The facts behind the ‘blame game’

Chris Cillizza believes President Obama played the “Bush Blame Game” this morning.

In an interview with radio host Tom Joyner on Tuesday morning, President Obama engaged in a bit of blame-game politics.

Asked by Joyner about the current struggling state of the economy, Obama replied: “George Bush left us a $1 trillion deficit, and so it’s a lot harder to climb out of this hole when we don’t have a lot of money in the federal coffers.”

The “blame Bush” strategy is one that continues to have somewhat surprising political legs — even two and a half years after the Republican president left the political stage.

That last point is entirely accurate. There are several national polls that have been released in recent months showing that many — and in some cases, most — Americans hold the failed former president responsible for the national economic and fiscal ills.

But what’s troubling about reports like Cillizza’s is that they neglect to mention the relevant details — namely, that what Obama said is correct. The president’s comments on the radio this morning may or may not have been part of a “blame Bush strategy”; I can’t say. But I can say that the president’s comments were true.

Indeed, if anything, Obama understated the case. Bush didn’t leave Obama with a $1 trillion deficit; he left the president with a $1.3 trillion deficit. Bush’s legacy is worse than Obama suggested.

What I’ve never been able to wrap my head around is how the president is supposed to answer questions like these in a way that will satisfy elements of the media establishment. If Obama is asked about cleaning up the budget mess, and he mentions that he’s not the one who created the mess in the first place, some media figures pounce — there he goes again, blaming Bush.

But if Bush deserves the blame, and the criticism is accurate, why exactly should Obama be reluctant to say so?

“George Bush left us a $1 trillion deficit, and so it’s a lot harder to climb out of this hole when we don’t have a lot of money in the federal coffers.”

Does it not matter that Obama was telling the truth, or does meta-analysis about strategy automatically trump the facts?

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.