Not Even Bush Can Save Democrats From the Failing Economy

Running against Bush can't hide the lack of economic growth under Obama.


He’s baa-aack. No, not Brett Favre, I’m talking about George W. Bush. With the Obama administration’s “Recovery Summer” looking like the most inappropriately named thing since a Jersey Shore season shot in Miami, Democrats are resurrecting their favorite villain in the push up to the November elections.

August’s economic figures brought bad news for Democrats. Initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 to 500,000, the highest total since November. The unemployment rate has been stuck at about 9.5 percent for the past few months. The economy only managed to add about 80,000 jobs over the past three months, not enough to even keep up with population growth, much less put a dent in the 8 million jobs necessary to achieve pre-recession levels. As if that wasn’t enough of a punch in the stomach, sales of existing homes plunged by 27 percent, the largest drop since figures were first compiled.

[See a roundup of editorial cartoons about the economy.]

Sure doesn’t feel like a “Recovery Summer.” So can we expect at least expect a “Fall Resurgence?” All signs point to no. Even if you are a stimulus-believer, two-thirds of the programs funds have already been spent. As Josh Bivens, economist at the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, told ABC News, “[economic growth is] going to drop rapidly for the rest of this year and the Recovery Act is going to add zero. It will have run out," The economy is looking bleak, and so too are Democrats’ chances for success in November.

So what do the messaging geniuses at the White House do? Blame Bush. Democrats have been tossing around the Bush boogeyman like stimulus dollars over the past few days.

  • Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen said John Boehner’s recent speech criticizing Democrats’ failure to jump-start the economy was “Exhibit A that they want to take a U-turn back to Bush policies that failed…No longer is the Republican plan a blank slate. Their proposal is Bush economics on steroids.”
  • Vice President Joe Biden got into the act, saying “[t]hey think the policies they had in place during the Bush years--the ones Mr. Boehner helped craft and sell--were the right ones.”
  • The White House is circulating talking points urging Congressional Democrats to focus on how Republicans are “offer[ing] more of the same failed economic policies,” and arguing that “[Americans] don’t want to go back. They want to move forward.”
  • The flurry of Bush bashings leaves me wondering, is the Republican agenda really an attempt to return to the glory days of Bush policies, or are Democrat attacks really just an attempt to return to the glory days of having a Bush punching bag for a President? Evidence suggests it’s the latter.

    A recently released Democratic polling memo says that “For progressives to win the debate over the economic future, we must: 1. Marry conservative economic ideas to those of President Bush. Sadly for Democrats the public isn’t buying it. As the memo laments, “only 25% of Americans believe that if Republicans return to power in Congress their economic agenda will mean a return to former President Bush’s economic policies.” In fact, the poll shows that 65 percent of respondents said that a Republican Congress will promote a “new economic agenda.”

    What do you do when your message isn’t resonating? If you’re a Democrat you yell louder. The fact is, President Obama and congressional Democrats are out of ammo when it comes to fixing the economy. As Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s told the Washington Post, “[t]hey have played their policy hand, and they’ve got to hope it’s good enough.” With the public vehemently anti-deficit and many vulnerable incumbents unwilling to risk further voter backlash, Democrats feel like they have few alternatives. In other words, playing the Bush card, despite the low odds of success, is the only play Democrats feel that they have left.

    • Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons on the economy.
    • See which industries give the most to Congress.
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