It’s probably safe to say no publication has more consistently promoted the idea that “George W. Bush is on the ballot” in 2012 than the Washington Monthly. And that goes beyond the usual issue of the Bush administration’s responsibility for the Great Recession. We’ve argued that the 2012 campaign closely resembles the 2000 precedent in the specific policies and agendas of the GOP nominees, and the likely trajectory of the country if Romney wins. That’s why we’ve published and promoted the e-book, Elephant in the Room: Washington in the Bush Years. We’ve been here before.
But as election day approaches, there’s a final parallel that’s worth underlining: Romney is emulating Bush’s mendacious claim to be a “uniter not a divider,” and far more moderate than his party. As Paul Glastris reminds readers in the Editor’s Note in the upcoming November/December issue of the magazine (a sneak preview is available here), W. relied a lot on misleading voters about his relationship with his party:
One early summer day in 2000 I was summoned to the Oval Office along with several other White House staffers to get instructions from President Bill Clinton on what he wanted to say in his upcoming speech at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, a speech I was assigned to cowrite. But the president was in political strategist mode that day, and in the midst of downloading his thoughts on the speech he launched into a long soliloquy about the dynamics of the presidential contest and the nature of the man Al Gore was up against, Texas Governor George W. Bush. “Let me tell you something,” he said at one point. “Bush is a lot more conservative than people realize.”
The Big Dog certainly got that right, and the scary but unmistakable thing is that the Republican Party which Mitt Romney is trying to distance himself from at the last minute (rhetorically, though not substantively in any major way) is if anything considerably more conservative than it was in 2000. And if there’s any actual split between Romney and his party, it will only produce incompetent and dystfunctional government, as it often did when W. tried to exhibit “compassion” in order to appeal to swing constituencies:
The ideological contradictions unleashed within the GOP during those years have only grown. We see it in the increasingly stormy and dysfunctional relationship between the corporate and Tea Party wings of the party, in the freak show that was the 2012 GOP primary, and in the bottomless, robotic mendacity of the Mitt Romney campaign.
Yep, we’ve heard it all before. And as someone who was on to Bush’s game in 2000, and thinks he won (or to put it more accurately, succeeded in being inaugurated) because Democrats let him become the candidate of “safe change,” the possibility that Romney will succeed in the exact same scam is maddening.
Every voter should think about ol’ W. when they go to vote this year, and ask themselves: “Do we want to go back down that road again?”
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, November 2, 2012
CNN’s Candy Crowley made a noteworthy comment on the air last night, and we’ve heard similar remarks from other media figures quite a bit lately. The subject was President Obama’s prospects for a second term.
“He has to buck history, number one, a president with that kind of high unemployment rate has never been re-elected at 9 percent.”
At first blush, the observation is plainly false. Franklin Delano Roosevelt won a second term when unemployment was at 17%.
In fairness, though, Crowley probably just misspoke, and meant to refer to the post-Depression era. But even if we give her the benefit of the doubt here, the observation is largely pointless.
As a factual matter, it’s true that every president since FDR who’s won re-election has seen an unemployment rate below 7.2%. Will the unemployment rate fall below 7.2% by Election Day 2012? No one, anywhere, believes this is even remotely realistic.
But the context matters, and the media routinely pretends it doesn’t exist. No president since FDR has won with a high unemployment rate because no president since FDR has had to govern at a time of a global economic crisis like the Great Depression or the Great Recession. The U.S. has seen plenty of downturns over the last eight decades, but financial collapses are fairly rare, produce far more severe conditions, and take much longer to recover from.
Of course the unemployment rate won’t be below 7.2%. Under the circumstances and given the calamity Obama inherited, that’s impossible.
The more relevant question is what Americans are willing to tolerate and consider in context. In 1934, during FDR’s first midterms, the unemployment rate was about 22%. The public was thrilled — not because a 22% unemployment rate is good news, but because it had come down considerably from 1932. By 1936, when FDR was seeking re-eleciotn, the unemployment rate was about 17%. How can an incumbent president win re-election with a 17% unemployment rate? Because things were getting better, not worse.
That’s obviously the challenge for President Obama. The numerical thresholds are largely irrelevant — comparing the current economic circumstances to what other modern presidents have dealt with is silly. The more relevant metric is directional — are things better or getting worse by the time voters head to the polls, and if worse, who gets the blame.
What’s more, let’s also not lose sight of sample sizes. CNN’s Crowley made it seem as if no American president has ever won a second term with this high an unemployment rate. But even if we limit the analysis to the post-FDR era, as Dana Houle explained a couple of months ago, “Since FDR only Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and the two Bush’s have been elected president and then sought reelection. It’s hard to draw big conclusions from a sample of seven.”
If the media is preoccupied with this metric, it will shape the public’s perceptions and help drive the campaign. Here’s hoping news outlets come to realize how incomplete this picture is.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 4, 2011