The Captain and His Ship: Bush Reduces Global Warming

For better or worse, fairly or unfairly, the captain of ship is saddled with the responsibility or lavished with credit for the failures or successes of his term at the helm. If  a ship is struck by a meteor, it’s the captain’s fault. If unexpected fair winds power the sails of a ship it reflects positively on the captain’s command. The same rules applies to a president. If calamity strikes, the president get the blame. If things go well, the president basks in the credit, deserved or not.

As we prepare for the media’s embarrassingly obsequious coronation of Barack Obama as president, it is not too busy to make sure that Bush’s legacy is portrayed as negatively as can be managed. Now that the Iraq is going so well after the application of the surge, it is necessary to focus on  the economy over the last eight years.

The Washington Post on January 12,  2009 ran the headline “Under Bush, Economy Weakest in Decades.” The article broke up time by the different presidential terms since Truman to evaluate whose economies had performed better. Of course, Bush did not look good in the comparison.

Although the principle that the captain is responsible is often applied and the rule of thumb in politics, the Washington Post should be expected to provide a more comprehensive analysis. It is instructive and probably no accident that the list of performance began with Truman. If Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, the term of the iconic liberal hero, were included, the unemployment and growth statistics of the Great Depression would have pulled the average for Democratic presidencies way down. However, that would not have served the purpose of the article.

In reality, gross economic performance is far more complex, with good and bad economic policies interwoven with natural business cycles. We will have recessions in the future, no matter how wise our policies. We suspect that the Post knows this but found it convenient to not dwell to much on the complexity.

For example, when a president comes to office, for the first year, two, or even perhaps three, he is saddled with or buoyed by the economy he inherited. Hence, the proper measure of the effects of a president policy should began sometime after he comes to office. It will undoubtedly be true that unemployment after the first year of the Obama presidency will be far greater than the average of the Bush years. The headline, “Obama’s Unemployment Record Worse than Bush’s” appearing after the first year would be unfair and the Post would never print it. However, they allow a similar analysis to affect their measure of Bush’s presidency.

As we know now, Bush inherited a recession from his predecessor which was compounded by tragic events of 9/11. Bush’s economic record improves considerably if you start the clock  in 2003. Similarly, there was a recession that ended in the last year of the first President Bush’s (41) term. The recovery did not really start to improve the unemployment picture until late in 1992, too late to keep President Clinton from winning the Presidency. Yet, Clinton inherited an economy in recovery with a 4.5% growth rate in the last  quarter of 1992.

Moreover, in evaluating a presidency a thoughtful analysis must consider whether a president manages to get his policies enacted and what those policies are. For example, the Post points out that under President Kennedy, the economy grew at a robust 5.3% rate. Yet one of Kennedy’s key policies was decreasing the top marginal income tax rate from 90% to 70%. Does the Post want to concede that reducing tax rates increases economic growth. Even now, Obama has decided to postpone eliminating the Bush tax cuts in a tacit concession, unmentioned during his campaign, that lower tax rates contribute to economic growth.

If we are allowed to sacrifice thoughtful analysis at the altar of partisan goals and scoring political points, allow us to note the following.  NASA’s Institute for Space Studies, whose research is directed by Dr. James Hansen, a vocal critic of the Bush Administration, produces a time series of global temperatures. Measured from 1993 to 2000 (the Clinton Presidency) the global temperature anomaly increased by 0.19C. However, from 2001 to 2008, (the Bush Presidency) the temperature anomaly decreased by 0.04C. Of course, such an analysis is deliberately oversimplified much as the Washington Post’s was. The difference is that we are telling you so.

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