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Here’s The Obama Legacy That Republicans Can’t Repeal


Here’s The Obama Legacy That Republicans Can’t Repeal

Let’s be clear: Barack Obama’s greatest presidential achievement is that he stopped the Great Recession from becoming the second Great Depression. Despite facing unprecedented obstruction from Republicans, he was able to clean up the mess left by the Bush administration.

The prospect of another Great Depression — a long period of worsening economic decline — was not far-fetched. If Obama had made one wrong step, what was a crushing economic slump could have become something much worse.

Donald Trump, who has vowed to erase President Obama’s legacy, may trash some of Obama’s favorite policies once he gets in the White House: the Affordable Care Act, the program on climate change, the Dodd-Frank law on financial regulation. All this may wrongly foster the notion that Obama accomplished almost nothing.

Although the high-water mark of Obama’s presidency occurred in the first months —when the world flirted with financial calamity—, no bitter partisanship, selective memories or both, can erase this historic accomplishment.

In its just-released annual report, the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) explains why. Recall the dreadful numbers.

“In the first quarter of 2009, as Obama was moving into the White House, monthly job losses averaged 772,000. The ultimate decline in employment was 8.7 million jobs, or 6.3 percent. Housing prices and stock values were collapsing. From their peak in February 2007 to their low point, housing prices dropped 26 percent. Millions of homeowners were “underwater” — their houses were worth less than the mortgages on them. Stock prices fell roughly by half from August 2007 to March 2009.

As frightened businesses and consumers curbed spending and, in the process, increased unemployment, the economy’s downward spiral continued at an alarming rate. In every instance, the 2008-2009 downturn was as bad as — or worse than — the first year of the Great Depression: employment loss, drop in global trade and change in households’ net worth.

The starkest of these was the fall in households’ net worth —people’s assets, such as homes and stock, minus their debts, such as mortgages and credit-card balances. It dropped by $13 trillion, about a fifth, from its high point in 2007 to its trough in 2009. This decline, the CEA notes, “was far larger than the reduction [adjusted for inflation] . . . at the onset of the Great Depression.”

Against fierce opposition, he decided to rescue General Motors and Chrysler. Throwing them onto the tender mercies of the market would have been a huge blow to the industrial Midwest and to national psychology. He also championed a sizable budget “stimulus.” Advertised originally as $787 billion, it was actually $2.6 trillion over four years when the initial program was combined with later proposals and so-called “automatic stabilizers” are included, the CEA says.

More generally, Obama projected reason and calm when much of the nation was fearful and frazzled.

In its report, the CEA reports that the recovery from the Great Recession is mostly complete. But many Americans still seem disappointed. They feel insecure and shortchanged. The financial crisis and Great Recession left deep scars that haven’t yet been fully healed by a recovery that often seemed halting and unreliable. Additionally, Republicans don’t give Obama credit because they disagree with him on other issues or disapprove of the general contentiousness of his presidency.

But the latest numbers show President Obama will leave a robust economy with the lowest jobless rate in nearly a decade, record home and stock prices and a healthy growth rate. Obama’s influence must be considered in this context. When historians do, they will really impressed.

It’s a radically different position from the one President-elect Barack Obama found himself in 2008 with markets crashing, the financial crisis spinning out of control and joblessness headed toward 15 percent.

Trump instead will take office with an economy near full employment and wages and spending rising. The economy is in such strong shape that the Federal Reserve is likely to raise interest rates again later this month to try and cool things off.

“President-elect Trump will inherit a much stronger economy than his predecessor did,” Standard & Poor’s economists said this week. “Largely forgotten in all the rhetoric and fanfare of the campaign is the fact that data show the world’s largest economy continuing to expand at a reasonably good pace.”

The recent gains are now allowing outgoing Obama officials to take something of a victory lap as they head out the door.

You will be missed, President Obama.

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