period of job growth for almost four years. This 46 month period is the second longest in recorded history for sustained job creation in the U.S., and more than eight million jobs were created during this period (the white arrows). A mild recession began in late 2007, followed by a severe contraction in the second half of 2008 and continuing into the Obama Presidency.
Compounding the chicanery, Ms. Wasserman Schulz measures the Obama job creation beginning with the first pink dot in December 2009. Her conclusion is based on the orange arrows and her guess about how they will grow throughout this year. She’s ignoring the four million decline in employment from January 2009 (despite the stimulus), and she’s ignoring that we’re still three million jobs shy of where we were when President Obama took office. If she were to apply the same methodology to President Obama as she did to President Bush, she’d be comparing +1.1 M (Bush) with –3.0 M (Obama). But that wouldn’t look quite as good for her case.
Wasserman's approach is likely to be quite familiar to Hennessey given how often the Bush administration used similar tactics. For instance, the Treasury Department released this graph attributing 2003-2005 jobs growth to the second Bush tax cut:
As I pointed out at the time, the graph ignores previous job losses from 2001-2003 while taking credit for job creation starting at the lowest point on the graph:
It's exactly what Wasserman Schultz did. Expect other Democrats to follow her lead.
Update 6/15 4:47 PM: In comments, Hennessey defends the Bush Treasury graph:
I argue that Rep. Wasserman Schultz's specific claim is misleading. The Bush-era Treasury chart does not purport to make any claims about the history of employment during the entire Administration. It is instead attempting to show the timing correlation between the tax cuts and the return of employment growth. The Treasury chart supports the argument, "The 2003 tax cuts contributed to the strong employment growth that began a few months after those tax cuts became law." If one were also to include the prior 2.5 years of employment history, it would only reinforce that argument. I don't have a problem with advocates choosing timeframes to make their case. I do have a problem with advocates using timeframes to lead listeners to an incorrect policy conclusion. I think Rep. Wasserman Shultz's statement does this. Some of that may be in the eye of the beholder, but I believe there are objective standards against which claims can be measured. I don't see how the Treasury chart is similarly misleading. If there's an argument that it is, I'd like to hear it. Thanks.
The argument against the Treasury chart is simple -- the headline for the graph states "Jobs Rebound and Unemployment Falls as Bush Economic Policies Come into Effect." However, the graph omits the 2001 tax cut and starts the timeline two years into Bush's term, falsely suggesting (a) that the 2003 Bush tax cut was the administration's first economic policy enactment; (b) that it took effect almost immediately (while the 2001 tax cut took years to have an effect); and (c) that the 2003 tax cut drove jobs growth starting in the fall of that year. I don't think any of those claims are defensible.