bush mendacity watch
WaPo reporter Dana Milbank catches Bush in a couple of whoppers, including a recent claim that the current economic doldrums are all Clinton's fault.
"Two-and-a-half years ago, we inherited an economy in recession," he told donors at a Bush-Cheney '04 reception yesterday in Miami. He has raised the same accusation in fundraising appearances since mid-June in Washington, Georgia, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
It's a good applause line for a crowd of red-meat political supporters. The trouble is it's a case of what the president has called, in another context, revisionist history. The recession officially began in March of 2001 -- two months after Bush was sworn in -- according to the universally acknowledged arbiter of such things, the National Bureau of Economic Research. And the president, at other times, has said so himself.
The bad news came on Nov. 26, 2001. The NBER, led by an informal economic adviser to Bush, Martin Feldstein, pronounced that economic activity peaked in March 2001, "a determination that the expansion that began in March 1991 ended in March 2001 and a recession began."
At the time, Bush accepted the verdict with perfect accuracy. "This week, the official announcement came that our economy has been in recession since March," he said in his radio address the next weekend. "And unfortunately, to a lot of Americans, that news comes as no surprise. Many have lost jobs or seen their hours cut. Many have seen friends or family laid off. The long economic expansion that started 10 years ago, in 1991, began to slow last year. Many economists warned me when I took office that a recession was beginning, so we took quick action."
Until the NBER's official pronouncement, Bush had avoided the "R" word. He spoke earlier in 2001 of an "economic slowdown" as administration officials noted, correctly, that the pace of economic growth began to slow (but not contract) in 2000, under Clinton's watch. "In terms of how you call it, what the numbers look like, we've got statisticians who will be crunching the numbers and let us know exactly where we stand," Bush said in October 2001. "But we don't need numbers to tell us people are hurting."
Then, last summer, Bush revised his history of when the recession began. Beginning in August 2002, he began to say that "we did, in fact, inherit an economic recession." Addressing Republican governors in September, he declared: "I want you all to remember that when Dick Cheney and I got sworn in, the country was in a recession." In May of this year, Bush even gave the recession an official starting date three weeks before he took office, saying "our nation went into a recession, starting January 1 of 2001."
The source of this revision apparently was a July 2002 report by Bush's Commerce Department that the economy had contracted in the first quarter of 2001 by 0.6 percent. But that was a quarterly figure that gave no indication when in the quarter the economy turned south. Still, Bush used that to revise the NBER definition so that the economy was in recession "the minute I got sworn in" on Jan. 20.
Feldstein's NBER, which earlier said it gives "relatively little weight" to the quarterly growth figures from Commerce, is not joining in the revision. Two weeks ago, it issued an updated report sticking by its assessment that the recession began in March 2001.
Of course, taking responsibility for the economic doldrums occurring on his watch might lead to a perception that Bush's magic-bullet tax cuts aren't working their promised wonders.
Meanwhile, Milbank catches for the principled Mr. Bush backing away from earlier public comments on the gay rights issue, which is likely to prove a wedge with his GOP base:
Speaking of moving targets, the White House executed some fancy footwork when the Supreme Court last week issued rulings striking down a Texas law forbidding sodomy and upholding the University of Michigan law school's affirmative action program.
On the sodomy case, Bush's press secretary, Ari Fleischer, has labored to distance the administration from the Texas case. "The administration did not file a brief in this case, unlike in the Michigan case, and this is now a state matter," Fleischer said when asked for Bush's opinion on whether gay men have the legal right to sexual relations in private. When Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) caused a furor by speaking out on the sodomy case in April, Fleischer had said, "We also have no comment on anything that involves any one person's interpretation of the legalities of an issue that may be considered before the Court."
In fact, Bush has expressed a firm opinion on the Texas sodomy law that the court ruled unconstitutional. He supported it. Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group, dug up an article from the Austin American-Statesman of Jan. 22, 1994, titled "Bush promises to veto attempts to remove sodomy law." The newspaper reported:
"Gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush on Friday promised he would veto any attempt by the Texas Legislature to remove from the state penal code a controversial statute outlawing homosexual sodomy. Bush, a Republican, was asked about the sodomy statute shortly after speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Ladies Auxiliary.
" 'I think it's a symbolic gesture of traditional values,' he said."
I don't see why the principled Mr Bush isn't willing to display that straghtforward forthrightness he's supposed to have. Oh, wait, yes I do: Karl Rove.