Plato's The Republic famously describes "the noble lie:" a myth or untruth that is purposely told by the nation's elite in an attempt to advance their political agenda.
The Republican Party, in their desire to defeat President Barack Obama, would have you believe such a falsehood. The party has used widespread propaganda, aided by deceitful pundits, SuperPac adverts and Fox News, to promote the idea that Americans are not better off today than when Obama took office.
The question itself ("Are you better off than you were four years ago?") was first introduced into the political lexicon by Ronald Reagan during his successful 1980 campaign against President Jimmy Carter. At the time the answer was a resounding "No," since Carter was experiencing a deep recession, high gas prices and job losses following years of positive growth. In a weak attempt to compare President Obama's leadership on the economy to that of Carter's, the Romney campaign resurrected this line of attack at the recent Republican National Convention in Tampa—rallying their base, but completely ignoring facts.
Perhaps it's time for a history lesson.
The Great Recession that began in the final two years of the Bush-Cheney era followed nearly a decade of economic stagnation. The sub-prime mortgage crisis, which led to the failures of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, officially began in 2006. Housing prices started their steady decline, wiping away $7 trillion in American wealth and hitting African-Americans disproportionately, since Blacks in particular hold most of their wealth in home equity, as opposed to generational inheritance or outside assets.
By January of 2009, before Obama's inauguration, the U.S. economy was hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs per month. Nine million jobs were lost well before Obama's bailout of Detroit automakers or his stimulus package ever took effect. The national debt had ballooned to $11 trillion dollars, a near 100% increase since the surpluses of Clinton-Gore. What is worth noting is that the deficit exploded prior to the mortgage crisis. The unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Bush's tax cuts, all of which were supported by Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, steadily dug Americans into a hole of debt.
In August 2008, George W. Bush was forced to rescue mortgage providers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the tune of $124 billion in tax payer dollars. By October of 2008, Bush's Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson convinced Congress to approve TARP, a $700 billion rescue plan for American banks. The fear, of course, was that if Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase or Citigroup went the way of Lehman, it would undermine confidence in international markets and usher in another Great Depression. By December 2008, GM and Chrysler received an emergency loan of $17.4 billion from the Bush administration—which proved inadequate, requiring President Obama to later restructure and bail out the industry. GDP shrank nearly 4% in the summer of 2008 alone. And the DOW Jones Industrial average, which had peaked in 2007, lost nearly 50% of its value before President Barack Obama took the oath of office on January 20, 2009.
So where are we now?
Under President Obama's leadership, the economy has seen 30 consecutive months of positive job growth culminating in 5 million jobs added. National unemployment, which peaked at 10.2% in October 2009, is down to 8.1%. Healthcare Reform has saved American lives and either eliminated or reduced costs for working-class families. African-American unemployment, which peaked at 16.7% in October 2010, is now down to 14.1%; a far cry from perfect, but certainly moving in the right direction.
A recent article published by Bloomberg magazine suggested that President Obama's policies weren't assisting Blacks. This reflects the dogma being promoted by the GOP in an effort to undermine the president's base support, create disillusionment and thereby suppress voter turnout.
But the Dow Jones is now trading above 13000. Blacks and Whites alike are experiencing a 40% increase in their 401K investments. Last month, housing prices saw their first annual increase in over two years and home prices were up across 20 major U.S. cities—including Detroit, which had been devastated by the recession. Meanwhile, Obama's foreign policy record is stellar – having protected Americans from any domestic terrorist attack – and eliminating the threat of Osama bin Laden. Social policy successes include the repeal of DADT, increased investments in higher education and a GI Bill for veterans.
It took FDR a decade and World War II before recovery from the Great Depression. President Obama has managed measurable gains in just 3 years.
As former President Bill Clinton said: "do the arithmetic" if you doubt that Americans aren't better off today.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio.