Bruce Bartlett: Conservative’s Anger at Obama is Misplaced

The Daily Beast.com features a fascinating column by conservative economist Bruce Bartlett that should be must reading for every teabagging protestor out there.  Bartlett challenges readers top produce evidence that our economy would be better if John McCain had been elected or if Republican policies followed, because it appears he can’t.

From the column:

In January, the Congressional Budget Office projected a deficit this year of $1.2 trillion before Obama took office, with no estimate for actions he might take. To a large extent, the CBO’s estimate simply represented the $482 billion deficit projected by the Bush administration in last summer’s budget review, plus the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, which George W. Bush rammed through Congress in September over strenuous conservative objections. Thus the vast bulk of this year’s currently estimated $1.8 trillion deficit was determined by Bush’s policies, not Obama’s.

I think conservative anger is misplaced. To a large extent, Obama is only cleaning up messes created by Bush. This is not to say Obama hasn’t made mistakes himself, but even they can be blamed on Bush insofar as Bush’s incompetence led to the election of a Democrat. If he had done half as good a job as most Republicans have talked themselves into believing he did, McCain would have won easily.

Conservative protesters should remember that the recession, which led to so many of the policies they oppose, is almost entirely the result of Bush’s policies. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession began in December 2007—long before Obama was even nominated. And the previous recession ended in November 2001, so the current recession cannot be blamed on cyclical forces that Bush inherited.

more after the jump:

Bartlett gets into some real numbers here that are just tough for conservatives to spin in a positive light in their direction:

But in a larger sense, the extremely poor economic performance of the Bush years really set the stage for the current recession. This is apparent when we compare Bush’s two terms to Bill Clinton’s eight years. Since both took office close to a business cycle trough and left office close to a cyclical peak, this is a reasonable comparison.

Throughout the Bush years, many conservative economists, including CNBC’s Larry Kudlow, extravagantly extolled Bush’s economic policies. As late as December 21, 2007, after the recession already began, he wrote in National Review: “the Goldilocks economy is outperforming all expectations.” In a column on May 2, 2008, almost six months into the recession, Kudlow praised Bush for having prevented a recession.

But the truth was always that the economy performed very, very badly under Bush, and the best efforts of his cheerleaders cannot change that fact because the data don’t lie. Consider these comparisons between Bush and Clinton:

• Between the fourth quarter of 1992 and the fourth quarter of 2000, real GDP grew 34.7 percent. Between the fourth quarter of 2000 and the fourth quarter of 2008, it grew 15.9 percent, less than half as much.

• Between the fourth quarter of 1992 and the fourth quarter of 2000, real gross private domestic investment almost doubled. By the fourth quarter of 2008, real investment was 6.5 percent lower than it was when Bush was elected.

• Between December 1992 and December 2000, payroll employment increased by more than 23 million jobs, an increase of 21.1 percent. Between December 2000 and December 2008, it rose by a little more than 2.5 million, an increase of 1.9 percent. In short, about 10 percent as many jobs were created on Bush’s watch as were created on Clinton’s.

• During the Bush years, conservative economists often dismissed the dismal performance of the economy by pointing to a rising stock market. But the stock market was lackluster during the Bush years, especially compared to the previous eight. Between December 1992 and December 2000, the S&P 500 Index more than doubled. Between December 2000 and December 2008, it fell 34 percent. People would have been better off putting all their investments into cash under a mattress the day Bush took office.

• Finally, conservatives have an absurdly unjustified view that Republicans have a better record on federal finances. It is well-known that Clinton left office with a budget surplus and Bush left with the largest deficit in history. Less well-known is Clinton’s cutting of spending on his watch, reducing federal outlays from 22.1 percent of GDP to 18.4 percent of GDP. Bush, by contrast, increased spending to 20.9 percent of GDP. Clinton abolished a federal entitlement program, Welfare, for the first time in American history, while Bush established a new one for prescription drugs.

Conservatives delude themselves that the Bush tax cuts worked and that the best medicine for America’s economic woes is more tax cuts; at a minimum, any tax increase would be economic poison. They forget that Ronald Reagan worked hard to pass one of the largest tax increases in American history in September 1982, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, even though the nation was still in a recession that didn’t end until November of that year. Indeed, one could easily argue that the enactment of that legislation was a critical prerequisite to recovery because it led to a decline in interest rates. The same could be said of Clinton’s 1993 tax increase, which many conservatives predicted would cause a recession but led to one of the biggest economic booms in history.

According to the CBO, federal taxes will amount to just 15.5 percent of GDP this year. That’s 2.2 percent of GDP less than last year, 3.3 percent less than in 2007, and 1.8 percent less than the lowest percentage recorded during the Reagan years. If conservatives really believe their own rhetoric, they should be congratulating Obama for being one of the greatest tax cutters in history.

And yes, Barlett has a new book coming out this fall; here’s his bio:

Bruce Bartlett was one of the original supply-siders, helping draft the Kemp-Roth tax bill in the 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was a leading Republican economist. He now considers himself to be a political independent. He is the author of Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action  and Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy . His latest book, The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in October.

  1 comment for “Bruce Bartlett: Conservative’s Anger at Obama is Misplaced

  1. August 15, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Sorry, Bartlett seems to be on a job hunt with Obama. Bush made many mistakes economically and, unlike Democrats who will vote for a “yellow dog” on the D ticket, he was roundly criticized by many Republicans. What Obama has done is to take what Bush did wrong and quadruple it. His economics, if you can call them that, are insane but that is no surprise because he expert economist, Larry Summers, probably killed off Harvard before he left. Their endowment looks like our economy will in a few years unless Congress changes hands.

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