Ross Douthat writes that the public's memory of President George W. Bush will prevent Obama from being Hooverized by the lousy economy and that Pawlenty's tax plan will be a general election liability. Here's what I think:
Douthat is partly right, but I don't think that blaming Bush helps more than a little. Obama's situation would be worse if the Great Recession and the financial crisis had occurred entirely during Obama's term. People recognize that Obama didn't personally cause the downturn. But that has limited relevance in a general election context. Swing voters can probably keep the following two thoughts in their heads simultaneously: a) Bush was a lousy President and b) Obama might not be as bad, but he is still doing a lousy job and we still need a new President. And it isn't just swing voters. Obama's job approval on the economy is 41%. Short of some calamity, Obama will almost certainly get more than 41% in next year's election. Whatever they think of Bush, even some Democratic-leaning voters don't like the job Obama is doing on the economy. Memories of Bush won't be any clearer in November 2012 than they were when Republicans were making large gains in November 2010. If the labor market stays where it is (or God forbid gets worse), Romney's line that "He [Obama] didn't create the recession, but he made it worse and longer" will have resonance and "Bush started it" won't be enough of a response. To the extent the labor market improves, the force of Romney's charge will weaken.
I generally share Douthat's concerns about Pawlenty's tax plan (and especially its relationship to his spending plans) but I hope to get to that tomorrow.