Every president must walk a rhetorical tightrope when talking about the economy, a lesson Mr. Bush learned quickly, being bashed just after taking office for delivering somber news. The United States was just entering a mild recession - it had been in one, it turns out, for about nine months - and the new president said so.
Liberals went berserk.
"Every time we turn around, this guy is bad-mouthing the economy. Is that lifting our spirit or dumping on it in order to sell his tax cut?" liberal comentator Bill Press said on CNN. Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, in an article headlined "Thanks Ever So Much, President Poor-Mouth," said, "Even if Bush turns out to be right in his predictions of gloom, that doesn't mean he was right to make them." The New York Times lectured Mr. Bush, saying that presidents were supposed to be "cheerleaders for the nation's economy."
But Mr. Bush tried that, too. As the United States recovered from the economic devastation caused by the 9/11 attacks, the president constantly talked up the economy, asserting that the American work force could compete with any in the world, and he assured Americans that happy days were right around the corner. Even as the currrent recession took hold, he continued to portray the nation's future in optimistic tones.
For all his effort, he was portrayed as a Pollyannish rube whose naivete so clouded his vision that he could not see the stark reality of the economic situation. How else to explain his optimism in the face of $4-a-gallon gas or exploding unemployment, or presidential statements a year ago, such as "I don't think we're headed to a recession, but no question we're in a slowdown."
The press has a simple formula: Republican presidents = bad, Democrat presidents = good.
I have given myself a waiver on press bashing.