Blame where blame is due

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.