The Bush Economy

THE BUSH ECONOMY….I’ve never been able to work up much interest in watching the Sunday morning chat shows, but a friend of mine who was surfing around yesterday says that the phrase “Clinton recession” was all over the place. It’s the Bushies’ latest talking point.

This Orwellian phrase is based on an absurd attempt to retroactively declare that the recession started in December 2000 (Clinton) instead of March 2001 (Bush), a 12-week change that obviously makes no difference to anything. But the interesting thing here isn’t so much the technical arguments over the starting date of the recession as the fact that Republicans are now tacitly acknowledging that the economy isn’t in great shape and are flinging some mud against the wall to see if they can blame it on somebody else.

Up until now, you see, their favored storyline has been to deny that there’s really anything wrong. For months conservative commenters have been peddling an endless supply of theories designed to demonstrate that the official employment figures are wrong and the economy is really doing much better than anyone thinks. The official numbers, they said, don’t pick up job gains from small firms; don’t pick up job gains from the self-employed; don’t pick up job gains from outsourcing; don’t pick up job gains from aesthetic professions; don’t pick up something. Two themes are common to most of these explanations: (a) goverment statisticians are idiots who haven’t thought of any of this and (b) the authors provide exactly zero evidence for their pet theories aside from a bit of surface plausibility and a few anecdotes.

Folks like Brad DeLong and the EPI have been doing yeoman work demonstrating that none of these explanations hold water, and even Alan Greenspan, who has previously shown a convincing willingness to shill for the Bush administration, has thrown cold water on the notion that official statistics aren’t picking up the wonders of a tax-cut driven Bush recovery. Even after trying to take into account every possible explanation, he said, what remained was that the standard government statistics are the best indicators we have. There just aren’t very many new jobs being created.

And so it appears that the Bush apologists may finally be giving up on this line of attack. After all, if even Alan Greenspan won’t back them up, it’s pretty hopeless, isn’t it?

Instead, they’re going to blame it on Clinton. But this is truly a desperation tactic. It means they’re admitting that the economy is pretty weak, it means they’re admitting that three years of tax cuts haven’t helped things much, and it means they’re admitting that things aren’t going to get much better between now and the election.

That’s the subtext of trying to pin the blame on a guy who hasn’t been president for over three years: they’re running scared. And it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of guys.