Heading into the midterm election, President Obama continues to remind American voters that the nation’s economic problems began under previous management, and that he’s just trying to clean up the mess that was left behind. He also likes to point out that the GOP hasn’t exactly been helping in that effort.
“So after (Republicans) drove the car into the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want the keys back,” he said at a Democratic fundraiser last week. “No! You can’t drive! We don’t want to have to go back into the ditch! We just got the car out!”
That in turn has inspired pushback from Republicans, who insist that this far into his term, Obama himself ought to accept blame for persistent unemployment. Chris Wallace even brought it up in an interview on Fox News Sunday with Laura Bush, asking the former First Lady whether she’s bothered that “16 months into the presidency that the Obama administration still talks about the bad economy they inherited from your husband?”
Searching for a little context, I started looking into how the situation was handled by a previous president who also inherited a tough economy. Did conservative icon Ronald Reagan try to dump the blame on his predecessor at a similar point in his presidency?
Well yes, it turns out that he did. Consider the AP piece to the right, published Sept. 30, 1982. It documents the Reagan electoral strategy of blaming Democrats for leaving a mess, and for refusing to help him clean it up. In a portion not depicted because the blurry image can be a bit difficult to read, the story reads:
“To those critics who blame him for the economy’s troubles, Reagan said: ‘I must ask, did these modern day Rip Van Winkles really sleep through the America of 1980? Don’t they remember the unprecedented misery of double-digit inflation, climbing unemployment and record interest rates?’”
Again, that’s in September, 20 months into his term, and it was clearly a persistent theme for the Gipper. Another AP piece from that same month quotes Reagan from a press conference that month:
“I just wish those who bear such a heavy burden for overspending and taxing us into this recession could resist playing politics with the problems they caused and work with us to stay on course for a lasting recovery.”
With a changed word or two, you could imagine Obama saying the exact same thing. And so far, Americans seem to agree with him. In a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, 59 percent said that Bush, rather than Obama, is more to blame for the state of the economy. Just 25 percent put the blame on Obama.
(For the record, I think it’s far too simplistic to blame economic woes on any president, regardless of who he is. The current recession is a product of thousands of choices made over the past 20 years by presidents, congressmen, Fed chairmen, business leaders, union leaders, regulators, lobbyists and ordinary Americans. A president may have more ability to drive such decisions than any other single individual, but in the end he is still just one among many.)
UPDATE: According to CNN, the Federal Reserve “now expects U.S. gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic activity, to increase at an annual rate of between 3.2% and 3.7% in 2010. That’s up from the Fed’s previous estimate of between 2.8% and 3.5% in January.
GDP rose at a 3.2% annual rate in the first three months of this year, the government said last month.
At the same time, the Fed reduced its forecast for the nation’s unemployment rate to a range between 9.1% and 9.5% this year, versus 9.5% to 9.7% in January. The unemployment rate currently stands at 9.9%.