Bush vs. Obama, shifting the blame

John Rossomando Contributor
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It has been over a year since Barack Obama became president, yet he continues in campaign mode blaming his predecessor for the state of the economy and the deficit in a decidedly unpresidential fashion.

Obama stands apart from his predecessors who similarly took office during sour economic times in his unwillingness to take responsibility for the state of the economy and in his incessant blaming of his immediate predecessor.

Americans look to their presidents to take charge and not blame their predecessors for the current state of affairs even when a shred of truth in their gripes exists. Obama’s effort to shift 100 percent of the blame for the current deficit and economic crisis on George W. Bush stands in stark contrast with Bush’s approach to Bill Clinton after taking office in 2001.

According to Bush’s presidential papers, he never once placed blame for the lackluster economy squarely on Bill Clinton’s shoulders or accused his predecessor by name even when supporters pinned blame for the economic downturn on Clinton’s policies.

The closest George W. Bush came to blaming Clinton came in August 2002 when he told an audience at a Mississippi high school the nation was teetering into recession when he entered office in Jan. 2001.

Bush, unlike Obama, personally bent over backwards to avoid sounding shrill toward Clinton and the Democrats after taking over the Oval Office, according to former Bush speechwriter Pete Wehner.

“Bush, himself, if you look through the full body of his work was very careful in his criticisms of Democrats compared to other presidents,” Wehner said. “He was quite gentle relatively speaking compared to other presidents, so I think Bush was pretty good on the spectrum in terms of engaging in the blame game, and Obama’s probably the worst we’ve seen in our lifetime.”

The former president, Wehner said, was known to edit terse remarks against Democrats from his speeches when speechwriters wanted him to be tougher against his opponents.

“When there would be radio addresses and there were instances related to Democrats, he would take out … the reference to Democrats … and make it more generic—those on Capitol Hill and so forth,” Wehner said.

Those who knew Bush while in office say he consciously tried to avoid finger pointing.

The current president’s desire to blame Bush also sets him apart from recent Democratic presidents such as Jimmy Carter who specifically refused to point the finger at his Republican predecessors.

During an April 15, 1977, press conference, reporters asked Carter how his economic policies would differ from those of Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, and the president responded quite differently from Obama. Instead, Carter told reporters he “would like to answer the question without criticizing the previous administrations, Mr. Ford or Nixon.”

Wehner said Obama’s refusal to follow Carter’s example stands as a tacit admission the current president is over his head.

“They’re really not up to the task of governing, so they are in a search for excuses,” he said.

Obama’s incessant blaming of Bush might play well with the Democratic base, which overwhelmingly blames the former president for the current administration’s woes. But it has begun to have a negative impact with the independent voters who elected him.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen said independents voted for Obama in 2008 because they wanted to fire Bush and bring about change, and these voters are not seeing the changes they voted for when they swept Obama into office.

Obama’s policies have caused the same wind that brought Democrats into power in 2006 and 2008 to blow in the opposite direction.

The immediate effects of this trend were seen last fall in Virginia and New Jersey, and last month in Massachusetts when 73 percent of independent voters voted for Scott Brown because they opposed Obama’s health care plan.

Rasmussen said independent voters want results, not the president blaming Bush for shortcomings happening on his watch.

“If I were advising President Obama today, I would ask him to make a decision about what is the bigger threat ̶ energizing his base or his inability to reach unaffiliated voters,” Rasmussen said. “Blaming Bush is definitely a way to rally his base.”

It will become increasingly difficult for Obama to blame Bush as he gets further into his term because he will only increase independent voters’ angst with him and his policies because voters will increasingly blame him and his spending policies for the state of the economy.

According to Rasmussen, only 11 percent of the electorate support the sort of Keynesian economics advocated by Obama and the Democrats that call for increasing government spending in a recession, and that bodes poorly for his being able to blame Bush much longer.

John Rossomando is an experienced journalist whose work has been featured in numerous publications such as CNSNews.com, Newsmax and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award in 2008 for his reporting.