Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 24, 2010

BLAME WHERE BLAME IS DUE.... The headline on the Politico was no doubt meant to be provocative: "Obama campaigns against Bush -- again." The lede delivers the message that Republicans and much of the media establishment will no doubt embrace.

President Barack Obama is trying to ride the wave of anti-incumbency by taking on an unpopular politician steeped in the partisan ways of Washington.

It doesn't matter that George W. Bush left office 16 months ago.

The White House's mid-term election strategy is becoming clear -- pit the Democrats of 2010 against the Republicans circa 2006, 2008 and 2009, including Bush.

It's a lot to ask an angry, finicky electorate to sort out. And even if Obama can rightfully make the case that the economy took a turn for the worse under Bush's watch, he's already made it -- in 2008 and repeatedly in 2009.

It's not clear that voters still want to hear it.

Let's unpack this a bit, because I feel like we run into this analysis quite a bit, and it seems pretty misguided, despite its ubiquity.

First, the notion that Obama is campaigning against Bush is itself dubious. Indeed, I think it's backwards -- many Dems wish the president invested far more time in blaming his failed predecessor, not less. Looking through the entire 1,300-word Politico piece, how many examples are there of Obama "taking on" Bush/Cheney? Zero.

There was room for eight separate sources complaining about Obama blaming Bush for Bush's spectacular failures, but there wasn't room for some evidence to bolster the premise of the argument? Maybe that's because the trend isn't as common as we're supposed to believe.

Second, while it may not be clear what voters "still want to hear," it's worth noting that several recent polls continue to hold Bush far more responsible than Obama for the ongoing mess(es) the president inherited last year.

And third, there's the small matter of reality. Bush really is responsible for the ditch we're slowly crawling out of. The inconvenience of this detail does not undermine its accuracy. As Paul Krugman explained, "To demand that everyone let Bush off the hook for where we are now because 16 months have passed under his successor is to defy the overwhelming evidence of history."

Jon Chait concluded, "What's false is the Republican effort to imply that Obama caused the problems -- an argument that collapses upon the slightest empirical pressure. But somehow the standard here is not what's correct but what's polite, and it's impolite for Obama to blame Bush."

It's quite a scam.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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actually, i love the fact that politico had 8 sources but no examples: in the politico world, sources are all you need. it's fascinating in its rather demented way.

Posted by: howard on May 24, 2010 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

George Bush and his administration took us to the brink of economic disaster, international condemnation, lawless policy, and a one-party state!

16 months into the Obama administration, and the healing hasn't really begun! Any media outlet offering a lede suggesting the Bush catastrophe never happened, or is only being used as a foil, is on a fool's parade!

When the press becomes the deniers of the historical record in our society,
whale oil, beef hook! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on May 24, 2010 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

On January 21st of 2009, it was unfair of The Obomination Administration to blame Bush/Cheney for any economic problems.

Everyone knows that all of the economic problems in our country when George Bush left office were a result of the disastrous Clinton administration. Except those that were the fault of the Carter administration.

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on May 24, 2010 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

"It's quite a scam."
Politico's click-whoring? I agree that's a scam, too.

Posted by: Uli Kunkel on May 24, 2010 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Bush's culpability goes way beyond his "policies" and such, which were bad enough: he left hundreds (?) of "moles" in the government, most of whom are still there (like in MMS) and still doing great harm. They sure as hell didn't leave office 16 months ago. Not only that, there are plenty of "regulations" and data hidings and all kinds of other detritus that can't be disappeared by wand or arm-waving.


Posted by: Neil B on May 24, 2010 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

It's very simple. Presidents want their policies to have long-lasting effects. It is how they cement their respective places in history. Look how Republicans claim it was Reagan's policies that led to the fall of Communism in the years after he left office, and the growth the US experienced in the 1990s. But now we are supposed to believe that the effect of Bush's policies wore off in a matter of months?

Posted by: John Dillinger on May 24, 2010 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Guess this means today's media wouldn't have tolerated Reagan's "Morning in America" campaign for its explicit references to Carter's record "four short years ago."

Posted by: hijokr on May 24, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK


This is Politico we're talking about. This is par for the course. Politico is to the blogosphere as Fox News is to TV and the WaPo to the printed media. They are all Republican house organs masquerading as legitimate news sources.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on May 24, 2010 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't know there was 16 month statute of limitations on criminal negligence.
This is really good news for career criminals all across the nation. Hooray!

Posted by: Govt Skeptic on May 24, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

And not only are they shirking Bush as proper blamee, the RW outlets put out falsehoods like loans to poor people forced by the G. on helpless banks etc. led to the housing crash, etc. The latter was a small cut of the total, and the real damage came from CDSs and CDOs etc.

Posted by: Neil B on May 24, 2010 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Well, we're not supposed to blame Bush for torture, because that would be looking backward not forward. So why should we blame him for the economic mess? Sometimes it's best to just keep on walking.

Posted by: somethingblue on May 24, 2010 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK


How quaint! The very notion that reality should have any bearing on the political press corps is really kind of cute.

