WASHINGTON - Is the country better now than four years ago? Politicians from both parties have attempted to answer that critical question in the days wedged between the party conventions.
Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan says the Obama administration makes one-term Jimmy Carter's policies look strong. Even staunch Democrat Md. Gov. Martin O'Malley told CBS' "Face the Nation" the country has not improved since 2008, without a doubt.
As both sides prepare for the ballot box, political spin artists look to the past in search of lessons that can explain each candidates' potential for success.
One economist believes voters should compare President Obama's performance to an unlikely predecessor.
"He likes to compare himself to George (W.) Bush, that's a favorable comparison," says Peter Morici, a University of Maryland School of Business economist. "In reality, the best comparison is to Ronald Reagan."
Twenty months before inauguration, Reagan and Obama had comparable levels of unemployment at 10.8 and 10 percent.
Just over 60 days before the election, Reagan was able to bring that number down to 7.2 percent, versus the current levels of 8.3 percent. Reagan also had more participation in the labor force.
"Overall, Mr. Reagan got a lot more done and I don't know why we shouldn't expect the same from President Obama," says Morici.
The U.S. needs to play to its strengths in two particular arenas that could create millions of jobs, he says.
"You have to do what you do well to create jobs, and that means manufacturing and oil," he says.
Restoring or creating drilling sites off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, in the Gulf of Mexico and on the North Slope of Alaska could create 2.5 million jobs "easily," says Morici, as would addressing the trade deficit with China.
"We have the top manufacturers in the world, but they suffer from a terrible handicap because of the currency with China."
But one expert with an intimate knowledge of the politics of job creation says each president's approach has little to do with it, and points instead to a looming international actor.
"It used to be simple to create jobs; all you had to do was grow at a reasonable rate," says Robert Shapiro, former undersecretary of commerce and the chief architect of President Clinton's economic program. "We had great job creation under Reagan, we had even better job creation under Clinton."
That stopped under President George H.W. Bush, but that wasn't his fault, Shapiro says. "He just happened to be in office at that time," he says.
"This really has to do with globalization, with the new terms of global competition," he says. Most economists would agree that the U.S. needs to develop a "serious strategy" to address how a global market reduces job creation in America.
Speakers at the Republican convention completely omitted mentioning this growing threat, Shapiro says, just as the Obama administration has not developed a comprehensive way to address this matter.
The difficulties Obama has faced with an opposition Congress stems largely from public distrust in both parties and a polarization that actually only exists in Washington, he says.
"When you elect a president of one party and the Congress of another, that's the public saying, 'We don't trust either of you guys to be in total control, so we want you to work together and compromise," says Shapiro.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
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