The Dead Hand of George W Bush

Former US president George W. Bush is next to his portrait during its unveiling May 31, 2012 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN

Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages

George W Bush was a bad president and I hate to defend him, but the fact that when asked 68 percent of the American public say he bears responsibility for the bad economy (compared to 52 percent for Barack Obama) is a bit puzzling to me.

Blaming Obama is, I think, simplistic. The 111th Congress didn’t do as much fiscal stimulus as he wanted. The 112th Congress has done basically nothing that he wanted. The GOP blocked confirmation of Obama’s appointee to the Federal Housing Finance Administration, undermining his ability to direct national housing policy. They stymied appointments to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Guys like the heads of the Minneapolis, Dallas, and Richmond Federal Reserve banks have influenced policy in a way that was beyond Obama’s control. Which is just to say that in terms of people who’ve been directing American public policy since 2009 there’s plenty of blame to go around and no reason to just pin it all on Obama.

But not only did Bush face many of the same constraints on his authority (particularly in 2007-2008) but he hasn’t been in office in years.

You can look at the whole great downturn of 2008 and 2009 and pin that on the guys who’d been running the show when it started. But it just doesn’t make sense to think that policy initiatives undertaken while Bush was president are responsible for the sluggish pace of the recovery. The invasion of Iraq didn’t cause inadequate aggregate demand in 2011. Nor did the wastefullness of the Bush farm and energy bills, the irresponsibility of his tax policies, or anything else that can be laid at his feet. Our problems today are primarily the fault of weak aggregate demand in 2010, 2011, and the beginning of 2012 and the blame for that lies with the people who’ve been running the Fed, the congress, and the executive branch.