Reveling in the political opportunity presented by America's economic woes, Republicans are taking President Obama to task for stating the simple truth, "much of it I inherited." While GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney charged, "It's just blame, blame, blame - It's a blame presidency," former Bush press secretary turned Fox News regular Dana Perino complained, "The blaming Bush stuff is kinda expected, kind of annoying."
Of course, the Republicans' new line of attack has a few problems. For starters, new Commerce Department analyses revealed that the Bush recession was far deeper than first thought when Barack Obama took the oath of office. Worse still for the right-wing revisionists, the American people by an overwhelming two-to-one margin still blame President Bush and not President Obama for the struggling economy. And as it turns out, George W. Bush and his amen corner continue to insist he inherited a recession from Bill Clinton, a claim then as now unsupported by the facts.
"In terms of the economy, look, I inherited a recession, I am ending on a recession. In the meantime there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth. And I defended tax cuts when I campaigned, I helped implement tax cuts when I was President, and I will defend them after my presidency as the right course of action. And there's a fundamental philosophical debate about tax cuts. Who best can spend your money, the government or you? And I have always sided with the people on that issue."
But not the facts. After all, Bush nearly doubled the national debt, as Republican majorities in Congress voted seven times to raise the debt ceiling during his tenure. The first modern President to cut taxes during wartime, Bush's tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were the single biggest driver of red ink during the last decade and, if made permanent, will be for the next. And the meager one million jobs created during his presidency represented what the Wall Street Journal deemed the "The Worst Track Record on Record."
Then there's Bush's claim that "I inherited a recession" from Bill Clinton. As the data show, it's not true. (He did inherit a 4.2% unemployment rate and budget surpluses.) But after ten years of perpetuation by the right-wing propaganda machine, the long-ago debunked myth has remained remarkably durable.current Bush recession began in December 2007 also determined the George W. Bush's first recession actually began in March 2001. And the history of U.S. GDP shows that the old definition of recession - two straight quarters of GDP decline - was never met during either the last year of the Clinton presidency or the first of Bush's tenure.
Undeterred, the Republican Party and its echo chamber have for years continued to perpetuate the myth that President Bush "inherited a recession" from Bill Clinton. As Media Matters detailed, the sound bite was introduced before George W, Bush even took the oath of office. On December 3, 2000, Dick Cheney told Tim Russert "I think so" when asked if "we're on the front edge of a recession." Within days, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich ("the Bush-Cheney administration should be planning on having inherited a recession as the farewell gift from Clinton") and House Majority Leader Dick Armey ("this new president may inherit a recession") followed suit. By August 2002, Mitch Daniels, Bush's head of the Office of Management and Budget, announced on Fox News:
"He [Bush] inherited that recession from the previous administration. Case is closed."
Predictably, the drumbeat from the Bush team was reproduced with zero distortion from the always reliable media. While Fox News' Sean Hannity made the argument during the November 2002 mid-term election "this president -- you know and I know and everybody knows -- inherited a recession," CNN made the case for him two months earlier. On September 18th, 2002, CNN's John King announced, "That's why the president, in almost every speech, tries to remind voters he inherited a recession." Five days later, his colleague Suzanne Malveaux regurgitated the same line, reporting, "[Bush] took up that very issue earlier today, saying -- reminding voters that the administration inherited the recession."
Not leaving anything to chance, Fox News host Sean Hannity literally kept up the drumbeat for years, as this small sample shows:
"Clearly, we're out of the recession that President Bush inherited." (4/2/04)
"Stop me where I'm wrong. The president inherited a recession, the economic impact of 9/11 was tremendous on the economy, correct?" (4/6/04)
"[President George W. Bush] did inherit a recession." (5/3/04)
"[W]e got [the weak U.S. economy] out of the Clinton-Gore recession." (5/18/04)
"We got out of the Clinton-Gore recession." (5/27/04)
"We got out of the Clinton-Gore recession." (6/4/04)
To be sure, the Republican propaganda effort worked its magic. In 2004, pollster Geoff Garin showed that 62% of Americans believed the demonstrably false claim that an "economic recession actually began during Bill Clinton's administration, before George W. Bush took office."
"We've never in this country had 55 straight months of job creation. We had that under President Bush before the bank failures of September...You know, I think he came in with a recession, he left with a recession."
In December 2009, conservative attack dog Mary Matalin served up a double-slander:
"I was there, we inherited a recession from President Clinton, and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation's history."
But the economic revisionists of the Republican Party weren't content to end their historical whitewashing. The Bush recession which began in late 2007, they explained, was all Barack Obama's fault.
The first installment of the Republicans' "previsionist" history unsurprisingly came from CNBC host and former Reagan advisor Larry Kudlow. That right-wing water carrier, who in April 2008 compared the deepening recession to an enema (calling it "an economic cleansing" and crowing that "recessions are therapeutic"), blamed a one-day 242-point drop on the Democratic Convention:
"Are the Denver Dems downing the stock market today? The Dow is off 230 points, starting right from the get-go. So-called market analysts are blaming financials and the credit crunch as they always do. But there's more.
Obama and Biden gave us plenty of class warfare in their Springfield, Ill., get together on Saturday. Tax the rich. Redistribute income and wealth. Go after all those corporate meanies. Trade protection...
...With the Denver Dems strutting their stuff, this could be a bumpy week for stocks. Did anyone say free-market capitalism is the best path to prosperity?"
With Obama's election on November 4th, that warning shot turned into a barrage. Within 48 hours, the mullahs of right-wingistan didn't merely blame Obama for two days of market declines; they traveled back in time to lay the entire Bush recession at his feet.
