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GOP Takes Credit, Deflects Blame on Economy. Again.

January 24, 2011

Two new surveys released today are just the latest signs the U.S. economic recovery is gaining steam. While a USA Today panel found "nine of 10 economists said they're more optimistic than three months ago," the National Association for Business Economics reported that "more firms expressing positive hiring plans than in over a decade." But to hear Republican leaders tell it, the good news is all thanks to the GOP. And if that transparently false claim sounds familiar, it should. After trying to pin responsibility on Bill Clinton for the first Bush recession, Republicans tried to blame Barack Obama for the second.
Over the past year, the U.S. economy added 1.1 million new jobs overall, including 1.3 million in the private sector, which enjoyed 12 straight months of growth. By last June, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the Obama stimulus program had saved or created up to 3.3 million jobs, lowered the unemployment rate by as much as 1.8% and boosted GDP by 4.5%. A recent analysis of Census data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) revealed that federal programs kept 4.5 million Americans out of poverty in 2009. For his part, former John McCain adviser Mark Zandi in August concluded that the combined federal interventions beginning in the fall of 2008 prevented the Great Recession from becoming Depression 2.0:

We find that its effects on real GDP, jobs, and inflation are huge, and probably averted what could have been called Great Depression 2.0. For example, we estimate that, without the government's response, GDP in 2010 would be about 11.5% lower, payroll employment would be less by some 8½ million jobs, and the nation would now be experiencing deflation.

Looking at future quarterly growth rates now expected to top 3.2%, an upbeat Zandi announced today:

"This growth is now becoming self-reinforcing. Businesses are going to take their stronger sales and begin to hire more aggressively, generate more income, and we're off and running."

But as Politico and Washington Monthly explain, Republicans who opposed those measures tooth and nail are now taking credit for the growing economic progress those Democratic initiatives produced.
As Ben Smith wrote Monday, "19 days in, GOP leadership takes credit for job growth." Trumpeting the improving jobs outlook, Eric Cantor's office issued a statement claiming:

THERE ARE THE JOBS: Republicans Prevent Massive Tax Increase, Economy Begins to Improve.

In response, Steve Benen lamented, "even by the standards of the most shameless hack, this is farcical," adding, "Worse, it's part of a growing pattern."

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), for example, argued two weeks ago, for example, that the recent good news -- private-sector job growth, big corporate profits, major gains in the major Wall Street indexes -- that occurred throughout 2010 were the result of Republican tax policies. As Kyl sees it, business leaders in early 2010 predicted the tax policy agreement crafted in late 2010, and started growing the economy based on their future-predicting abilities.
On Fox News last week, House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) offered a related argument, insisting that indications of economic improvements are "in large part" because Republicans "won our majority and we're pursuing pro-growth policies."

And while Republicans taketh credit, they also giveth away blame.
Months before Barack Obama was even elected President, conservative mouthpieces began propagating the "Obama Bear Market" myth, claiming that his supposed "socialism" would "tank the market." Now, with the Dow nearing 12,000 (a gain of roughly 50% since Obama took the oath of office), Republicans are predictably silent.
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...
...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."

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":

"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."

But it was Neil Cavuto of the Fox Business Channel who takes the cake for trying to claim that, well, black is white. As the Dow soared past 10,000 last October, Cavuto asked:

What was once the Bush recession is now the Bush recovery?

And so it goes. On his March 18, 2010 show, Larry Kudlow asked CNBC's Jim Cramer about his belief that "Obamacare will topple the stock market." Since then, the Dow has jumped another 2.1%. But with George W. Bush in the White House in April 2007, Kudlow expressed a different view of what the Wall Street's performance said about presidential leadership on the economy. This morning, Paul Krugman helpfully recalled Kudlow's words:

"I have long believed that stock markets are the best barometer of the health, wealth and security of a nation. And today's stock market message is an unmistakable vote of confidence for the president."

Of course, for Kudlow's ilk, the president first has to be a Republican to get that unmistakable vote of confidence. Democrats exist, as the Bush administration showed, only for attributing blame.

During a final press conference characterized by his trademark petulance, George W. Bush repeated the myth that opened his presidency. Defending his failed stewardship of the economy, President Bush falsely claimed as he headed out the door, "I inherited a recession." Sadly for the first MBA president, the National Bureau of Economic Research, the same NEBR which declared the current Bush recession began in December 2007, concluded his first started in March 2001.
Of course, that didn't stop the double-dipping President Bush from pretending otherwise. Responding to a reporter's assertion that "a lot of people, including Republicans, including some members of your own administration, have been disappointed at the execution of some of your ideals, whether Iraq or Katrina or the economy," Bush delivered a whopper made to order in rationalizing the worst eight-year economic performance in modern presidential history:

"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."

Needless to say, George W. Bush did not inherit a recession from President Clinton. But after eight years of perpetuation by the right-wing propaganda machine, the debunked myth has remained remarkably durable.
Back in 2001 the new Bush administration and its amen corner in the right-wing media weren't shy at all when it came to blaming the sluggish economy that spring on Bill Clinton. While the NEBR determined the George W. Bush's first recession actually began in March 2001, the history of U.S. GDP shows that the traditional 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."
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."
Now as Barack Obama prepares to assume the presidency, the right-wing noise machine is at again, though this time with a twist. Literally within hours of his election, conservative mouthpieces including Rush Limbaugh, Fred Barnes and Dick Morris began blaming Obama for the current Bush recession.
Just in case, President Bush launched a final round of myth-making in December 2008. In one of his first exit interviews on ABC, Dubya laughably blamed Bill Clinton for both of the Bush recessions:

"You know, I'm the President during this period of time, but I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived in President, during I arrived in President."

Now, Republicans would have us believe, the Obama recovery from Bush's economic calamity is well underway only because of their arrival as majority three weeks ago.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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