Obama knows Romney’s truncated story is misleading. His campaign spends much of a 17-minute video showing that the economic decline was well under way by the time he took office. Then the video pivots and, in an equally cynical truncation, claims all the credit for saving Detroit. “Because of the tough choices the president made, the stage was set for a resurgent U.S. auto industry,” says narrator Tom Hanks. But here’s the rest of the story:
Bush announced on Dec. 19, 2008, that his administration would provide General Motors and Chrysler with $13.4 billion in funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. GM would be eligible for an additional $4 billion. … Obama used the viability plans required by Bush to force the automakers to go into bankruptcy and reorganize—successfully completing a process that Bush started.
Romney … is attributing to Obama a big rise in spending for fiscal year 2009—which began under Bush, nearly four months before Obama took office. … The BO attributed much of the increased spending in 2009 to three government programs: the stimulus, the Troubled Asset Relief Program and legislation to address the mortgage crisis, all three totaling $353 billion. TARP and the mortgage bailout were passed under Bush.
On energy, Obama does the editing. "Under President Obama, domestic oil production is at an eight-year high,” says an Obama ad. But Consumer Energy Report explains:
[W]hat happens today in the energy markets is a result of decisions that were made 4-8 years in the past. For instance, the ethanol production gains in 2010 were not a function of Barack Obama’s energy policies; they were a result of energy legislation passed in 2005 and expanded in 2007. … [T]he reason that oil production has risen under President Obama is … years of steadily increasing oil prices that caused oil companies to approve a number of new projects that had marginal economics at lower oil prices. But these projects take some years to build, and as in the case of the Alaska Pipeline, decisions that were made 4-6 years earlier benefited President Obama with increased domestic oil production.
Do elections make a difference? Sure. Obama’s election sealed the demise of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Romney’s election would affect Supreme Court rulings well into the future. But the more complicated the problem—the economy, terrorism, China—the less likely it is that a president will fundamentally alter it, especially in the short term. Elections can change history. But mostly, they decide which party will pretend that the president changed history for the better, and which party will pretend that he changed it for the worse.