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The Need for Comparisons

Yesterday’s Politico piece from John Harris and Jim Vandehei about why people don’t like Obama very much even though in many ways he’s a very successful president strikes me as extremely silly. The answer is obvious, and they even mention it in the piece — the economy sucks! For some reason, the point that poor economic performance drives public opinion is often treated as some kind of apologia for Obama, but it’s not — Obama deserves a share of the blame for economic conditions.

What would be helpful in this kind of discussion is some kind of comparative context. How’s President Sarkozy doing? Worse than Obama! How’s Chancellor Merkel doing? Major coalition problems. How’s Prime Minister Zapatero doing? Terribly! Remember Gordon Brown? Yukio Hatoyama ? The center-left opposition is surging in Denmark but not in Sweden where a floating currency has cushioned macroeconomic problems. Now you can try to construct a theory in which the political leaders of the US, Japan, Germany, France, and the UK are all politically inept but it seems more likely that all the major developed economies are mired in recession.

Each case has its specific ins-and-outs, but in all cases the context is set by the recession. The story of the Obama administration is that it’s gotten a ton of stuff done even while it hasn’t led us to a sufficiently robust recovery to turn around the public’s sour mood.

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