Obama may be best economic president ever

Lend me your ears. I have come to praise President Obama and bury the myth that Republican presidents are better for the economy than Democratic presidents. Not only do Democrats produce superior economic results but they blow Republicans out of the water in the comparisons.

Let’s turn the mic over to Bob Deitrick, a principal at Polaris Financial Partners in Westerville, Ohio. Deitrick crunched 80 years of numbers. Politically, 1929 to 2009 were exactly divided — 40 years under Republican presidents and 40 under Democrats.

He put his extraordinary findings in a book, “Bulls, Bears and the Ballot Box.”

Because President Obama was in office for only three years at the time of the writing, Deitrick and his co-author left him out. But Deitrick now has enough of an Obama track record to have recently declared in a Forbes interview, “By all measures, President Obama has outperformed every modern president.”

His findings were so lopsided in favor of Democrats I had to ask him whether he is one. He said no. “I really was apolitical until 2000,” start of the George W. Bush era. That’s when he saw massive mismanagement of the economy at the expense of his middle- to upper-middle-class clients.

“The average retail investor got slammed, where hedge funds were allowed to take advantage of everyone else,” he told me.

The best overall economic performance pre-Obama was that of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson (whom Deitrick put together because of Kennedy’s early death). No. 2 was Bill Clinton, with Franklin D. Roosevelt in third place.

The top six included two Republicans. Dwight Eisenhower ranked fourth, and Ronald Reagan sixth, edged out of fifth place by Harry Truman.

Were it not for Herbert Hoover, George W. would have ended up last.

Reagan was a “stimulus addict,” in Deitrick’s view. His economic growth came through massive spending on defense and deep tax cuts. The price was a tripling of the national debt.

Ordinary Americans did better under Clinton, who also left behind a budget surplus. Thanks to a growing economy and higher taxes on the rich, Obama has lowered the deficit to 4 percent of gross domestic product, down from over 10 percent at the end of the Bush years.

Here’s an interesting calculation: Suppose that in 1929, you put $100,000 in a 401(k) fully invested in stocks. Under the 40 years of Republican presidents, you would have ended up with only $126,000. Under the Democrats, you would have amassed a retirement nest egg of $3.9 million!

If you added Obama, the Democrats’ number would be much bigger.

Deitrick believes that presidents largely control the economy — through the bully pulpit and the power to appoint leaders, enact executive orders and issue vetoes. (Not everyone agrees they hold most economic cards.)

Deitrick is a disciple of Marriner Eccles, the rich Republican banker whom Roosevelt named Federal Reserve chairman. Eccles held that putting more money in middle-class hands is key to recovery and that trickledown economics helps mainly those providing the trickle.

Speaking of income inequality, the gap between the top 1 percent and bottom 99 percent widened 20 percent in the 40 years Republicans ran the Oval Office. In the Democratic presidential years, it narrowed 16 percent.

Obama’s greatest successes, Deitrick says, are the auto rescue plan and the Wall Street reforms, which revived faith among investors. The annual compound return on stocks has averaged between 25 and 30 percent (depending on the index) since the lows of March 2009.

Deitrick says he’s perpetually shocked that Democrats don’t trumpet their economic triumphs. You don’t have to be a Democrat to wonder why.

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her email address is fharrop@projo.com.

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