There have been a lot of distractions during this election cycle. But with less than two weeks until Election Day on Nov. 6, let’s take a step back and think about what this race is really about.

A lot of people aren’t feeling the effects of the economic recovery yet. They’re still unemployed and can’t find a job. They’re fatigued and impatient. They want jobs immediately, and that’s completely understandable. As a result, they blame President Barack Obama for their economic miseries.

It’s important to understand that no matter which economic policies are implemented, recoveries from financial crises simply take a long time — particularly the recovery from the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression. “This is what normally happens after a severe financial crisis,” Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman explained in his latest column in The New York Times.

On the night of Obama’s inauguration, before he had done anything, Republicans plotted to obstruct his agenda, according to Robert Draper, author of “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives” — and they have done so relentlessly ever since.

Today, they gleefully castigate the president for not turning this economy around. Despite the fact that financial recoveries take a long time and Obama’s dealt with constant Republican opposition, he has still managed to create approximately 3.6-million private-sector jobs since the start of the recovery in June 2009, according to PolitiFact.com, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking unit of The Tampa Bay Times. We definitely need more jobs than that, but it’s still an impressive feat, under the circumstances.

Can a conservative economic approach improve the economy more than Obama’s approach?

Republican presidents have created far fewer jobs than Democratic presidents in recent decades. At the Democratic National Convention in September, former President Bill Clinton said — and FactCheck.org verified — that since 1961, Republicans have occupied the White House for 28 years and created 24-million private-sector jobs. In contrast, Democrats have occupied the White House for only 24 years since 1961 but created 42-million private-sector jobs.

Republicans forcefully advocate for slashing the budget using austerity policies, but these policies can devastate fragile, recovering economies. An article in The Guardian describes how in 1937, during the recovery after the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt also decided to enact austerity measures. As a result, the United States was thrown back into a recession and it took a world war to enable us to fully recover.

In the past few years, austerity policies have caused or worsened recessions across Europe in countries including Britain, Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal and possibly Germany in the near future.

“Germany’s insistence on cutting public budgets has led Europe into a recession swamp,” Robert Reich, former secretary of labor, stated in April.

Republican policies have made the deficit skyrocket. Today’s Republican Party doesn’t mention the fact that conservative president Ronald Reagan nearly tripled the deficit during his eight years as president. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney claims that unlike former President George W. Bush — who replaced Bill Clinton’s surplus with large deficits every year since 2002 — he will balance the budget. Yet, as Ezra Klein wrote in the Washington Post last week, Bush also “endorsed amending the Constitution to require a balanced budget. But, like Romney, he was specific about his tax cuts and increases in military spending, but vague about his spending cuts. The result was much higher deficits.”

Why will this time be any different?

It’s hard to say, because Romney has repeatedly refused to reveal the details of his economic plan. David Leonhardt wrote in The New York Times in September that Romney “will not say which tax breaks he would reduce, and the large ones, like the mortgage-interest deduction, are all popular.” Leonhardt cited a detailed analysis by the Tax Policy Center that, in his words, “showed that achieving all of Mr. Romney’s top-line goals — a revenue-neutral overhaul that does not increase the tax burden of the middle class — is not arithmetically possible.”

Even if Americans decide to give Romney a chance, it’s difficult to know which Romney they’re electing, since he has changed his positions on issues so frequently. But chances are, to ensure his political survival as president, Romney would have to support conservative economic policies that satisfy a Republican base that’s influenced by the uncompromising Tea Party. History isn’t kind to these policies.

The President certainly hasn’t had perfect economic policies. Some economists like Krugman believe the 2009 stimulus should have been bigger. But Obama’s plan for increasing the number of manufacturing jobs, investing in clean energy, focusing on innovation and investing in education are steps in the right direction. Let’s give the president enough time to finish the job he started.

Michael Spaeth can be reached micspa@umich.edu.

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