- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

Liberal Democrats and their media megaphones are trying to do to George W. Bush's presidency what they did to his father's cripple it by blaming the Republicans for the economy's problems.
"No question, the talking points already have been decided by the Democrats and fed to the media the notion that Bush talked this economy into a downswing in hopes of getting his tax cuts passed in Congress," said Frank J. Donatelli, former Reagan White House political director. "And the media certainly have been giving that line a lot of play. It's the Democratic line."
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle laid out the "line" at a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday.
The nation's two top elected Democrats said the Bush White House deliberately spread panic about the economy in order to promote its tax-cut package and to sour what had been an economy made sweet by Bill Clinton and the Democrats.
The line rings a bell with Republicans, and they don't like the sound.
"The Democrat and media tactics are similar to what they tagged the elder Bush with in '92, when they made him the 'recession president,' " he said.
"But back then, the rap on Bush was inaction he supposedly wasn't doing anything about the recession but now the rap against his son is for taking action where none was warranted," said Mr. Donatelli. "It seems to me that's what Gephardt and Daschle are saying."
The elder Mr. Bush found himself battered during the 1992 election campaign by a combined Democrat-media assault for not being "sensitive" to a recession, although objective economic data showed the economy on the upturn by then after a slight downturn in 1991.
Republicans seemed unable to shout the good economic news loud enough to be heard over the din of the opposition.
But even some Republicans have said, in retrospect, that Mr. Bush seemed somewhat loath to take full advantage of the bully pulpit of the presidency to proclaim recovery was under way, perhaps costing him the 1992 election.
Now, less than a month in office, the younger Mr. Bush is facing a similar onslaught by Democrats, and Republicans this time are striking back.
"Those Democrats' assertions are not supported by the facts," said James S. Gilmore III, one of the Republican Party's best-known tax cutters. "I'm not just Republican national chairman I'm the governor of Virginia. And I can tell you that we could tell last year, from our state revenues and other indicators, that something bad was brewing with the economy."
In New Jersey, Bill Thompson, head of the state Christian Coalition chapter, borrowed the words of Ronald Reagan to put the Democrats' tactics in a familiar perspective.
"There you go again," Mr. Thompson said, "seeing these Democrat claims parroted by their media friends."
"But the economy's swing doesn't start at the beginning of the new administration, and the public is not so dumb as to believe it does," he said.
"We knew the economy was slowing from talking to business owners last fall," said Mr. Thompson. "That's when they saw that this was coming. We had truck drivers telling us they we're moving with half a load or sitting idle for long periods of time."
Nonetheless, rewriting history is part of the art of politics, and so Mr. Gephardt has gone so far as to cite, as evidence for his accusations, the observation that Vice President Richard B. Cheney made shortly after the election last year.
At yesterday's news conference, Mr. Gephardt said the administration's "repeated gloomy views of the economy since Cheney's comments have had a self-fulfilling effect. Part of this … was started when Dick Cheney, a few months back, said we're in a recession. I mean, we've been talking ourselves into this. Now it's happening."
What Mr. Cheney said then was: "We may well be on the front edge of a recession."
On Tuesday, on "World News Tonight," anchorman Peter Jennings said Mr. Bush "has been talking down the economy for months as a way of selling his tax cut."
A bevy of Democratic talking heads made the same points on talk shows this week.
Republicans say these charges are absurd on their face and that the economy was heading south well before Mr. Bush and his vice president said a word about it.
Their sense that Democrats are going full tilt to try to get history to repeat itself rankles Republicans.
Although Mr. Thompson is confident that "people understand that a downturn is a prolonged process that has more to do with business than a new administration," Mr. Donatelli is less sanguine about the outcome of the Democrats' propaganda war than some other Republicans.
"The political blame is still up for grabs," said Mr. Donatelli. "The public doesn't even know we are in a recession or, more accurately, might be going into a recession let alone who's to blame at this point."
He argued that his fellow Republicans have to keep making the case to the public that's "obvious" to economists and those who follow politics closely.
"And that's that the economy has been weakening for some time, and need a tax cut now and some cooperation from the Federal Reserve Board on easing interest rates," said Mr. Donatelli.
Mr. Gilmore agreed.
"We had very definite warning signs in the middle of last year and as the summer and fall wore on, it was clear that we had to make a major policy change in our budget," he said. "That has led to much of the debate right up to this minute."
"All this was brought about by a slowing economy, not by statements that the new Republican White House made after taking office or by something that the Republican presidential and vice-presidential candidates said while campaigning," said Mr. Gilmore. "And to claim otherwise is absurd."

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