A Startling Admission: Bush Not Getting Enough Credit for Strong Economy

As President Bush prepares to deliver his final State of the Union address tonight, Monday's Page One "White House Memo" by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Echo of First Bush: Good Economy Turns Sour," contained a startling admission.

"Will George W. Bush be remembered as the president who lost the economy while trying to win a war?

"Mr. Bush has spent years presiding over an economic climate of growth that would be the envy of most presidents. Yet much to the consternation of his political advisers, he has had trouble getting credit for it, in large part because Americans were consumed by the war in Iraq."

That takes a little chutzpah, considering how much the Times has contributed to Bush's lack of credit by constantly seeing the negative side of what has been a strong economy. To take just a few examples:

Back on November 30, 2005, reporter Vikas Bajaj talked down the economy in a Page One story:

"Gasoline is cheaper than it was before Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans. Consumer confidence jumped last month and new-home sales hit a record. The stock market has been rising. Even the nation's beleaguered factories seem headed for a happy holiday season. By most measures, the economy appears to be doing fine. No, scratch that, it appears to be booming. But as always with the United States economy, it is not quite that simple.

"For every encouraging sign, there is an explanation. Consumer confidence is bouncing back from what were arguably some of its worst readings in years. Gasoline prices - the national average is now $2.15, according to the Energy Information Administration - have fallen because higher prices held down demand and Gulf Coast supplies have been slowly restored."

A June 3, 2006 piece by Edmund Andrews found unemployment at an impressively low 4.6% - but Andrews spun it in negative fashion:

"Job creation slowed to a crawl in May and hourly wages failed to keep up with inflation, the Labor Department said on Friday, in a report suggesting that high energy prices and higher interest rates are starting to crimp economic growth."

And more recently, Peter Goodman snagged the front page on December 1, 2007 with his pessimistic take on the "ailing economy" - but the most recent quarter of GDP, the third quarter, showed growth of 4.9%. What "ailing economy"?

Stolberg continued:

"With polls showing that the economy has eclipsed Iraq on Americans' list of most pressing concerns, Mr. Bush faces the unwelcome prospect that his legacy - which the White House always assumed would be wrapped up in the war - will be wrapped up in hard times instead. Like his father, he risks leaving office on an economic sour note, with a reputation for spending so much time worrying about foreign affairs that he forgot about the problems of ordinary Americans at home."


"From a strictly economic perspective, it is difficult to blame Mr. Bush for the current crisis. Even some economists who have been critical of the president, like Bruce Bartlett, who worked in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, say he cannot be held liable for the burst of the housing bubble or problems in credit markets.

"But from a political perspective, it is hard for Mr. Bush to escape. The economic expansion that came after his tax cuts has largely benefited the wealthy, which is why it is easy for Democrats like Mr. Emanuel to make the case that Mr. Bush's stewardship of the economy has created 'a middle-class squeeze.' And if the president ends his term in a recession, it will be difficult for him to point to any real economic progress on his watch."