Early on in last night’s debate, Mitt Romney once again argued that President Obama “didn’t create the recession, but he made it worse and longer,” a claim so absurd it’s distressing that the former governor can say it with a straight face.

The assertion is, however, accepted as fact in GOP circles. CNN moderator John King noted at one point, “You’re all here saying the president of the United States is making the economy worse. Has he done one thing right when it comes to the economy in this country?” The audience laughed, and Ron Paul replied, “No, I can’t think of anything.”

Part of the problem here is that Republicans appear to be stuck in a pre-recession mentality. Jared Bernstein explained today that GOP leaders continue to support “the very agenda that got us into this mess.” He added this very helpful chart showing average monthly job losses and gains from the quarter the president took office to the most recent quarter of 2011.

Bernstein added, “Back in early 2009, we were losing jobs at a rate the likes of which I’d never seen — 780,000 per month — 2.3 million jobs lost in the first quarter. Over the past quarter, we’ve been adding jobs at a rate of 160,000 per month (and that includes last month’s disappointing 54K gain). Readers of this blog know that I don’t think that’s good enough. I and others are actively agitating to do more to build on this progress. But let us not forget where we were.”

If Mitt Romney, in his infinite wisdom, can look at this and explain why the right side of the chart is “worse” than the left side, I’m all ears.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.