Peddling a "Clinton recession"

Published September 2, 2004 7:46PM (EDT)

Many of us remember the Clinton years as a time of unparalleled prosperity, when 22 million people found new jobs and the federal government took in record surpluses in tax revenue. But in speech after speech this week, Republicans have excused George W. Bush's poor economic record by suggesting that the president "inherited" an economy in shambles -- a "Clinton recession" now thankfully turned into "Bush prosperity."

In his speech on Tuesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared that "under President Bush and Vice President Cheney, America's economy is moving ahead in spite of a recession they inherited and in spite of the attack on our homeland." Last night, Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio said the same thing: "Let's remember where we have been," he told the delegates. "This president inherited an economy spiraling into recession, and already losing jobs in states like Ohio." But under Bush, Portman said, "we are adding jobs, including in manufacturing. Yes, we have more work to do, but we are on track for economic growth."

In anticipation of yet another dismal employment report to be announced on Friday, Donald Evans, the Secretary of Commerce, held a press conference on Wednesday at which he, too, both blamed Clinton and sugarcoated the coming bad news. "The president inherited a Clinton recession and turned it into the early stages of Bush prosperity," Evans said.

So did the recession really precede Bush, as they claim? According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the private, nonpartisan research group responsible for tracking the official peaks and troughs of the U.S. economy, the economy began to contract in March of 2001, two months after Bush was inaugurated; the recession marked the end of the longest period of economic expansion in U.S. history. Under Clinton, in 1999 alone more than 3 million new jobs were added to the economy. In 2000, the year in which Rob Portman says the country was "spiraling into recession," almost two million new jobs were created in America. Most would consider those numbers a fairly robust inheritance.

And contrast those numbers with employment data during Bush's presidency: About 1.8 million jobs were lost in 2001. Five hundred thousand jobs were lost in 2002. And 61,000 jobs were lost in 2003. It's true that since then, about a million people have found new jobs -- but during the Clinton years, there were a million new jobs added every couple months.

The Republicans may be selling some economic hocus-pocus, but so far "Bush prosperity" isn't buying a whole lot of jobs for the unemployed multitudes in places like Ohio and Michigan.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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