When President George W. Bush ran for reelection in 2004, Democrats hammered him for presiding over the "worst job recovery since the Great Depression."
Now that a Democratic president holds that distinction, and is facing reelection, they have changed their tune.
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"President Bush has compiled the worst economic record since the Great Depression," former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean said in October 2003. "The real measure of a strong economy is when average Americans see real benefits and the people who lost their jobs under President Bush are working again."
Now, as they defend a president with an unemployment record at reelection that is worse than Bush’s, Democrats are scrambling to counter the very criticisms they leveled against the previous administration.
"When you’re coming back from the worst recession since the Great Depression, it’s a long climb out," Gene Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council, said in response to the latest jobs report on Friday. "But what is clear is that we are making progress. This is absolute evidence we are moving in the right direction."
In 2004, however, Sperling was making many of the same arguments Republicans are making now.
"The president hasn’t just been president for two months, he’s been president for three and a half years. And he’s also had a Congress who’s been pretty much willing to do his bidding," Sperling said in May 2004. "If you look at what President Bush’s council of economic advisers was projecting and hoping for at this point, it was that the economy would be up 5.5 million jobs. Instead, even including government jobs, we’re down 1.5 million."
Republicans point out that Obama had full control of Congress for the first two years of his presidency, even though he has repeatedly blamed GOP obstructionism for his inability to implement his agenda.
Jason Furman, the deputy director of the NEC, is another prominent Democrat currently defending Obama’s record, despite repeatedly trashing Bush’s comparatively better record.
"You know, normal recoveries are pretty bumpy, you know, it gets better, it gets worse, gets better, gets worse," Furman said on a conference call several weeks ago. "We’ve been lucky enough to see the pattern that pretty much every quarter has been stronger than the last in terms of job growth, and most every quarter stronger than that last in terms of GDP growth."
Economic growth averaged 2.2 percent during Bush’s presidency. By comparison, economic growth during Obama’s first three years in office has averaged about 1.5 percent, which is comparable to growth levels in Europe.
President Obama has offered a number of excuses—the financial crisis in Europe, the earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan, high gas prices—for why the economic recovery has not been as robust as previous recoveries.
In 2004, Furman, who was a spokesman for Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) at the time, blasted the Bush administration for doing just that.
"All they have to offer for the economy is excuses. What happened in the last four months has nothing to do with 9/11 or the tech bubble or the recession or any of their excuses. The only thing keeping the unemployment rate down is 221,000 left the labor force, they gave up looking for work," Furman said in October 2004.
Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment remained steady at 8.3 percent in February, marking the 37th consecutive month the unemployment rate has exceeded 8 percent, the longest streak in the post-World War II era.
By contrast, the unemployment rate in February 2004 was 5.6 percent.