Herbert Hoover never had it so good.
Inattentive voters listening to the Democrats' anti-Bush rhetoric could be forgiven for thinking that the Depression-era Republican had returned from the grave to occupy the White House once again. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says President Bush has "the worst record on jobs since Herbert Hoover," a charge echoed by every Democrat in the country and repeated incessantly by Democratic presidential candidates. The more times they can say Hoover -- Hoover, Hoover, Hoover -- the better.
According to Dick Gephardt, "Bush has lost more jobs than Herbert Hoover -- almost." On that "almost" (Gephardt is only off by about 10 million jobs) hangs a prodigious amount of partisan spin and most of the Democratic economic case against George Bush. The heavy-breathing rhetoric -- have I mentioned Hoover lately? -- is meant to mask the weakness of that case. The fact is that if Hoover had Bush's economic record, he would have been delighted, and would be remembered today as a kind of economic genius.
It is understandable that in the years after 1932, Democrats would want to run against Hoover, but 70 years later it's getting, uh, a little tired. In the 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton portrayed a mild recession that had ended in March 1991 -- months before he had even officially announced his candidacy for president -- as the worst economy since the Great Depression. Now, hoping to repeat Clinton's magic against another Bush incumbent, Democrats are back to Depression-era comparisons again.
The purported return of Hoovervilles is based on the factoid that Bush is going to be the first president since -- drumroll, please -- Hoover to preside over an economy that has lost more jobs than it gained during his term in office. True. But this is mostly a matter of timing. Bush inherited an economy from Clinton in 2001 that was sinking fast toward recession (Democrats attacked Bush at the time for pointing this out). Some 200,000 manufacturing jobs had been lost before he took the oath of office, and many more were lost before his economic program had any chance to take effect. If Democrats were being strictly accurate, they would say Clinton and Bush have jointly presided over the worst period of job loss since ... well, you know who.