Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush hoped to use his Republican National Convention appearance to rehabilitate his brother's shattered reputation. After claiming on Sunday that it was "unbecoming" for Barack Obama to continue to "blame others" for the economic calamity he inherited from George W. Bush, on Thursday Jeb suggested the President should be "spanked" for pointing the finger at Dubya.
Now, there are only a few problems with this approach, not the least of which is that most Americans agree with Obama. In 2004, then Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney defended President Bush from John Kerry by protesting that "The people of America recognize that the slowdown in jobs that occurred during the early years of the Bush administration were the result of a perfect storm." Worse still, even now Team Mitt whines that "Governor Romney inherited an economy that was losing jobs each month" back in the Bay State. As it turns out, President George W. Bush and his acolytes have never stopped blaming Bill Clinton for the GOP's lost decade.
Jeb's brother made that point during his final press conference on January 12, 2009. During a month in which Americans would only later learn that the U.S. economy shed a staggering 820,000 jobs, President Bush passed the buck forwards--and backwards:
"In terms of the economy, look, I inherited a recession, I am ending on a recession. In the meantime there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth. And I defended tax cuts when I campaigned, I helped implement tax cuts when I was President, and I will defend them after my presidency as the right course of action. And there's a fundamental philosophical debate about tax cuts. Who best can spend your money, the government or you? And I have always sided with the people on that issue."
But while that fundamental philosophical question is still the subject of heated debate, the facts should not be.
After all, Bush nearly doubled the national debt, as Republican majorities in Congress voted seven times to raise the debt ceiling during his tenure. The first modern President to cut taxes during wartime, Bush's tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were the single biggest driver of red ink during the last decade and, if made permanent, will be for the next. And the meager one million jobs created during his presidency represented what the Wall Street Journal deemed the "The Worst Track Record on Record."
Then there's Bush's claim that "I inherited a recession" from Bill Clinton. As the data show, it's not true. (He did inherit a 4.2% unemployment rate and budget surpluses.) But after ten years of perpetuation by the right-wing propaganda machine, the long-ago debunked myth has remained remarkably durable.
Back in 2001 the new Bush administration and its water carriers in the right-wing media weren't shy at all when it came to blaming the sluggish economy that spring on Bill Clinton. Unfortunately for their mythmaking, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) which officially declared the current Bush recession began in December 2007 also determined the George W. Bush's first recession actually began in March 2001. And the history of U.S. GDP shows that the old 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.
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."
Not leaving anything to chance, Fox News host Sean Hannity literally kept up the drumbeat for years, as this small sample shows:
"Clearly, we're out of the recession that President Bush inherited." (4/2/04)
"Stop me where I'm wrong. The president inherited a recession, the economic impact of 9/11 was tremendous on the economy, correct?" (4/6/04)
"[President George W. Bush] did inherit a recession." (5/3/04)
"[W]e got [the weak U.S. economy] out of the Clinton-Gore recession." (5/18/04)
"We got out of the Clinton-Gore recession." (5/27/04)
"We got out of the Clinton-Gore recession." (6/4/04)
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."
"We've never in this country had 55 straight months of job creation. We had that under President Bush before the bank failures of September...You know, I think he came in with a recession, he left with a recession."
In December 2009, conservative attack dog Mary Matalin served up a double-slander:
"I was there, we inherited a recession from President Clinton, and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation's history."
Even in its last throes, the Bush White House insisted the disasters which unfolded on its watch were unforeseeable. Just days before leaving office, Vice President Dick Cheney tried to deflect blame for the calamity on Wall Street and the deepening recession by declaring, "nobody anywhere was smart enough to figure that out" and "I don't know that anybody did." Then, Cheney magically converted failure into a virtue and ignorance into a shield in explaining away the Bush presidency:
"No, obviously, I wouldn't have predicted that. On the other hand I wouldn't have predicted 9/11, the global war on terror, the need to simultaneous run military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq or the near collapse of the financial system on a global basis, not just the U.S."
Of course, no one should be surprised that Jeb Bush feels the need to defend the miserable economic record that hangs over his future and his brother's past. As for Jeb's charge that President Obama's highlighting of the obvious is "unbecoming," Americans could be forgiven for resorting to the same three-word response Dick Cheney once uttered on the floor of the United States Senate.
"Go f**k yourself."
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)