The problem with the blame game

David Frum notes today that conservatives are certain that President Obama’s policies are responsible for the weak economy. Frum asks a good question: “Which policies?” (thanks to D.R. for the tip)

Obama’s only tax increases — those contained in the Affordable Care Act – do not go into effect until 2014. Personal income tax rates and corporate tax rates are no higher today than they have been for the past decade. The payroll tax has actually been cut by 2 points. Total federal tax collections have dropped by 4 points of GDP since 2007, from 18+% to 14+%, the lowest rate since the Truman administration.

If so minded, you could describe Barack Obama as the biggest tax cutter in American history.

We have not seen a major surge in federal regulation, at least by the usual rough metrics: the page count of the Federal Register has risen by less than 5% since George W. Bush’s last year in office. Trade remains as free as it was a decade ago.

The Affordable Care Act won’t be fully implemented for a few years. Oil production has increased. The right may want to blame Dodd-Frank reforms, but the economy grew, Wall Street went up, and more jobs were created after its passage. Conservatives like to whine about spending, but as Frum noted, the right’s economic theory rests on the notion that excessive spending leads to inflation, and inflation is basically non-existent.

Now, I realize for much of the country, this level of analysis is beside the point. For many Americans, Obama is the president, the president is supposed to be powerful, and conditions are poor. Ergo, blame the guy in the Oval Office, whether it makes sense or not. That kind of thinking may prove persuasive, and may even cost the president re-election.

But for those interested in a credible debate, Frum’s question is a good one. Republicans blame Obama, but can they explain what it is, specifically, they don’t like? They can point the finger, but can they go into any depth?