Stupid Economy

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, August 9, 2004; 11:57 AM

You could forgive the folks over at the White House for feeling a bit nostalgic right now about early last week.

Back then, it seemed like the economic recovery was just bouncing along and President Bush was happily telling campaign audiences that the country was "rounding the corner."

But Friday's paltry job growth numbers were a major blow, fueling the fear that Bush will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to see jobs decline during his term.

Since Bush took office, the country has lost 1.1 million jobs -- even as the workforce has expanded.

The disappointing job numbers have also prompted more stories about how the jobs that are being created aren't as good as the ones that were lost.

And The Washington Post reports that Bush's economic advisers are torn between the desperate need to do something -- and the fear of looking desperate.

A White House Divided

Jonathan Weisman and Mike Allen write in a Washington Post news analysis: "With job creation stalled, the stock market sliding and oil prices at record highs, a divided White House is under pressure to produce an economic policy response for President Bush's fall reelection campaign, Republican economic advisers said yesterday.

"But disputes within the economic and political team may jeopardize the effort to craft a clear economic agenda, the advisers said. Plans to simplify the tax code, broaden the president's health insurance proposal and partially privatize Social Security are bumping against political concerns that any detailed proposal will present a target for Democratic attack while potentially looking like an election-year panic."

Weisman and Allen note that only 32,000 new jobs were generated in July and do the math: "To avoid being the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net job loss, Bush must hope for 372,000 new jobs a month in August, September and October."

Friday's Bad News

David Leohnhardt wrote in Saturday's New York Times: "For President Bush, the new evidence creates a nettlesome political situation, making it harder for him to cite strong job gains as proof that the tax cuts he championed at the start of his term were the best cure for the economy's problems."

Katharine Q. Seelye wrote in Saturday's New York Times: "All week long, President Bush traveled the country, cheerfully telling audiences that 'we've turned the corner' on the economy. But on Friday, in the face of the government's paltry new numbers on job growth, the president's new slogan suddenly sounded premature at best."

So what did Bush do?

"Rather than address his vulnerability head-on Friday, Mr. Bush delivered an upbeat assessment of the economy, saying it was getting stronger and lauding the American entrepreneurial spirit."

A Concerned Country

Don Lee writes in the Los Angeles Times about his conclusion from dozens of interviews with employers and workers around the country about the campaign between Bush and his Democratic opponent John F. Kerry: "The U.S. economy seems to be moving along neither robustly (as Bush has hinted) nor terribly slowly (as Kerry suggested), but at a middling pace where most everybody is treading cautiously."

Lee also writes: "The issue of job growth is expected to now move to the forefront of the presidential campaign.

"That could spell trouble for Bush, who, with just two more jobs reports before election day, is likely to be the first post-Depression president to complete a term with fewer jobs than when he took office."

The latest Time magazine poll shows Kerry leading Bush 48 to 43 and the economy trumping Iraq as the most important issue.

Lousy New Jobs

Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times: "The stunningly slow pace of job creation, which sank to growth of just 32,000 in July, has provided new ammunition in an intense political debate over job quality. . . .

"[A] growing number of analysts say the evidence increasingly suggests that the current recovery has indeed been tilted toward lower-paying jobs."

Andrews notes: "Adjusted for inflation, average hourly wages have fallen slightly in the last year."

Warren Vieth writes in the Los Angeles Times from Wisconsin, where he sees evidence of "a characteristic of the current recovery. Yes, the U.S. economy is creating new jobs. But to some of the workers who have been displaced during the downturn of the last three years, the new jobs look a lot worse than their old jobs."

The Inevitable Comparison

Jeff Zeleny writes in the Chicago Tribune: "It may be tempting for some Democrats to draw comparisons between the two Bush re-election drives, especially after the current and former presidents spent a rare weekend fishing together off the Maine coast. But three months before Election Day, the states of the father's and the son's political campaigns are strikingly different.

"Not only did the younger Bush start aggressively planning for a second term nearly a year sooner, he has attempted to address the economic problem head-on even as he campaigns as a wartime president."

Energy Issue Heating Up

Those record high oil prices are also calling new attention to the dramatically contrasting Bush and Kerry energy policies.

John J. Fialka writes in the Wall Street Journal: "President Bush's main answer to high oil prices is more supply: promoting greater domestic-oil production by easing regulations and offering tax breaks. John Kerry emphasizes reducing demand and fostering alternative fuels such as solar and wind power.

"That is the primary difference between the two presidential candidates over a central issue in the 2004 campaign: how to insulate the U.S. economy from sudden spikes in global energy prices, such as the one that cooled growth and rocked financial markets during recent weeks."

Christopher Drew and Richard A. Oppel Jr. in the New York Times take a look at Bush's history with coal and conclude: "Safety and environmental regulations often shift with control of the White House, but the Bush administration's approach to coal mining has been a particularly potent example of the blend of politics and policy."

