RALEIGH — Democrats and liberal commentators have been loudly and gleefully attacking Donald Trump and his aides for getting their chronologies wrong — for blaming the president for the onset of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, for example, despite the fact that Barack Obama was serving in the Illinois state senate at the time.
Here in North Carolina, however, Democrats and liberal commentators are the ones who seem unwilling to admit the nature of the time-space continuum. In their desperate efforts to deny Gov. Pat McCrory a chance at reelection, they’ve questioned his claims of a “Carolina Comeback” by citing trends that portray the state’s economy in an unfavorable light.
Their problem is that most of the actual economic trends since McCrory took office in 2013 are positive. North Carolina has outperformed the Southeast and nation in gross domestic product and employment. Our after-tax, per-person incomes have gone up about 10 percent faster than the national and regional averages.
North Carolina has one of the fastest-growing economies in the country. It’s fair game to dispute causes. But this is a fact, not an opinion. To try to make their case, then, liberals have resorted to shifting the starting point of their analysis to 2007, before the onset of the Great Recession. They say the state’s economy has not yet recovered all the ground it lost during the recession.
That’s true, at least by some measures. In 2007, some 8.5 percent of working-aged North Carolinians were either unemployed or underemployed. During the recession, that number soared into the high teens. Even after one of the largest improvements in the country since McCrory’s inauguration, North Carolina’s combined rate of unemployment and underemployment is currently 10.2 percent, still markedly higher than before the recession.
But what do these statistics prove? If Trump and national Republicans tried to blame President Obama for the onset and immediate aftermath of the Great Recession, which occurred during the last two years of the George W. Bush administration, they’d be pilloried and ridiculed. The more-relevant question is how the American economy has fared since Obama took office. The even-more-relevant question is how the American economy has fared since Obama’s key fiscal and regulatory policies were enacted in 2009 and early 2010.
The answer to that latter question, by the way, is that our nation’s economy has improved by most standard measures since that 2009-10 period — but at the slowest pace since World War II. The Obama recovery has been lengthy but anemic. Again, you can debate the causes. Obama’s defenders might point out that the entire world economy has had a weak recovery by historical standards, and that many developed countries in Europe and the Pacific Rim have fared worse than the U.S.
Perhaps the president’s policies have helped us do a little better. Perhaps they’ve hampered what would have been a far-stronger recovery, as conservatives would argue. This is a real debate, about real periods of overlap between political power and economic performance.
North Carolinians deserve to read, hear, and see a comparable debate about the Carolina Comeback. Instead, we are getting confusion and misdirection from liberals and the media outlets that coddle them. No, Gov. McCrory cannot be responsible for the policy choices and economic performance that occurred during the administrations of Democratic governors Mike Easley (2001-2009) and Bev Perdue (2009-2013). Perhaps the Republicans in the General Assembly can be held at least somewhat responsible for the events of 2011 and 2012, when they held majorities, although even then they might argue that their policies only came to full fruition in 2013 and 2014.
Democrats are desperate to regain power in Raleigh, a state capital they dominated for most of the state’s history. I understand their motivation. But exuberance is no excuse for misleading voters, intentionally or unintentionally.
Within the context of a weak national recovery, North Carolina’s economy is doing better than average. That’s what McCrory means by a “Carolina Comeback.” Blaming him for what happened under Easley and Perdue is not a rebuttal.
John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation.