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Barack Obama versus Ronald Reagan - A Brief Comparison of Their First Three Years in the Oval Office

Updated on March 23, 2018

Obama vs. Reagan

In an interview conducted by 60 minutes in December 2011, American President Barack Obama stated to Host Steve Kroft that the accomplishments of his administration in its first two years would stack up to nearly any other president before him. This claim included Republican conservatives' favorite Ronald Reagan. Not surprisingly, right wing ideologues began to bang away at their keyboards and post complaints on their blogs lambasting the absurdity of President Obama's words. This hub discusses the situations inherited by the two presidents and concludes with a brief and limited comparison of Obama and Ronald Reagan during their first three years in the Oval Office. Interestingly Obama's record fairs closely to Reagan's in the comparative time periods; yet, Reagan was respected much more than Obama. No doubt there are many more factors to consider than those presented here.

Comparison of First Three Years

Ronald Reagan is touted by Right Wing Conservatives as the image of a successful president. Reagan's mantra was reduce the size of government, cut taxes, and maintain a strong military. Interestingly during his first three years of office, government spending actually went up. Even more interesting are the similarities of some of the most important economic indicators between Reagan in his first three years and that of current president Barack Obama.

Economic Comparison

The three tables shown below indicate that the US economic conditions during Obama's first three years of office faired equally with the Reagan administration during his first three years of office. In terms of real GDP growth, the US economy notched up nearly 5 percentage points in both administrations from inauguration to November of their third year. Under Reagan, the real GDP growth increased from 1.6% in the 1st quarter of 1981 to 5.6% in the third quarter of 1983. Obama inherited much worse conditions and still the real GDP growth lifted from -4.5% in the first quarter of 2009 to an estimated 1.5% in the 3rd quarter on 2011. In terms of the federal deficit, gross public debt increased in both respective administrations by around 51% in their first three years. The debt increased from US $910 billion at the end of the Carter administration to US $1,372 billion in the third quarter 1983. It lifted from US $9,986 billion at the end of the Bush administration to an estimated US $15,144 billion at the end of the third quarter 2011. Finally, under the Reagan administration, unemployment soared from 7.4% at the outset of his presidency to over 10% for nearly one full year before settling at 8.5% in November of his third year. Under Obama, unemployment began at 8.2% at the outset, hovered over 9% for most of his first three years before settling at 8.6% in November of his third year.

Foreign Policy Record

Obama's record, it would seem, is much more impressive during his initial years than Reagan's. No doubt, Reagan's greatest foreign policy accomplishment was his hardline stance towards the Soviet Union and Communist China. The eventual fall of the Soviet Union under successor George H. W. Bush was mostly due to Reagan's approach to the Kremlin during his administration. However, during his first three years, Reagan's only accomplishment of record was the invasion of tiny Grenada in the Caribbean Sea. During his first three years in office, the US military under Obama has taken down Osama Bin Laden, two or more other major al-Qaida operatives, and the indirect elimination of Libyan dictator Muammar Khaddafi. It could be argued that conditions grew worse in Afghanistan, but historically Afghanistan has been a difficult military target.

Obama-Reagan Comparison Real GDP Growth

Obama-Reagan Comparison Increase of Public Debt

Obama-Reagan Unemployment Comparison


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