Echoing CNBC's Kudlow, Dick Morris claimed the markets will "continue to tank...not just because he's a radical, not just because he's a Democrat, but because he's going to raise the capital gains tax. While Fox News' Gretchen Carlson announced, "there's a lot of feeling in the market not reacting very well to the election of Barack Obama," Fred Barnes proclaimed, "There is great uncertainty out there about [Obama's] policies." And that Thursday, the always execrable Rush Limbaugh on November 6, 2008 laid it all at Obama's feet:
"The Obama recession is in full swing, ladies and gentlemen. Stocks are dying, which is a precursor of things to come. This is an Obama recession. Might turn into a depression. He hasn't done anything yet but his ideas are killing the economy. His ideas are killing Wall Street...As the Dow Jones continued its slide below 7,000 in March, 2009, the conservative catcalls become a chorus. CNN's Lou Dobbs, the self-proclaimed "Mr. Independent," announced on March 9, 2009, "This is now the Obama bear market." That same day, the Wall Street Journal declared, "The dismaying message here is that President Obama's policies have become part of the economy's problem." House Minority Leader John Boehner was among the Republican leaders bemoaning "the Obama economy" and insisted that since Obama's inauguration six weeks earlier, "Certainly the stock market hasn't acted very well." Later that month, the Journal's Daniel Henninger blasted Obama's "radical presidency":
...The market's down today because of the jobless numbers. That's how the Drive-Bys see it. Uhhhhh, we have the largest market plunge after an election in history. Thank you, man-child Barack Obama."
"A Democratic Party that was always anti-Wall Street is becoming anti- Main Street."
The drumbeat hardly ended there. On March 8, 2009, Fox News host Chris Wallace asked an uncomfortable John McCain, "Can this now fairly be called the Obama bear market?" That propaganda only echoed the Republican talking points regurgitated two days earlier by Bloomberg in article titled, "'Obama Bear Market' Punishes Investors as Dow Slumps" and the Wall Street Journal rant, "Obama's Radicalism is Killing the Dow." On March 6th, Sean Hannity was nearly orgasmic as he trumpeted the declines on Wall Street:
And our headline this Friday night: Welcome to Day Number 46 of "Obama's Bear Market." Now, that's what some news organizations are calling it tonight as the Dow Jones industrial average actually finished up about 30 points today at the end of a disastrous week.
According to Bloomberg News, the Dow has now dropped faster during the first six weeks of the Obama administration than any other administration in at least 90 years. But is that a surprise after weeks of talking down the economy?
But then a funny thing happened on the way to the Obama poor house: the stock market started its steady, upward swing. But for the conservative commentariat, of course, credit for that progress did not go to President Obama.
On April 18, 2009, Fox News displayed an on-screen caption proclaiming, "Stocks Rally as 'Tea Party' Rallies Take Nation by Storm. Host Brenda Buttner described the surge on Wall Street as "a Tea Party rally." As Media Matters recounted:
Buttner later asked Bulls & Bears commentator Gary B. Smith: "[P]art of the tea party was having voices heard. For so long, all we were hearing about was nationalizing banks and socialism and all that. Just having this out there, does that help Wall Street? Does that help the bulls?" Smith responded: "Absolutely, Brenda. You know, first of all, you heard for so many weeks and months that, you know, the whole country, you know, Obama won overwhelmingly, and it looked like, you know, we were going to go lockstep down this, you know, this socialist path." He continued: "And then we started having these tea parties," which, according to Smith, "shows that ... the normal, average American is just kind of sick of all the, you know, the tax-and-spend culture." He concluded: "So, I think it's all a good thing, and I think that it's helped the rally."
What was once the Bush recession is now the Bush recovery?
Dana Perino certainly thought so. As she put it that same week in 2009:
"You were just speaking earlier about the possibility that since we had a little bit of a better week on Wall Street does that spell a turnaround?" Perino said. "Can all the credit go specifically to President Obama? Well, I would say no. We are just going to have to take a while to let all of this settle down and let the policies that our administration and the new administration are trying to put in place have a chance to work."
Unfortunately for the entire Republican echo chamber, the policies of George W. Bush never did work. They didn't merely produce the lion's share of the U.S. national debt today and tomorrow. As The Economist revealed last week, President Bush bequeathed an economy far closer to collapse than first realized in January 2009:
The White House looked at the economic situation, sized up Congress, and took its shot. Unfortunately, the situation was far more dire than anyone in the administration or in Congress supposed.
Output in the third and fourth quarters fell by 3.7% and 8.9%, respectively, not at 0.5% and 3.8% as believed at the time. Employment was also falling much faster than estimated. Some 820,000 jobs were lost in January, rather than the 598,000 then reported. In the three months prior to the passage of stimulus, the economy cut loose 2.2m workers, not 1.8m. In January, total employment was already 1m workers below the level shown in the official data.
But as The Economist explained, those revelations didn't come until after Congress passed and President Obama signed the undersized stimulus bill. Neverthless, as the CBO and McCain economic adviser Mark Zandi concluded, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) as designed succeeded in saving jobs, reducing unemployment and boosting growth. An analysis last August by Zandi and Princeton economist Alan Blinder concluded that the federal government's actions prevented "Great Depression 2.0."
But in the conservatives' telling, Barack Obama gets none of the credit for averting that disaster. And according to the Republicans' Magic Calendar, the blame for the economic downturns of George W. Bush rests with the Democrats who came before and after him.