Julie Cart writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Overriding the opposition of the U.S. Forest Service and New Mexico state officials, a White House energy task force has interceded on behalf of Houston-based El Paso Corp. in its two-year effort to explore for natural gas in a remote part of a national forest next door to America's largest Boy Scout camp."

Here's the White House Task Force on Energy Project Streamlining Web site. It was established by executive order in 2001 to help boost oil and gas production on public lands.

The Commission and the Election

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "The Sept. 11 commission is shaking up the 2004 presidential campaign, helping to make a key political issue of its recommended changes in the nation's intelligence system and reshaping the anti-terrorism platforms of President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry. . . .

"Bush, who initially opposed creation of the commission, last week dropped his opposition to two of its most prominent recommendations: creation of a national director of intelligence post and of a federal intelligence clearinghouse.

Terror and the White House

Daniel Klaidman and Evan Thomas's Newsweek cover story about terror plots opens with this scene: "At 6:40 a.m. on Friday, July 30, Fran Townsend, the president's homeland-security adviser and counterterror chief for the national-security staff, opened up her red-striped Putter and received a jolt."

The Putter is shorthand for the president's Daily Threat Report (PDTR); and when it contains especially sensitive information, a red stripe runs down the side.

Karen Tumulty writes in Time: "Even as Bush went from rally to rally, claiming achievements in education, health care and the economy, his thoughts were on the scary information that was pouring into the White House situation room. 'It's hair raising,' the President privately told an adviser aboard his campaign bus as it rolled between stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania. 'This stuff is really hair raising.' "

Politics and Terror

Tumulty also notes that in the latest Time poll "a surprisingly large 40% of those asked said they believed the Administration was not above using a terrorism alert for political reasons."

Andrew Zajac and John McCormick write in the Chicago Tribune that "two events have created an opening for Democrats to question whether Bush is playing it straight on the terrorism warnings.

"The first came from Bush's political guru Karl Rove in which he framed the war on terrorism as an issue to be capitalized on politically. 'Americans trust the Republicans to do a better job of keeping our communities and our families safe,' Rove said in a January 2002 speech.

"The second is a credibility gap connected to the inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

Rice on National Intelligence Director

Walter Pincus writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush and his senior aides are studying ways to give a new national intelligence director 'effective authority' over the U.S. intelligence community, including budgetary authority, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said yesterday."

Here's the transcript of Rice's interview on "Meet the Press" and a video clip of Rice on the new director position.

Here's the transcript from CNN's "Late Edition" interview with Rice.

Rice and Iran

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "President Bush's national security adviser said Sunday that the United States and its allies 'cannot allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon' and warned that President Bush would 'look at all the tools that are available to him' to stop Iran's program."

Here's a video clip from "Meet the Press" of Rice talking about Iran.

Townsend and Terror Alerts

In the story mentioned above, Walter Pincus also notes: "White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, appearing on CBS's 'Face the Nation,' answered 'yes' when asked whether there had been recent threats to the Capitol and the legislators."

Here's the transcript from "Face the Nation."

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press that Townsend, on "Fox News Sunday," suggested that the recent arrests of suspected terrorists has undermined plans to attack the United States.

Here's the transcript from Fox.

Today's Calendar

After Bush's "Ask President Bush" event at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale this morning, AFP reports, Bush meets Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka.

"Belka, who became Prime Minister on May 2 after a stint running economic policy in Iraq for the US-led coalition, meets Bush as polls show his countrymen are increasingly opposed to their soldiers' presence in the country, where they patrol a large swathe of territory south of Baghdad."

The first lady is on the move today, talking about health care in Pennsylvania, talking about the economy in Ohio and headlining a rally in Michigan.

'Loopy Roadshow'

Elisabeth Bumiller write in her White House Letter in the New York Times: "On television or in newspapers, campaigns appear to have a grown-up coherence: articles and broadcasts about the day's events are organized around specific themes, like the loss of jobs in Ohio, or about something newsworthy the candidates said.

"But to travel with Mr. Bush through three days and five states last week was to join a sometimes loopy roadshow, with Mr. Bush as the lead performer. From a speech at a Knights of Columbus convention in Dallas to a stroll through soybean fields in southern Minnesota to a campaign rally four blocks away from Senator John Kerry in Davenport, Iowa, the president seemed increasingly loose."

The Week Ahead

Ron Fournier writes for the Associated Press: "With the spotlight on his candidacy, John Kerry improved public perception of his character and qualifications but failed to shake-up the presidential race. Now, the focus shifts to President Bush -- and all his hurdles to re-election.

"The Iraq war, which most voters think was a mistake.

"The economy, which most voters don't trust with the Republican.

"The direction of the country, which most voters think is headed south."

Norah O'Donnell reports for NBC News: "His campaign weapon? Republican Senator John McCain, who will be at the president's side so often this week, say officials, he will look like Mr. Bush's running mate."

Men of the People

Lois Romano writes in The Washington Post about those "impromptu" stops the candidates are making.

"The point, campaign officials said, is that voters and supporters get to see the men in more relaxed settings -- with very little cost to the campaigns."

