Comparing Presidents – How and Why

If you read the comments to blog posts here at Angry Bear (and I have no problems admitting that many of the comments are better and more incisive than the posts I write) you know in the past few months we’ve been assigned (by who?) a particularly tenacious cheerleader who simply will not admit anything that makes GW or the Republican cause look bad, no matter what the evidence shows.

We’ve had a range of excuses for the subpar economic performance of our current esteemed President, from “the data doesn’t show that” to “same point in the business cycle” but the latest excuse is particularly interesting: one cannot evaluate a President’s policies until those policies have been “fully implemented.”

Which makes me wonder…

In 1988, Reagan’s last year in office, the highest marginal tax rate was cut from 38.5% to 28%. It stayed there until 1990. Should we evaluate the effect of Reagan’s tax policy simply by looking at the economic growth rate from 1988 to 1990? (In 1988, real GDP per capita in 2000 dollars was $27,514, and in 1990 it was $28,429, giving us an annualized growth rate of 1.65% a year.)

Which leads to the reason I use the approach I use when evaluating Presidents (i.e., except in rare cases where the data does not permit, go from the period before the President took office to the last full period the President left office). Picking and choosing a methodology that makes one of one’s favorite Presidents look good invariably makes another of one’s favorite Presidents look bad. And frankly, I don’t care about President X or Y or Z. They’re not friends or family members of mine. I’m not getting paid by them, and I don’t think its likely I will ever be offered a job by any past, present, or future President or aspirant nor do I expect to be hired (or not hired) by any other person who makes his/her decisions based largely on my support or non-support of one or another President or party. It can happen, but its unlikely.

So I want to know what works and what doesn’t. I used to consider myself a Republican. After spending years going through data, I now believe Republican policies, in general, are more inane than Democratic policies. So I don’t generally support Republican policies or those who will carry them out. But the day their policies seem to me to be the least inane among the alternatives that have a chance of being carried out, I will turn around and support them.

But no President or Presidential aspirant cares about me personally, positively or negatively, and similarly, I don’t care about them personally, even if the TV and the internet and the newspaper bring them into my home on a daily basis. If the rest of us are lucky, they care about all of their constituents and potential constituents. If the rest of us are really lucky, they even have helpful policies. And that is how we should evaluate our Presidents: do they make things better, or do they make things worse. Sure, each of them faces a unique series of events and conditions, but being President is a privilege. We, the American people, should get something other than excuses in exchange for that privilege. And maybe if we watch them carefully, if we don’t accept their excuses, or worse, make their excuses for them, we reduce the likelihood that in the future excuses will be all we get.

Update… Last paragraph modified.

Update 2… Why weren’t GW’s policies “fully implemented” in 2001 or 2002? Was someone else President in 2001 or 2002 who either chose to backload the tax cuts or was unable to push the full tax cuts through a compliant Congress in 2001? Does GW get a pass for things he either chose not to do or was unable to do? Does this apply to other Presidents or in other situations? If a marathon runner decides to run very slowly at times to conserve his strength or because he is tired, do we only evaluate him on his speed when he is running all out? The more I think about it, the sillier this “fully implemented” excuse seems to me.