President Obama and his surrogates are making repeated references to the economic policies of former President George W. Bush, seeking to tie Mitt Romney’s platform to that of the previous administration.
Team Obama argues the Romney campaign is advocating tax and economic policies that would repeat the problems that put the country into recession, exacerbate income inequality and prevent middle-class Americans from getting a “fair shot.”
“We tried this for eight years before I took office — we tried it,” Obama said to roaring applause from the college crowd. “It’s not like we didn’t try it.”
Obama went on to explain that “at the beginning of the last decade,” with Bush at the helm, the wealthiest Americans got two huge tax cuts while financial institutions were “allowed to write their own rules or find their way around rules.”
“We were told the same thing we’re being told now — ‘This is going to lead to faster job growth,’ ” Obama continued.
“ ‘This is going to lead to greater prosperity for everybody.’ Guess what? It didn’t.”
Obama and Vice President Biden’s recent remarks on Bush come as the former president his vice president, Dick Cheney, have re-entered the political scene in recent days.
Speaking at a forum in New York last week, Bush acknowledged that he wished that his tax cuts were given a different name.
“I wish they weren’t called the Bush tax cuts,” the former president said. “If they’re called some other body’s tax cuts, they’re probably less likely to be raised.”
Separately, Cheney lambasted Obama as “an unmitigated disaster” for the country in a speech to the Wyoming Republican Party state convention.
Linking Romney to Bush has both risks and rewards for Obama, who trailed Romney 47 percent to 45 in Gallup’s first national daily tracking poll, released Monday.
Many voters continue to blame Bush for the country’s rocky economy, something reflected in an AP-Gfk poll from December that found 43 percent of voters surveyed said the former president deserved much of the blame for the country’s economic woes.
“To some, ‘Bush’ is a pejorative term and something Obama can use to rile up the base,” said Martin Sweet, a visiting assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said it might be helpful to connect Romney’s economic policies to Bush. “He wants to be able to say this is round 2 of George W. Bush, and that his policies support big business and wealthy Americans. And the Bush tax cuts are the clearest symbol of that.”
Yet more than three years after Bush left office, observers also warn that Obama can’t blame the previous administration for his handling of the economy.
“Obama has to be careful that it doesn’t seem like irrelevant campaign rhetoric,” Zelizer said.
Republicans say that’s exactly what they’re hearing from Obama.
Kirsten Kukowski, a press secretary for the Republican National Committee, predicted that the rhetoric will “fall flat.”
Campaigning against Bush didn’t work for Democrats in 2010, she pointed out: “I don’t see why it would work two years later.”
Still, attacks on Bush could resonate more in a presidential election than in congressional elections. And Romney has benefited from endorsements from several members of the Bush family, a fact that ties him more closely to the former president.
Obama has never been shy about criticizing Bush.
Since taking office, he has reiterated that he’s been busy cleaning up “somebody else’s mess,” taking an obvious jab at his predecessor.
“Yes, the rich got much richer, corporations made big profits,” he said of the Bush years during the speech at Florida Atlantic. “But we also had the slowest job growth in half a century. The typical American family actually saw their incomes fall by about 6 percent … healthcare premiums skyrocketed. Financial institutions started making bets with other people’s money. … And then our entire financial system collapsed. You remember that?”
In a campaign speech in New Hampshire last week in which he mentioned Bush by name six times, Biden made the Bush-bashing much more explicit.
Romney, Biden argued, comes from the upper class and so identifies with Bush’s economic policies. Biden added that the likely GOP nominee favors that the “Bush tax cuts … be made permanent for the wealthy.”
Bush-bashing was a big part of Obama’s campaign message from 2008, which focused on the change the country needed after eight years of the previous administration.
That message worked four years ago, which is why observers say Obama’s campaign is making a second go of it.
“He’s going back to the well again to see if it works again,” Sweet said. “But as the old adage goes, if you go to the well too many times, eventually, you come up empty.”