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The economic blame game

Charles Krauthammer believes that Barack Obama will “own” the bad economy within six months, at which point he will be unable to deflect blame to George W. Bush:

By mid-year it becomes his. I mean, everything is blamed on the predecessor at the beginning, as you should. And this always happens. By summer it will be his recession and, of course, even by his own estimates, it will be getting worse. . . .[P]opular opinion is not going to react to the programs he passes. They’re going to react to economic numbers and reality. And they are going to get worse. So inevitably, he’ll be the president. In about six months or so, it’ll be his economy. And with unemployment high, it will be his responsibility.

I doubt that this will be the case. First, it shouldn’t be; there’s no reason to expect that a new administration can pull us out of the current economic mess in so short a period of time. Second, Obama will have the mainstream media behind him.

Third, past precedent suggests that Americans will give Obama more than six months. Although the anology is imperfect, the extent to which Reagan was blamed for the recession that technically began in the first part of his first term was tempered by the understanding that he took over an economy suffering from “stagflation.”

Eventually, if the economy does not pick up, Obama of course will no longer be able to deflect criticism onto his predecessor. But I don’t think that point will come for a year at the earliest.

The biggest danger for Obama may lie in this scenario — the economy seems to pick up for a while, but then the progress is halted or reversed due to inflation. The reasonable perception then would be that Obama over-reacted to the downturn and went on a spending spree that produced the inflation. At a time when many baby boomers will be starting to rely in whole or in part on “fixed incomes,” a politician held responsible for serious inflation will be in a very bad place.

JOHN agrees: I think that is exactly right. Voters will give Obama plenty of time–more than a year, I think–to try to make things right. But inflation, which will take longer than that to develop, I think, will be a new problem that Obama won’t be able to blame on Bush.

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