Saturday, August 13, 2011
Some Splainin' To Do
I am not arguing that everything is Bush's fault. I will argue that he was the most economically disastrous president since Herbert Hoover. The statistics bear me out on this, however you want to measure "disaster."
I will argue against anybody who says Obama has "made it worse." Obama has presided over stagnation, and has singularly failed to get the economy moving at the pace necessary for a full recovery. But he inherited the most disastrous economy since Herbert Hoover's. The economy was plummeting like a bowling ball in a jell-o swimming pool, and he stopped that from getting far, far, worse. See above right (h/t Kevin Drum)::
But I don't believe that whatever anemic recovery we've had is solely because of Barack Obama.
Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, and, yes, the guy who appointed them, GW Bush, deserve some of the credit for averting a complete and utter catastrophe, instead of just a major disaster. Bernanke in particular, was one of Bush's best appointments, or at least one of the least horrible. But credit to those gentlemen is minimal and conditional, as they bore primary responsibility, along with Alan Greenspan, for the abyss they helped us begin to climb out of.
It's worth remembering, though, that Senator Barack Obama, as the more-or-less-obvious next President in the fall of 2008, was instrumental in the decision-making process at White House meetings with Bush and Paulson during those crucial months. Senator John McCain, as the more-or-less obvious loser of the upcoming election, was reportedly sullen and unhelpful during those same meetings - and helped cement his loss with his bizarre public statements as the crisis began to unfold.
Also, I have no doubt that Wall Street and the White House had been scrambling to keep the more-or-less-obvious impending collapse from occurring until after the November elections - which only made it that much worse when the house of cards finally did blow over.
I'm happy to give some of the blame to Bill Clinton, too – for reappointing Greenspan, and also for signing the disastrous GOP repeal of FDR's Glass-Steagel Act. If you want to blame Pelosi and Reid, I'll grant them some measure of responsibility, too, but it's beyond ludicrous to try to place the major blame on the 110th Congress. If they had been one-tenth as obstructive of Bush's policies as McConnell and Boehner have been of Obama's - during a national emergency in the latter case - we might have been stuck in a slightly shallower hole when the crash came. Instead, yes, they mostly enabled his continued recklessness.
So, no, not everything was GW Bush's fault, but he and Greenspan deserve the lion's share of the responsibility. There were historical currents at work in the global economy during those years, and we may well have had a crash in 2007-09 if Al Gore had served two terms as president - especially if he left credit default swaps unregulated and failed to address the housing bubble. Somehow I doubt he would have done the latter, and he certainly would have made better appointments at Treasury and the Fed.
The biggest problem in all this is that conservatives, with very few exceptions, have been utterly unwilling to acknowledge the enormity of the mistakes their policies represented, let alone to learn from them. So they continue to advocate the same tax-cuts-and-deregulation agenda that brought on the crash. Worse, they're leveraging their influence in the divided government and the media to advocate for austerity budgeting. That was Hoover's biggest error, and FDR's too, in 1937. It is demonstrably re-crashing economies across Europe. This goes well beyond a failure to learn from history; it amounts to an obstinate refusal to do so.