There’s a Facebook meme and another graph image post being forwarded around these days touting that the national debt under Obama’s campaign has *increased* more in his days of office than it was even in existence from everyone before his term began, total. That is to say, the accusation is that the debt at the time of his inauguration was x, and the new total debt since inauguration was x + x + y, with y < x.
As the text version goes:
Debt added by previous 43 presidents = $6.3 trillion
Debt added by Obama = $6.5 trillion
As the image making the rounds notes:
What smart people often realize is that when something is not cited, it could very well be completely false. Rephrased — when a statement doesn’t back itself up by references apart from itself (“Billy was born with crossed eyes” vs “Billy’s mother claims Billy was born with crossed eyes”) then all we have to go on is the word of the person who made the image, as well as the word of the person who forwarded it for having due diligence to research it, confirm it, and pass it on. Falsity gets spread because the credibility of the redistributor gets called into question, and if that redistributor (or propagandist, if you will) is a family friend that you trust, or perhaps your grandfather that you respect, then people believe it to be true because that trusted person forwarded it.
I could just as easily create another graph, without citing my sources, that states that “fiscal accountability index” of Obama’s campaign increased by 90%, while for other presidents it decreased by 30% per president before him, demonstrating though a chart I just decided to make up, that Obama is therefore more accountable for his actions. I wouldn’t have a lick of evidence to back any of that claim up, but by failing to cite my sources, the degree of credibility would be the same as these meme statements.
I, however, recognize uncited claims or claims made without identifying the sources so I could research it myself, are very often complete nonsense — even if it comes from someone I suspect probably did the legwork to ensure the information was sound.
So, I went to see if I could find any non-meme sources to back these claims up. One source in particular, seemed to state this very matter outright in two paragraphs of official-looking news style, but throws in several strange numbers (dividing the debt by household) that muddle up the point. One thing the article does bring up worth noting, is that national debt totals can agreeably be cited from the Treasury department’s running totals here.
One thing to realize, is that the day Obama took office, the nation was operating under Bush Jr’s budget from the previous year — so the increase in debt for that year was not a result of Obama’s campaign. The true amount of debt accrued by Obama’s campaign will not be known until at least one year after Obama has left office since the budget for one year is assigned the year prior — so it’s not yet possible to say whether Obama’s complete campaign has, in total, been lower or higher compared to all presidents combined, given that he could still dramatically lower the current debt over the remaining term(s) in office.
The date Obama took office according to this is January 20, 2009. The Treasury site’s national debt quote for that date, for government debt (not private debt) is $4,319,566,309,231.42 or $4.319 trillion. This isn’t the real “all presidents before him combined” figure, since it takes into account the debt that ordinary, non-government citizens have themselves accrued.
Since Obama was, at inauguration, operating on a budget set forth by Bush Jr, the accrual for that year is not genuinely “his” debt, so the reference point should be the following year under Obama’s campaign’s budget. For the sake of argument, the “following year” will begin on January 1, 2010 even though it wouldn’t have been a complete year, shy ~19 days. According to the Treasury, the debt at the start of the following year was $4,500,340,892,024.73, or $4.500 trillion. This is the more-accurate “all presidents before him combined” figure. As of the day this article was written (June 26, 2012) the total debt for non-private debt is $4,745,245,475,535.32, or $4.745 trillion. The difference of the two figures is $244,904,583,510.59, or $244.904 billion.
The meme suggests that Obama’s debt has increased the total by 103.174% — by not only adding as much to the debt as had already been accrued before he began term, but even more on top of that. However, my numbers suggest that his increased to the total only pushes 5.443%
I’m not sure where the original writer of this meme procured a “6.2 trillion” figure that Obama had, by then accrued, by this rationale.
Edit For the sake of argument, I find the percentage increase from January 1, 2010’s start ($12,311,349,677,512.03, or $12.311 trillion) thru June 26, 2012 ($15,778,438,599,568.28, or 15.778 trillion), taking into account both private and intragovernmental, shows an increase of $3,467,088,922,056.25, or a 28.161% increase.