Let's blame the recession on Bush

January 14, 2001|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder / Tribune

This column takes a back seat to no other column when it comes to declaring that presidential administrations have failed. Back in 1992, this column set a world indoor journalistic record when it formally declared the failure of the Bill Clinton administration a full month before Mr. Clinton actually took office. That is how far "ahead of the curve" this column is.

And so it is high time that this column took stock of the administration of George "W." Bush III Jr. -- to evaluate his presidency in a fair and balanced manner, looking not only at Mr. Bush's flaws, but also at his glaring weaknesses. In doing so, this column intends to give the incoming president the benefit of the doubt, in the generous spirit of loser Al "Recount" Gore, who, in his gracious concession speech, called upon the nation to "forget our differences and unite behind our new president, who needs the support of every American, because he has the brain of a sea cucumber."

Despite Mr. Gore's harsh assessment, this column happens to think that Mr. Bush has not been a complete disaster in certain areas, such as high-level appointments. Many of the Bush appointees are experienced Washington hands who held high-level jobs under George Bush III Sr., Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and Warren G. Harding. Unfortunately, when these appointees were subjected to FBI background checks, it turned out that a number of them had, at some point in the past few decades, passed away.

This column is not suggesting that a person should be deemed unqualified to hold high government office merely because that person has kicked the bucket. It makes no difference, for example, who serves as secretary of energy, as evidenced by the fact that for the past two years the post was filled -- and very capably -- by a Magic 8 Ball. Nobody knows what the Department of Energy does, including its employees, who spend their days waiting for the phone to ring, which never happens, except when the Department of Commerce, which is also bored out of its mind, makes prank calls to ask if the Energy Department's refrigerator is running.

But certain top federal jobs are important. For example, the secretary of state is responsible for taking a large entourage over to the Middle East every two weeks to broker a new historic peace accord. The postmaster general is responsible for ensuring that every American, every working day, receives a stack of unwanted fourth-class mail the height of Al Pacino. And the surgeon general is responsible for carrying on the decades-old quest for a cigarette-pack warning so scary that smokers actually take it seriously ("Whoa! Eyeball worms! I'm quitting!").

In key jobs such as these, the nation needs "the best and the brightest." That is why this column is concerned about the mental sharpness of some of the older Bush appointees, particularly Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who recently stated that his highest military priority will be "to stop Lee at Gettysburg."

But what has this column really alarmed is the economy. It does not look good. The trouble began last year, when Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan "Mojo" Greenspan, with no warning, raised interest rates sharply after having what a member of his staff described as a "very upsetting experience" involving the Hair Club for Men. As a result, the nation has been plunged into a recession. Former "dot-com" millionaires are now surviving on roadkill jerky. Sales of Porsche Boxsters and large, absurdly complicated gold watches that tell the phase of the moon have plunged to historically low levels. Bill Gates is down to his last 17 airplanes.

This column has no choice but to blame the recession on the Bush administration. And to those who would argue that Mr. Bush is not responsible for the current economy, this column would respond with a trenchant quotation from the great philosopher Ralph "Waldo" Emerson: "Tough noogies." The president ALWAYS gets credit or blame for the economy, even though he has almost nothing to do with it. Bill Clinton got tons of credit for the good economy of the past eight years, despite the fact that his total contribution consisted of payments to defense lawyers.

So, having carefully considered all factors, this column hereby declares the incoming Bush administration a failure. Do not bother to thank this column: It is only doing its job. And do not become overly alarmed about the future. Instead, consider the inspirational words of one high government official, who, when asked to ponder the fate of this nation, answered, simply: "Reply Hazy, Try Again."

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