Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: Frank Murray

If I had known that the Bush administration was going to avenge itself on me by having me follow Tom Foley, I might have been a better boy. Not only that, he took the thesis of what I had to say, but I don’t see how you can avoid that since that seems to me to be terribly obvious. Newspaper reporters are quite often used to working alone, writing what it is they have to say, not answering to anybody, sending it in and letting people read it the next morning while they’re home in bed. But at this type of a session, we seem to be here to kill the wounded, and I guess I’m going to have to join too.

I want to read you a quotation that I think was vital in why George Bush isn’t president today. It’s from a woman named Marissa Hall. She said, “I’ve had friends that have been laid off from jobs. I know people who cannot afford to pay the mortgage on their homes, their car payment. I have personal problems with the national debt. How can you help us if you don’t know what we’re feeling?” You may remember her. She was at the Richmond debate, a twenty-five-year-old draftsman. And she asked all three candidates, “How has the national debt personally affected each of your lives?” President Bush wasn’t ready for the question, and she wasn’t really asking what she wanted to know. She really wasn’t asking about the national debt; she was asking about the deficit and the ability to pay credit card bills with rates that had gone out of sight. But Bush let the question throw him, and he said to her, “I’m not sure I get it. Help me with the question and I’ll try to answer it.” He talked about other things, and she kept dragging him back, and they became debaters. Clinton had a strong answer, and I don’t remember what Perot said. The point is, though, that was one of three events that were tied to economics that hurt President Bush, and hurt his chances of being reelected, because perception is reality, and the perception is what comes through the filter.

I think we all remember when George Bush made the Detroit Economic Club speech that people felt put him on record correctly in saying the things that needed to be said. The economy was, in fact, on a recovery, although that was on paper at the time—people didn’t know it; they couldn’t feel it. They didn’t feel it for a while. When he said it—he went to the Detroit Economic Club, and he said it in terms much like those you’ve heard today in the research papers. He talked about rates of growth, rates of unemployment—decimal points don’t convert very well in a polling booth, where the only answer is “yes” or “no.” And there was a failure between the people who knew those numbers and the people who tried to get people like me to convey their story.

I come to it with few tools for economics. I covered a vast range of subjects, including what we hear today called economics. It’s politics, and I do it in a way that I think is fairly good, compared to some of my colleagues. I would not want to have them try to explain the outcome of a baseball game, in some cases. But the ca

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