Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Pottery Barn Rule for the economy: You broke it, you own it (that means you, George).

By Richard K. Barry

Back in June, Matthew Yglesias wrote about how annoyed some Democrats were that President Obama wasn't doing a better job of reminding people that the dismal state of the economy was George W. Bush's doing. Yglesias went on to say that despite the criticism it would appear that a strong majority of Americans do understand that Obama was handed a large pile of crap and do put a lot of the blame on W.

As an NBC/WSJ poll indicated:

The American public isn't blaming Obama for the current economy, with more than six in ten respondents still saying he inherited the country's economic problems from his Oval Office predecessor. Also, while a combined 47 percent believe George W. Bush and his administration are "solely responsible" or "mainly responsible" for the current economy, just 34 percent in the poll say the same of Obama and his administration. 

Brendan Nyhan responds by saying, I think correctly, that we shouldn't put too much stock in this. As he writes:

Campaigns are giant engines of political accountability that drive election results towards what we would expect given the fundamentals. For better or worse, Obama will own the economy by next fall, though it is possible that he will be judged less harshly since Democrats just took back control of the presidency in 2009.

All of that is true, but it's also true that George W. Bush's name rarely gets mentioned as an example of good economic stewardship when Republicans are pointing to their own political role models. It always about Reagan (which is an entirely different discussion).

It's also true that the Republican narrative is about how Obama made things worse, which is another way of saying that their guy made things bad to begin with. This is what the GOP is left with: "Our guy was a fucking abomination, but your guy didn't clean up his mess fast enough." Yeah, that's an argument.

Yes, the guy currently holding the job wears the bad economy on election day. But I think Nyhan is also right when he says that Obama will be judged less harshly because of the magnitude of the mess he was handed and the relatively limited amount of time he has had to deal with it. The key here is that there are degrees to which one is held responsible for anything.

Politics is always about getting votes on the margins, about winning marginally more votes in areas where you are strong and losing marginally fewer votes in areas where you are weak.

So, yes, Obama will wear the economy, but 60 percent of electorate saying that a Republican president created the mess to begin with is going to make it that much easier to pick up those marginal votes than if there really was no one else to legitimately blame.

Simple point, and not a very exciting thesis, but it's true and important.

By the way, haven't seen a lot of those George W. Bush billboards lately with that annoying message: "Miss Me Yet?" (heh, heh)

No, George, we still don't miss you. Not even Republicans, apparently.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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