WASHINGTON -- President Bush has finally begun promoting one of his highest domestic achievements and the fiscal policies that have produced four years of uninterrupted economic growth. He delivered a self-promotional economic speech Monday that was long overdue, reminding Americans that the economy was enjoying the highest growth rate among the world's industrial powers because of his tax cuts on incomes, capital gains and dividends, which have fueled one of the longest expansions ever. After months of seeming confusion over the president's declining polls, the White House has finally acknowledged what many outside advisers have been saying for months: You're not going to get any credit for this economy (especially from the Washington news media) unless you begin tooting your own horn. Not just once or twice, but often and in as many different venues as possible.
Bush's speech in North Carolina played to the two most fundamental lessons of Presidential Politics 101:
First, play to your strengths. Here's an economy that's growing by more than 4 percent a year, producing 200,000 plus new jobs a month, and the White House was virtually ignoring it. Even Bush's chief economic adviser, Allan B. Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council, admitted that he has "not been doing a good job" of talking up the economy, especially when the monthly data has been consistently positive for quite some time. The second rule: repetition, repetition, repetition.
One speech on the economy's expansion isn't going to cut it. Bush has to keep coming back to this issue again and again, with confidence-building, optimistic messages aimed at convincing Americans that despite our other problems, the U.S. economy is one of the bright spots on the national and global landscape. To see how this works, Bush's advisers need look no further than to President Reagan's economic playbook. Reagan's job-approval numbers sank during the long two-year recession of '81 and '82, but through it all he delivered a steady stream of speeches that promised the economy would turn around in response to his tax cuts, speeches that restored the confidence of a dispirited nation.
The New York Times' editorial page, which opposed Reagan's tax cuts, seemed mystified by these feel-good speeches. To them, it all sounded like "psychonomics." Indeed, he seemed to be administering "group therapy" to the nation at large, the Times said.
In fact, Reagan said that was exactly what he was doing. "I remember saying back when things looked worst that too much pessimism could be deadly," he said in a radio address on March 10, 1984.