Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Facing the first real rough patch of his presidency, President Obama and his supporters are once again resorting to a tried-and-true tactic: attacking George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

In his White House press conference last week, Mr. Obama referred to the Bush era at least nine times, three times lamenting that he “inherited” a $1.3 trillion debt that has set back his administration’s efforts to fix the economy.

With the former president lying low in Dallas, largely focused on crafting his memoirs, Mr. Obama has increasingly attempted to exploit Mr. Bush when discussing the weak economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the difficulty closing the military prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

As he took power, Mr. Obama promised a “new era of responsibility” that would transcend partisan politics.

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“For a guy who campaigned on taking responsibility and looking forward, he spends an awful lot of time pointing fingers and looking backward,” said former Bush deputy press secretary Tony Fratto, who has begun defending the previous administration.

But Democrats think Mr. Obama would be remiss if he did not point out what he inherited.

“I’m not convinced that Obama and his supporters are bashing Bush as much as they are quite rightfully reminding people that our current economic mess and the wars were inherited from the Bush administration,” said Democratic strategist Bud Jackson. “It’s important to remind people of this because Republicans are now criticizing the Obama administration as if they had no role in how we got here.”

Democratic Party strategist Liz Chadderdon said the strategy of blaming the previous team has been effective.

“I think Bush-bashing has been alive and well since ‘07 and, since it keeps working, why not use it?” she said. “Voters have short memories. The administration needs to remind people that things were way worse over the last four years than in the last six months.”

Mixed feelings among voters about health care reform have shaken the president’s approval ratings from the high poll numbers when he took office. Six months into his term, 30 percent of the nation’s voters “strongly approve” of Mr. Obama’s job performance, according to a survey released Monday by the Rasmussen polling organization.

The poll showed that 40 percent “strongly disapprove” of the president’s performance, marking the first time the disparity has reached double digits.

Since taking office, Mr. Obama has implemented a $787 billion stimulus package that has failed to produce a quick economic turnaround and the U.S. economy has shed more than 2.5 million jobs.

Mr. Obama hardly ever refers to Mr. Bush by name. In fact, his Web site,, recently scrubbed the name of the former president out of a reference to Hurricane Katrina, which once read: “President Obama will keep the broken promises made by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.”

Now, the “President Bush” is gone.

Although Mr. Obama’s effort is subtle, his rhetoric is clear. On his first trip overseas, Mr. Obama referred to Mr. Bush’s foreign policy and said the United States has “shown arrogance” and been “dismissive, even derisive.” He said decisions of the past had “lowered our standing in the world.”

“There are some mornings I read the news and feel like it’s January 2009 — there are so many stories making the front page about things that President Bush thought about and didn’t do,” said former White House press secretary Dana Perino. “I find it hard to believe that there aren’t more interesting stories affecting Americans in the here and now that can garner that kind of space. But the obsession continues unabated.”

Even when asserting his responsibility for addressing the nation’s problems, Mr. Obama manages to highlight that he was left to deal with others’ missteps.

At a town-hall meeting this month in Michigan — the state with the nation’s highest jobless rate — Mr. Obama said that fixing the economy is “a job I gladly accept.”

But he added, “I love these folks who helped get us in this mess. And then suddenly say, ‘Oh, this is Obama’s economy.’”

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