Opinion » Viewpoint

The Buck Passes on Obama’s Economy

Democrats should be embracing the president’s economic successes rather than running from them.

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Senator Bernie Sanders
  • Senator Bernie Sanders

In the GOP primary race, the economy is the dog that has not barked. Given low unemployment, low gas prices, and low inflation, it is easy to understand the GOP's silence. The current unemployment rate is 5.1 percent, the lowest since April 2008.

Under President Obama's stewardship, the economy has added over 7 million private sector jobs. The Dow Jones has more than doubled, and the NASDAQ has more than tripled. The president has exceeded every promise for speedy economic recovery made by his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in the 2012 campaign.

But now Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders is drawing crowds with harsh indictments of the American economic system as unfair to the poor, the working class, and the middle class. Sanders recently described the nation as having a "rigged economy, designed by the wealthiest people in this country to benefit the wealthiest people in this country at the expense of everybody else."

His criticism echoes that of Senator Elizabeth Warren who has blasted erstwhile Obama economic officials such as Larry Summers and Tim Geithner for being too cozy with the Wall Street banks they were supposed to be regulating.

Unions have for decades been suffering from declining membership and declining leverage at the bargaining table. That was before the president beat them and their Democratic supporters in Congress on the trade deal in question, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He stood with the Chamber of Commerce and the GOP majority in Congress to win approval for fast-track authority pertaining to TPP.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sanders, and other top Democrats give Obama credit for leading the nation's steady economic growth after the 2008 recession. But, as with the unions, their current focus is on income inequality and stagnant wages.

"The defining economic challenge of our time is clear," Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, said in July. "We must raise incomes for hard-working Americans so they can afford a middle-class life."

The president, however, prefers to emphasize how the nation has recovered from an extraordinarily deep recession, pointing out the errors of his past Republican critics. In a recent speech to the Business Roundtable, the president focused on those Republican criticisms, not the new carping from Democrats.

'"Seven years ago today was one of the worst days in the history of our economy," he said, going on to note that in September 2008 "stocks had suffered their worst loss since 9/11, businesses would go bankrupt, millions of Americans would lose their jobs and their homes, and our economy would reach the brink of collapse."

Obama then offered a contrasting picture of the current economy:

"Here's where we are today," the president said. "Businesses have created more than 13 million new jobs over the past 66 months — the longest streak of job growth on record. The unemployment rate is lower than it's been in over seven years. There are more job openings right now than at any time in our history. Housing has bounced back. Household wealth is higher than it was before the recession."

Obama's victory lap might also include a mention that this year's Republican candidates have no answer for income inequality. In fact, with the exception of Donald Trump, the current Republican candidates consistently call for tax cuts for the rich that would worsen inequality by widening the wealth gap.

These are facts. They are powerful ammunition for any Democrat who wants to run on the strength of the Obama economic record in 2016. But as debates begin next month among the Democrats, you can expect that consultants will be advising the candidates that they need to distance themselves from Obama because of stagnant wages and income inequality.

In light of the actual economic facts, perhaps a winning message for Democrats would be to promise to continue and improve on the president's record by dealing with stagnant wages as they seek "Obama's third term." Yet, even among Democratic candidates, that seems to be too much to ask.

My advice for President Obama? Just bite your tongue, and let it go. A fair reading of history will show the economy came back to life on your watch.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.

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