The occasionally relevant metric

THE OCCASIONALLY RELEVANT METRIC…. For about the first two months after President Obama was inaugurated, the economic crisis was extremely severe. Growth was in a tailspin; the country was hemorrhaging jobs; and Wall Street indexes were dropping sharply.

On that last point, Republicans thought they’d found a compelling talking point. By the spring of 2009, a variety of conservatives said declines in major indexes were necessarily evidence that the White House’s economic policies were a mess, if not an outright failure, and that the president didn’t know what he was doing.

The Wall Street Journal ran an entire editorial on this in early March. The drop in the Dow, the WSJ insisted, was a direct result of investors evaluating “Mr. Obama’s agenda and his approach to governance.” Karl Rove and Lou Dobbs made the same case. So did Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Fred Barnes. John Boehner also pushed the line. It was one of Mitt Romney’s favorite talking points for a while, too.

That was nearly two years ago, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re not saying that anymore. Oliver Willis flagged this chart, showing S&P 500 growth over the first two years of every president since Eisenhower. You’ll notice that column all the way over to the right shows a sharp increase under the current president.

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Now, it’s worth emphasizing that a chart like this one comes with all kinds of caveats. The first and most obvious is that the value of a stock market index is hardly the best metric for measuring the strength of the economy. Indeed, it isn’t even close. The second is that it’s easier to generate major gains like these when one starts from a very low point — and after eight years of disastrous Republican policies, Bush bequeathed an economy in shambles.

That said, there are some relevant angles to results like these, too. For example, it’s hard not to notice that the right seems awfully selective about when Wall Street indexes count — when the markets are down, Obama deserves the blame; when the markets are up; Obama doesn’t deserve the credit. It’s funny how that works. It’s also tough for unhinged conservatives to continue to insist that the White House is comprised of radical socialists, intent on destroying private enterprise, when major indexes have soared under Obama’s watch.

But perhaps most important of all is that a chart like this makes it especially difficult to take Wall Street’s whining about the president seriously.