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Washington Post Columnists Duel Over Blame Bush/Obama Whining Strategy on Today

NBC's Today show invited on Washington Post columnists Jonathan Capehart and Michael Gerson to debate whether the current Democratic midterm strategy of blaming George W. Bush would work this November. Capehart, citing an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, claimed it was an "effective" strategy because "Sixty-two percent of the American people polled said that they would be uncomfortable with a candidate who's identified with President Bush."

However that strategy, according to Democrats' own polling numbers, may not be working. According to the Hotline's Reid Wilson: "Dems have tried repeatedly to tie the GOP to Bush's economic policies, which remain highly unpopular. But so far, that hasn't worked, according to officials at the Dem-leaning Third Way think tank." Wilson went on to quote from the Third Way's results: "Just eighteen months after President Bush left office with the nation's economy in historic freefall, two-thirds of Americans now see congressional Republicans and their economic ideas as new and completely separate from those of the former president."

Capehart, also dismissed any notion that the Democrats or more specifically, Barack Obama would be seen as "whining" about the former president as he noted that Obama: "can point to the TARP program, the stimulus program, the health care bill, as things he's doing to try to move the country forward and get it out of the ditch. It would be whining if he didn't have those things to point to."

Capehart then went on to say the Dems shouldn't worry too much about the ethics charges surrounding Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters as he pointed out that unlike the "ethical problems that got the American people to vote the Republicans" out in 2006, that this time "They're being investigated...the Ethics committee is working." For his part Gerson, a former Bush speechwriter, not surprisingly took up for the last president as he noted that "most people would concede that George W. Bush has been pretty gracious and classy since the election, not attacking President Obama. But yesterday Obama went after the President for almost every problem and then took credit, I think unfair credit for his achievements in Iraq. And this is not particularly classy."

The following is the full segment, hosted by NBC's Meredith Vieira, as it was aired on the August 3 Today show:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: Alright Savannah Guthrie, thank you very much. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, Jonathan Capehart is an editorial writer for the Washington Post and a contributor to MSNBC. Good morning to you both.

[On screen headline: "Blame Bush, Will Obama's Strategy Help Dems In Midterms?"]

JONATHAN CAPEHART, WASHINGTON POST: Good morning, Meredith.

MICHAEL GERSON, WASHINGTON POST: Good morning.

VIEIRA: Michael, if I could start with you, you worked in the Bush White House. What do you make of the Obama administration now bringing back your old boss to use as a boogeyman here?

GERSON: Well I think that most people would concede that George W. Bush has been pretty gracious and classy since the election, not attacking President Obama. But yesterday Obama went after the President for almost every problem and then took credit, I think unfair credit for his achievements in Iraq. And this is not particularly classy. Most of the polls, the recent polls show that Americans now blame the current administration more for the state of the economy than the previous one. That's what happens when you've had 18 months in power with control of both houses of Congress, gotten pretty much everything you want. Eventually you're accountable.

VIEIRA: So Jonathan, is this Bush bashing a lot of whining on the part of the White House or is it an effective strategy?

CAPEHART: No, I think it's an effective strategy because in Savannah's report she showed why. Sixty-two percent of the American people polled said that they would be uncomfortable with a candidate who's identified with President Bush. Look it would be whining if the Obama administration didn't have pivot points, didn't have things to point to. He comes into office saying they ran the economy into the ditch. He can point to the TARP program, the stimulus program, the health care bill, as things he's doing to try to move the country forward and get it out of the ditch. It would be whining if he didn't have those things to point to.

VIEIRA: Meanwhile, Michael, the Republicans don't seem to have any grand plan. You know back in 1994 when they regained control of the House and the Senate they did at least have that Contract with America, a series of proposals that they could bring to the voters. Nothing like that exists so far. Do you imagine that something like it will emerge?

GERSON: No, I actually don't think so. I'd prefer the Republican Party to be a little more positive about what it wants to do on the economy or poverty or a lot of other issues. But the reality here is that the current administration has picked a fight on the size and the role of government. Republicans have one message right now which is - stop! And it's, it's a pretty effective one. There are now, you know, by recent estimates about 65 House seats, almost all of them Democratic, that are up for grabs now. Republicans have a very good chance of winning back the House. I think that the, this Party of No is working out pretty well. Now in the presidential election you can't do that, but in a midterm election, which is a referendum on the current president and the current congress, I think that, it's been a pretty effective approach.

VIEIRA: Michael, do you agree?

GERSON: Meredith, I don't, well, sure. It's an effective strategy for the GOP to do this. The only problem is this is why the President is able to link them to President Bush. Because there's a void there of ideas right now in 2010, it's easy to remind people of the eight years under President Bush and the damage that, that's done to the national economy. So if the Republican Party wants to continue to be the Party of No and continue to be the party of no ideas, then they've given the field to the President to bash them.

VIEIRA: Meanwhile, the Democrats are dealing with two ethics investigations in the House, we're talking about California congresswoman Maxine Waters and New York's Charlie Rangel. How do these investigations further complicate an already difficult midterm election season?

CAPEHART: Well, it complicates it in that it reminds people of the ethical problems that got the American people to vote the Republicans out of the House leadership in 2006. Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, came into office promising to drain the swamp of corruption in Washington. The problems of Congressman Rangel and Congresswoman Maxine Waters from California reminds people that the swamp of corruption in Washington is still alive and well but here's the difference. They're being investigated. There's an adjudication subcommittee that's going to bring them to trial if no settlement is reached. The Ethics committee is working.

VIEIRA: Alright, Michael Gerson and Jonathan Capehart, thank you both so much.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here