Look Who's Dissing the Economy Now
Economy: Eight years ago, when President-elect Bush warned about a coming recession, he was attacked for "talking down the economy." So where are the complaints about President-elect Obama's dire forecast?
At a press conference in December 2000, when Bush announced his pick for Treasury secretary, a reporter asked if he was "concerned" about "talking down our economy" to make "the possibility of tax relief more real."
The same charge was made by Democrats well into 2001. "I think what we're seeing is a talking down of the economy," then House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt said that March. "I think that kind of economic leadership is irresponsible."
Big media also chimed in. "It is important for President Bush to quit talking down the economy in order to build congressional and public support for his tax cut," said the New York Times. "A high-risk bid to win support for his tax cuts" is how Time put it.
Gene Sperling, a key economic adviser to President Clinton, said "it is very possible that the president's continued drumbeat on talking down the economy has become a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Pretty damning, if true. Except that Bush and Vice President-elect Cheney were right: The economy was on the front edge of a recession in December 2000 — it started in March 2001 and ended that November — and his tax plan almost certainly helped make it one of the mildest downturns on record.
Fast forward to this week. In announcing his Treasury pick, Obama painted an exceedingly grim picture — that of an economy "trapped in a vicious cycle," "likely to get worse before it gets better" and in danger of losing "millions of jobs" next year.
Not a peep, however, has been heard about Obama "talking down the economy" to serve his political interests.
The new president stands a better chance of enacting his agenda if the public believes the economy is on the edge of the abyss. And if things don't turn out as bad as he's saying, Obama can later claim credit for preventing a catastrophe.
But then, why should the media start complaining now? They've let Democrats get away with their trash talk for years.
Back in 1992, to cite just one example, Bill Clinton charged that George H.W. Bush's presidency "has produced slower economic growth, slower job growth and slower income growth than any administration since the Great Depression." No one complained then, and Clinton's dour depiction, aided and abetted by the media, helped get him into the White House.
Obama and other Democratic doomsayers may well be right this time. But nobody knows for sure how the economy will turn out.
Meantime, they would be wise to remember what Time said in early 2001 by way of advice to a new president: "The worry factor is not to be underplayed. Recessions and bear markets are as much about psychology as fundamentals."
Having the president, congressional leaders and the media continually talking about depressions, catastrophes, historic crises and vicious cycles is a good way of making sure it all comes true.