Paul Bedard writes in his Washington Whispers column in US News: "Don't be surprised if fitness freak President Bush starts showing up at Dunkin' Donuts. Seems the prez thinks what people like about him over Sen. John Kerry is his ability to be one of them, and his staff is figuring out ways to show that off."

Fishing for Compliments

Case in point, Bush's decision in April to go fishing with Outdoor Life Network's Roland Martin. It's airing this week.

David Bauder writes for the Associated Press: "If you're wondering what the leader of the free world is doing fishing on an obscure cable TV show, you don't know politics."

Martin told Joe Hagan of the New York Observer: "Barney the dog was there, and he was really interested in every fish we caught. He licked on 'em and what-all. That was fun. It was actually pretty good fishing for the fact that we only had an hour and a half."

Fishing for Salvation

Bush spent the weekend at the family compound in Maine, attending his nephew's wedding, fishing off his father's speedboat -- and being lectured by the local priest.

Scott Lindlaw writes for the Associated Press: "A clergyman implored his affluent congregation, including President Bush's family, to jettison their material possessions, gently mocking George H.W. Bush's struggles on the golf course to drive home his point."

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "The former first lady, Barbara Bush, looked at her husband with a small smile, seemingly hoping that he would be amused. Her son the president nodded a few times but the former president sat stone-faced through the story, according to an Associated Press reporter who had a good view of them.

"It was an unusually stoic reaction for 'old number 41,' as the 43rd president calls him. The elder Bush had been kidding around all weekend, merrily hurtling right at photographers in his 825-horsepower speedboat, Fidelity III, then making sure to spray them with his wake as he suddenly turned away."

The day before, Allen wrote, the president was boasting from the deck of the boat about his daughter Jenna catching a monstrous fish.

Here are lot of photos.

Church Watch

David D. Kirkpatrick writes in the New York Times: "The Bush campaign is seeking to rally conservative churches and their members to help turn out sympathetic voters this fall."


Amy Goldstein wrote in The Washington Post on Saturday: "President Bush said yesterday that U.S. colleges and universities should abandon a long-standing, if disputed, practice of giving preference in admissions to students with family connections."

Here's how Terence Hunt put it, on the Associated Press wire: "President Bush, who followed his father and grandfather to Yale University despite an undistinguished academic record, said Friday that colleges should get rid of 'legacy' admission preferences that favor the sons and daughters of alumni."

Elisabeth Bumiller wrote in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush, who delivered a version of his campaign stump speech and did little to tailor his remarks to the group, received mostly tepid applause and was greeted with far less enthusiasm than his Democratic opponent for president, Senator John Kerry, who addressed the convention on Thursday.

"At one point, some of Mr. Bush's listeners began laughing when the president became tangled up in response to a question about the meaning of tribal sovereignty in the 21st century, and how Americans should resolve conflicts between tribes and the federal and state governments."

Here is the text of Bush's remarks.

Ronald Kessler Watch

Roxanne Roberts writes in her Out & About column in The Washington Post that "[m]ore than 100 Bush fans gathered at the Northwest Washington home of former CIA and FBI director William Webster and wife Lynda" to celebrate the publication of Ronald Kessler's new book, "A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush."

Kessler, who was my guest Live Online last week, also got some free publicity on Saturday from the Bush/Cheney campaign.

In an e-mail to supporters, campaign manager Ken Mehlman wrote:

"Tired of seeing book after book with distortions and inaccuracies about our President?

"We have a must-read for you."

Futures Watch

Daniel Gross writes in the New York Times: "On two exchanges where investors trade contracts on political outcomes -- the Iowa Electronic Markets and Intrade, based in Dublin -- President Bush has a slight lead."

Here are the graphs from Iowa and Dublin.

Chalabi Watch

Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "An arrest warrant for Ahmad Chalabi is the latest turn in the unlikely saga of a figure who is skilled at winning support from those in power. . . .

"When Chalabi visited Washington in January, he got the full VIP treatment, including a seat with First Lady Laura Bush at the president's State of the Union address and a kiss on both cheeks from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell."

Getting Her Goat

Rice, on "Meet the Press" was asked her response to Kerry's suggestion that Bush should not have sat listening to "My Pet Goat" for several minutes after hearing that the nation was under attack on the morning of Sept. 11, but should have excused himself and attended to matters.

"My reaction is that anyone who thinks they would have known exactly what they would have done under those circumstances -- I just can't imagine that you would say something like that. The president of the United States was confronted with one of the greatest tragedies that had befallen the United States in our 200-plus years of history. . . .

"I really -- I don't think that talking about that seven minutes, although the president handled that seven minutes correctly, in my view, has anything to do with how one would carry forward the war on terrorism."

Loyalty Oath Watch

Steve Larese writes in the Boston Globe: "A Republican National Committee practice of having people sign a form endorsing President Bush or pledging to vote for him in November before being issued tickets for RNC-sponsored rallies is raising concern among voters."

© 2004