Never before, except for the last time

A Mitt Romney campaign aide made an interesting claim today: “The thing that no one has focused on is that Obama is headed to be the first president in modern history to have a net loss in jobs. No president has ever been re-elected with a net loss job record … because no president has ever had a net loss.”

This, to be sure, an important part of the Romney campaign message. It’s also a demonstrable lie.

Some of the argument, as it relates to President Obama, features a kernel of truth, but it’s still misleading. In 2008, the year before the president took office, the economy lost 3.6 million jobs. By the time Obama was sworn in, the job market was in freefall, and as a result, the economy lost 5 million jobs in calendar year 2009. It’s absurd, though, to claim Obama deserves the blame for the crisis he inherited. Indeed, whereas the monthly job totals were getting worse before Obama took office, they immediately got better after the Recovery Act took effect.

The job market has obviously improved since. In 2010, the economy added about a million jobs. In just the first six months of 2011, the economy has added nearly a million more. To make up for losses of 2008 and 2009 will take time, and it’s likely Obama’s net total will be negative by the end of 2012 as a result, but that doesn’t change the fact that he took an economy that was losing jobs and turned it into an economy that’s gaining jobs. Progress is progress.

But the demonstrable lie is the Romney campaign’s larger claim. As the Republican frontrunner sees it, (a) Obama is the first modern president to have a net loss in jobs; and (b) no president has ever been re-elected with a net-loss job record. Both of these are wrong.

Romney campaign, let me introduce you to George W. Bush.

The Washington Post published this chart about a year ago (click it for a larger view), showing job growth by decade. Notice that red line down towards the bottom? That shows the anemic job creation over the first decade of the 21st century, also known as the Bush Era.

Indeed, it went largely ignored at the time — Democrats didn’t mention it — but when the GOP’s Bush/Cheney ticket sought a second term in 2004, it was the first in generations to — you guessed it — go four years with a net loss of jobs. The American private sector didn’t achieve a net gain of one job until well into Bush’s second term. (All told, for the entirety of Bush’s eight years in office, the net job gain was about 1 million. Obama is on track to beat that this year easily.)

Now look at the Romney claims again. Is Obama is the first modern president to have a net loss in jobs? No, that claim would have applied to Obama’s Republican predecessor in 2004. No president has ever been re-elected with a net-loss job record? Actually, Bush was re-elected despite having a net-loss job record. Indeed, Romney voted for him.

I can appreciate why the Romney campaign would be a little embarrassed by their candidate’s atrocious jobs record, but there’s no reason for such blatant dishonesty.