On a completely different matter, if the statute of limitations on bringing Western civilization to the brink of collapse is 16 months, then how much longer will is it until Barack Obama can be forgiven for being neighbors with the Ayers family?

Posted by: Chesire11 on May 24, 2010 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, the message I got from the recent Pennsylvania elections is that blaming Bush is still quite effective and the Democrats should do it as much as possible.

Posted by: manwith7talents on May 24, 2010 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

And Politico is relevant because........?

Posted by: berttheclock on May 24, 2010 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

manwith7talents nails it. Blaming Bush is both relevant and effective. Don't run away from a successful plan. What I want to read is the Politico story quoting 8 Republican operatives claimiing that blaming Bush is irrelevant and isn't effective.

Waiting 10, 9, 8, ....

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 24, 2010 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

If the Republicans had broken with the Bush-Cheney policies, then they and their house organ,. Politico, would have an argument that it's unfair to bring up Bush.

But they have not broken with Bush policies. They have doubled down on Bush policies and become even more extreme.

They are the Bush Republicans, pushing Bush policies on America.

Posted by: Andy Olsen on May 24, 2010 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

If I may, I'd like to go ahead and blame President Sarah Palin for the earth being disintegrated by in 2035.

Posted by: chrenson on May 24, 2010 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

The writer of this Politico piece is truly stretching. When has it ever been true that a current president *did not* run against the oppositions last sitting president? Whenever I hear this kind of crap it reminds me of Bushie saying "History will determine" what is thought of him. Is that because the Republicans seem hell bent on warping history, making lil' Bushie seem like he did a heckuva job? No wonder the Republicans in Texas can't keep their hands off the history textbooks!

Posted by: Limbaughs Diabetes on May 24, 2010 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

I know some repubs who blame Jimmy Carter for our problems. How sad is that?

Posted by: gus on May 24, 2010 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

I for one think it is high time we stopped blaming the Japanese for Pear Harbor.

I'm no historian, but I think it has been AT LEAST 16 months since that happened. . .

Posted by: DAY on May 24, 2010 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

I have no problem blaming Bush. Obama blaming Bush? That's a different matter.

People didn't cause the financial crisis. Policies did. Whether Obama can credibly blame Bush depends heavily on Obama's distance from Bush policies.

So, what were the major policies that lead to the financial crisis? Among them:

(1) Over-the-counter and unregulated derivatives trades.
(2) Cheap capital provided by the Fed.
(3) Credit Default Swaps used as unregulated securities insurance.
(4) Loosening of lending standards.
(5) "Too Big To Fail" financial institutions.
(6) No regulation of Credit Default Swaps.
(7) Conflicts of Interests for ratings agencies.

Of these -- and similar -- factors, how many did Obama or his economics team oppose, pre-crisis? How many have they honestly tried to fix since the crisis?

If Obama wants to blame Bush, that's fine. But he can't complain that he "inherited" the problem when he largely supported the policies that were the root causes of the problem.

Posted by: square1 on May 24, 2010 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

During Clintons presidency, I heard many republicans saying that the economy under Clinton was a direct result of Reagan-Bush 41. Using that logic, Reagans economy should have been the result of Carters economic policy. That would also mean that Bush 43 economy would have been Clintons policies. See where this is leading? This economy SHOULD be a result of Bush 43 economy. After all, don't you remember that before the Bush tax cuts, we were all told that it would take at least 10 years for those tax cuts to take effect. Now that the reality does not match the rhetoric, the words are IT IS NOT OUR FAULT, It is the fault of your newly elected Socialist,Nazi, Communist etc President.
I pointed thest facts out to a few conservative sights, and was told, thank you for the post, but please stick to the subject of our posting. Their postings were more or less blaming the poor and elderly ,disabled, for Government being their daddy, but didn't want to hear about the fact that ALL Government bailouts were under Republican Presidents. The hypocrisy is incredible.

Posted by: scoobiejim on May 24, 2010 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

square1, fair enough comment in its general thrust, but you miss one key issue: if george bush hadn't run substantial general fund deficits during the growth years, we would have much more fiscal scope to do something about the underperforming economy today.

in a very real way, bush did "starve the beast," and the un and under employed are going to pay the price for many years (as will society at large), and that is something that can totally be laid at bush's door.

Posted by: howard on May 24, 2010 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

And even if Obama can rightfully make the case that the economy took a turn for the worse under Bush's watch,


Okay. I'll bite.

How does Politco define "a turn for the worse" that Dubya escapes the wild-eyed, groundless allegation we liberals keep levying?

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on May 24, 2010 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

Look, this is Politico we are talking about.

Posted by: Sammy on May 24, 2010 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

More to the point, Republican candidates now propose the same policy positions that were pursued under the Bush administration. So it is reasonable and appropriate to juxtapose Obama administration positions against those of Bush, since that would be what we'd be going back to if the GOP is given power again.

It would be unfair to run against Bush if the GOP had moved on to a different agenda, with new ideas. Though to be fair, the GOP has moved, much further to the right. So perhaps it would be better to run against someone with similar positions to those they now support. Like, say, Attila the Hun.

Posted by: Baldrick on May 25, 2010 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK



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