Beyond Obama's Bush blame game
“Now Gov. Romney believes that with even bigger tax cuts for the wealthy, and fewer regulations on Wall Street, all of us will prosper. In other words, he'd double down on the same trickle-down policies that led to the crisis in the first place.”
— President Obama in an ad released Sept. 27.
This is Obama's core message. You cannot watch an interview with the president or one of his subalterns without hearing it.
And yet, I don't think I've ever heard a TV interviewer, host or pundit ask, “What are you talking about?”
Finally, The Washington Post's “fact-checker,” Glenn Kessler (not exactly a darling of the political right), tackled it recently. He found that it's a lie, giving it three “Pinocchios” out of four. The supporting material for the ad quoted above cites a single column by The Post's liberal blogger, Ezra Klein, who told Kessler: “I am absolutely not saying the Bush tax cuts led to the financial crisis. To my knowledge, there's no evidence of that.”
The question of what caused the fiscal crisis is obviously still controversial. But a consensus seems to be forming around the following narrative: The federal government, out of an abundance of concern for the plight of the poor and middle class, made it too easy to buy a home. Congress, on a bipartisan basis, set unrealistic affordable-housing goals for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. President Clinton used those goals to expand access to mortgages to low-income borrowers. Then President George W. Bush, with the approval of Congress, expanded the practice until way too many low-income or otherwise underqualified Americans owned mortgages they couldn't afford.
A mixture of greed, idealism, cynicism and stupidity led to the practice of bundling those iffy mortgages into financial instruments that Wall Street didn't know how to handle and regulators didn't know how to regulate.
When the Washington-abetted housing boom went bust, regulators demanded immediate markdowns of mortgage-backed securities, which required financial institutions to sell them, creating a fire-sale atmosphere that fueled the panic even more. The Federal Reserve responded by letting money tighten in a way it hadn't since the 1930s.
Some Obama defenders will say that Bush's deficits made it harder to deal with the crisis. That seems reasonable, even if it's a red herring in the debate about what caused the crisis. And Obama's record on deficits hardly gives him much standing.
I once thought that Obama's relentless Bush-blaming was simply a mix of political expediency and gracelessness. But the truth is more complicated. Liberals have smartly, albeit cynically, laid the case that Bush was Herbert Hoover in order to make the claim that Obama is Franklin D. Roosevelt. For this to work, Hoover must be remembered as a do-nothing free-market guy. But Hoover was no such thing. He nearly tripled government spending in response to the Depression. FDR used Hoover's spending as a baseline for his own, even as he dishonestly decried Hoover's passivity.
Obama has done largely the same thing. The first bailouts of the crisis were supported by Obama but launched by Bush. The same goes for the first stimulus. Obama simply tripled down on all that while claiming he was breaking with Bush.
Or maybe I have that all wrong. Maybe we could get some clarity by asking the president, “What are you talking about?”
Jonah Goldberg is the author of the new book “The Tyranny of Clichés.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- 2 dead, including student gunman, after Wash. school shooting
- Predators winger Neal caught ‘blindsided’ by trade from Penguins
- Ferrante trial: Cyanide order form in plain sight
- Howard Hanna family donates $1M for business student scholarships at University of Pittsburgh
- First Niagara sets aside $45 million
- Arrest made in connection with Rostraver home invasion
- Rossi: Middling Steelers must make a statement
- Monsour hospital properties sold at free-and-clear sale
- Steelers’ Adams delivers in pinch against Texans
- Pennsylvania chips in $2.5M for $38M boutique hotel in Pittsburgh
- Counterfeit credit card ring falls for failure to remember birth date on fake ID