Explaining to Mitch McConnell why better isn’t worse

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said something the other day that got me thinking. As part of a larger condemnation of President Obama’s handling of the economy, McConnell presented the Republican vision as best as he could:

“There’s no denying the fact that the policies of the past two and a half years have made a bad situation worse. For two and a half years the Democrats completely dominated this town. They got everything they wanted.

“And what happened? Unemployment has hovered around 8 percent for 32 months, the so-called Misery Index is worse than it’s been in 25 years, actually unemployment’s hovered around 9 percent, consumer confidence is at levels last seen during the height of the financial crisis, but if there’s one number that really stands out it’s this: 1.5 million. That’s the number of fewer jobs we now have in this country since the day President Obama signed his signature jobs bill into law.”

Anyone with even passing familiarity with the facts knows McConnell is either wrong or being deliberately misleading. Indeed, it’s hard to even know where to start.

We could mention that Democrats certainly didn’t “got everything they wanted.” We could point out that after President Obama “signed his signature jobs bill into law,” the job market immediately started getting better and the recession, as a technical matter, ended.

We could also try to help McConnell explain that a net decrease in jobs is unavoidable when one starts with an economy that’s fallen off a cliff. In 2008 and 2009, the U.S. economy lost a combined, jaw-dropping total of 8.6 million jobs. If McConnell thinks that number can be replaced over the course of a couple of years, he’s a fool.

But the more I thought about this, the more I tried to think of the best way to help the confused Senate Minority Leader understand the larger circumstances. With that in mind, here’s a homemade chart I put together, showing private-sector job growth — Republicans say public-sector jobs don’t count, so for now, I’ll play by their rules — by year over the last two decades. The blue columns show annual totals under Democratic presidents; red columns show annual totals under Republican presidents.

Keep in mind, that column on the right shows 2011 to date, but there are still two months to go in the calendar year. If recent trends continue, we can expect to add more than 200,000 private-sector jobs to the total thus far. But even without the November and December totals, private-sector job growth in 2011 is already the strongest the U.S. economy has seen in five years. It will very likely be even stronger than the growth seen in the final year of the Clinton presidency.

(In case anyone’s curious, the overall annual totals are less impressive — spending cuts have led to massive public-sector layoffs — but 2011 is still the best year for jobs since 2006, even combining the public and private sectors.)

This is not to say it’s a great year to be celebrated; it’s not. Jobs are being added far too slowly, and this year’s totals only look encouraging because they’re compared to the previous Republican administration, which had a horrendous jobs record.

But the trend is pretty obvious. The economy had fallen off a cliff, and now it’s better than it was.

Now look again at the McConnell quote: “There’s no denying the fact that the policies of the past two and a half years have made a bad situation worse.”

In what universe does this claim make sense?