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Think Again: It’s Still the Bush Economy

SOURCE: Flickr/ Josh Self

Protesters hold signs at a Fox News-promoted tax day "tea party" yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama.

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The Treasury Department yesterday demanded an emergency recall of all U.S. dollars, so said the crack reporters in The Onion—“Just rubberband the money into neat piles, put it in the sack and drop it in your nearest mailbox.”

Meanwhile in the rest of the media, 100,000 people “tea bagged” their congressmen, senators, and even the White House. In reality they showed up for heavily promoted-by-Fox-News “Tea Parties,” protesting the Obama administration’s response to the economic crisis.

And somewhere in between these complementary surrealities, former President George W. Bush was probably “working” on his upcoming book. He has “written” more than 25,000 words already, according to what sound like extremely gullible or at least decidedly imprecise press reports. This weekend, The Washington Post offered a sneak-preview book report:

“Bush will focus on writing a book that explains his presidency in detail. He thinks his two terms will ultimately be judged on a series of major decisions: going to war with Iraq, selecting Cheney as a running mate and directing the response to Hurricane Katrina…. His book, scheduled for release in 2010 by Crown, will focus on about a dozen major choices and the reasoning behind them, aides said.”

Um, dude, the economy?

It’s as if Bush never heard of it. Many in the media appear to concur. Judging by the way our economic crisis has played out in the media, it’s as if Obama was the guy running the country into the ground for the past eight years, instead of the one trying to fix it for fewer than the past 90 days.

It’s certainly nice that Michelle Obama got a lovely gift of furniture from Laura Bush not long ago. But Barack Obama appears to be getting stuck with nothing but a great deal of unwanted baggage from his predecessor, at least that’s how it seems if you’re watching cable news, listening to the radio, or reading much of the political reporting in the mainstream media. And just 87 days into his first term (for heaven’s sake, the puppy just arrived), the press doesn’t seem to recognize that this is a hand-me-down economy.

The “Tea Parties” mark the latest strategy in blame-shifting. Fox News has been publicizing the infamous “Tea Parties” for the past week and a half, airing—according to Media Matters—at least 73 in-show and commercial promotions for their coverage of the protest, not to mention 20 segments about the parties. Yesterday, Neil Cavuto spent hours covering a Sacramento “Tea Party,” and Glenn Beck covered the protest at the Alamo, so Fox viewers wouldn’t have to miss a moment of homegrown populist rage.

Never mind that it was the Bush administration that originally decided to bail out the four largest banks in America, AIG, and the automobile industry well before Obama won the election. And never mind, more importantly, that it was the Bush’s administration’s policy and ideological principles, favoring deregulation at any cost, that rested at the heart of bad economic decision after bad economic decision, and helped cause the crisis in the first place. What’s more, Bush and company were AWOL per usual when presented with the opportunity to address, even fix, the risky subprime lending industry. (Alas, in Fox’s defense, and to paraphrase CNN’s Anderson Cooper, it’s hard to think when you’re tea-bagging.)

“Obama’s speech [on the economy] came on Day 85 of his presidency, and after the spate of media attention to come when he hits the 100-day mark, Obama will own the economy in a very real political sense,” reported Eamon Javers in yesterday’s Politico. But, according to many in the media, Obama has been the proud owner of a broken economy for quite a while. On March 6, Bloomberg News ran a headline referring to the “Obama bear market,” alongside a story from reporter Eric Martin, who wrote, "President Barack Obama now has the distinction of presiding over his own bear market.” That evening, Fox News’ Sean Hannity introduced a segment with a “Welcome to Day Number 46 of ‘Obama’s Bear Market.’ Now, that’s what some news organizations are calling it tonight as the Dow Jones industrial average actually finished up about 30 points today at the end of a disastrous week.” On March 9, CNN’s Lou Dobbs used the same terminology: “The stock market has lost 20 percent since this president was sworn in. He has his own bear market. That’s the definition of a bear market, a 20 percent decline. This is now the Obama bear market”

But the “Obama Recession” rallying cry sounded months before President Obama moved in to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. On November 6, 2008, Rush Limbaugh spewed to his minions:

“The Obama recession is in full swing, ladies and gentlemen. Stocks are dying, which is a precursor of things to come. This is an Obama recession. Might turn into a depression. He hasn’t done anything yet but his ideas are killing the economy. His ideas are killing Wall Street…. He’s causing it! He is causing the sinking economy.“

Now Obama is a talented fellow, no doubt, but how he created the economic house of cards that started crashing in slow-motion all around us during the 2008 election still remains to be explained. As the Nobel laureate economist Joe Stiglitz explained back in 2007, well before AIG became the media darling it is today:

“The administration crows that the economy grew—by some 16 percent—during its first six years, but the growth helped mainly people who had no need of any help, and failed to help those who need plenty. A rising tide lifted all yachts. Inequality is now widening in America, and at a rate not seen in three-quarters of a century. A young male in his 30s today has an income, adjusted for inflation, that is 12 percent less than what his father was making 30 years ago. Some 5.3 million more Americans are living in poverty now than were living in poverty when Bush became president. America’s class structure may not have arrived there yet, but it’s heading in the direction of Brazil’s and Mexico’s.”

Noam Scheiber, back in 2002, told a story of how Bush ideology mixed dangerously with its economic policy

“It wasn’t long after the inauguration of George W., however, that the divide between the politicos at NEC [the National Economic Council] and the economists at CEA [the Council of Economic Advisors] broke down altogether. While the campaign’s top economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, was quickly installed as NEC director and assistant to the president for economic policy, CEA lacked a chairman for more than a month. So Lindsey began filling the void. ‘Lindsey came and started to tell us he’d like to work with CEA really closely, that he would like us to start a weekly memo to him,’ says one former staff member.

“This posed a big problem,” Scheiber wrote. “After all, not only was Lindsey in a political job, but he was the primary author of Bush’s tax cut and had earned a reputation as something of an ideologue.”

Oh, and by the way, The L.A. Times reported this week that if Congress approves the latest supplemental funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as expected, the Iraq war will have surpassed the cost of Vietnam to become the second most expensive conflict in U.S. history, behind only World War II. But never mind that either…

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College, a Nation columnist, and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His seventh book, Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America, was recently published by Viking. He blogs, occasionally, at http://www.thenation.com/blogs/altercation.

Danielle Ivory is a reporter and producer for the American News Project. She lives in Washington, DC.

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This is part of a regular column: Think Again

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