Saturday, September 19, 2009

Who's responsible for what?

A former speechwriter for George W. Bush has just published his memoirs, and an excerpt was put up online at GQ. At one point, the author remembers how former President Jimmy Carter was the only one who was willing to help out Bush at the beginning of the financial crisis a year ago:

It was just one more humiliation. First the administration had had to seek out Carter’s help, and then the White House had been schooled on the economy by the president who’d brought you gas lines, an energy crisis, and high unemployment.

How is it that Carter is responsible for the gas lines and energy crisis of 1979, but no one ever talks about the gas lines of 1973, which happened during the Nixon administration? Often, there is talk about whether the sitting president was just there when something happened or whether that person's politics helped bring about the event -- was George Bush Senior just the rooster that crowed when the Berlin wall fell, or did his policies help bring about that change? Was there something special about Bill Clinton's economic policies, or would any president elected in 1992 have had the same success because the Internet was about to boom anyway?

In the case of Carter and Nixon, I'm afraid the evidence is not good -- for Nixon. While Jimmy Carter faced a revolution in Iran that was not directly related to any of his policies (though it was indirectly related to US support for the Shaw of Iran over several decades, including his administration), Richard Nixon reacted to the crisis in 1973 (brought about by US support for Israel) by instituting price controls in a step that seemed to fly in the face of general Republican policy. As energy group Daniel Yergin once put it, these price controls were

not the handiwork of left-wing liberals but of the administration of Richard Nixon, a moderately conservative Republican who was a critic of government intervention in the economy.

So if Carter is responsible for the economic downturn at the end of his term, the case is all the stronger for Nixon to be held accountable for what happened in 1973.

And while we are at it, why are Bush and Cheney so rarely held accountable for the attacks on 9/11? As Harper's Scott Horton put it yesterday:

Defenders of former president George W. Bush now focus their efforts on claims that he enhanced the nation’s security. There aren’t many objective metrics for assessing security, but there’s only one they use over and over again: 9/11 did not recur on his watch. One weakness of this argument is that 9/11 did not occur on the watch of any of his predecessors, either.

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