The Bush Economy And The Myth Of The Clinton Recession

It's official. According to a statement from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the United States has been in a recession since December 2007.

chart_post_ww2_recessions_946ce.gifIt's official. According to a statement from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the United States has been in a recession since December 2007. But while that conclusion from the non-governmental NEBR differs from the traditional definition of two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction, by any accounting the Bush recession will be well underway by the end of this year. And by either measure, the conservative talking point of a Clinton recession "inherited by George W. Bush" remains a myth.

The NEBR declaration is just the latest confirmation of the severe Bush downturn. Last week, the Commerce Department revised its third quarter (July through October) gross domestic product decline to 0.5% from 0.3%, while two recent forecasts predicted a Q4 drop-off of at least 3%. Two weeks ago, the quarterly Survey of Professional Forecasters by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia concluded that the United States already entered a recession in April. Today, the NEBR's analysis, which includes a broader range of factors beyond GDP, concluded that the U.S. has been in a recession since December 2007. As CNN reported:

The NBER said that the deterioration in the labor market throughout 2008 was one key reason why it decided to state that the recession began last year.

Employers have trimmed payrolls by 1.2 million jobs in the first 10 months of this year. On Friday, economists are predicting the government will report a loss of another 325,000 jobs for November.

The NBER also looks at real personal income, industrial production as well as wholesale and retail sales. All those measures reached a peak between November 2007 and June 2008, the NBER said.

Facing the avalanche of grim news Monday, the White House still refuses to use the term "recession" to describe the economic calamity that Barack Obama will inherit from George W. Bush. Two months after press secretary Dana Perino claimed, "I don’t think anybody could tell you right now if we’re in a recession or not" and one month after he himself rejected a question as to whether the U.S. was in a recession as "irrelevant," Bush spokesman Tony Fratto today said of the slowdown, "What's important is what is being done about it."

Of course, back in 2001 the new Bush administration and its amen corner in the right-wing media weren't shy at all when it came to blaming a sluggish economy on Bill Clinton.

While the NEBR determined the George W. Bush's first recession actually began in March 2001, the history of U.S. GDP shows that the traditional definition of recession - two straight quarters of GDP decline - was never met during either the last year of the Clinton presidency or the first of Bush's tenure:

GDP_usdoc_245f3.JPG

Undeterred, the Republican Party and its echo chamber have for years continued to perpetuate the myth that President Bush "inherited a recession" from Bill Clinton. As Media Matters detailed, the sound bite was introduced before George W, Bush even took the oath of office. On December 3, 2000, Dick Cheney told Tim Russert "I think so" when asked if "we're on the front edge of a recession." Within days, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich ("the Bush-Cheney administration should be planning on having inherited a recession as the farewell gift from Clinton") and House Majority Leader Dick Armey ("this new president may inherit a recession") followed suit. By August 2002, Mitch Daniels, Bush's head of the Office of Management and Budget, announced on Fox News:

"He [Bush] inherited that recession from the previous administration. Case is closed."

Predictably, the drumbeat from the Bush team was reproduced with zero distortion from the always reliable media. While Fox News' Sean Hannity made the argument during the November 2002 mid-term election "this president -- you know and I know and everybody knows -- inherited a recession," CNN made the case for him two months earlier. On September 18th, 2002, CNN's John King announced, "That's why the president, in almost every speech, tries to remind voters he inherited a recession." Five days later, his colleague Suzanne Malveaux regurgitated the same line, reporting, "[Bush] took up that very issue earlier today, saying -- reminding voters that the administration inherited the recession."

To be sure, the Republican propaganda effort worked its magic. In 2004, pollster Geoff Garin showed that 62% of Americans believed the demonstrably false claim that an "economic recession actually began during Bill Clinton's administration, before George W. Bush took office."

Now as Barack Obama prepares to assume the presidency, the right-wing noise machine is at again, though this time with a twist. Literally within hours of his election, conservative mouthpieces including Rush Limbaugh, Fred Barnes and Dick Morris began blaming Obama for the current Bush recession.

Of course, the numbers, unlike the Republicans who willfully ignore them, don't lie. By almost any measure, the American economy is (or within days will be said to be) in recession. And this time, there will be no doubt as to its paternity.

This is George W. Bush's recession.

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