On March 6, 2009, former George W. Bush adviser Michael Boskin offered whatever the opposite of a prophecy is when he said that "Obama's Radicalism Is Killing the Dow." Now let's set the scene. Obama had been in office for less than two months at that point, and in that time, stocks had admittedly fallen a lot as markets worried that the big bank bailout known as TARP wouldn't actually be enough to save the banks. It got so bad that Citigroup briefly became a penny stock. Boskin, though, didn't think that this once-in-three-generations financial crisis was to blame for the market meltdown. Instead, he blamed it on Obama for ... talking about raising taxes?
The Dow Jones Industrial Average topped the 18,000 mark for the first time in its history last week, prompting Matt O'Brien to reminisce about "the worst op-ed in history."
Yep. On the day President Obama was inaugurated, the market closed at 7,949.09. By mid-March 2009 with the economy still spiraling, the Dow sunk even lower, shedding another 1,500 points.
And it was at this point that Boskin, the chair of George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, decided to blame President Obama's agenda for Wall Street's woes. His timing was atrocious -- soon after Boskin's op-ed was published, the market started to recover, and Wall Street gains under the Obama presidency have been extraordinary.
As E.J. Dionne Jr. joked this morning, "It's odd that so many continue to see Obama as a radical and a socialist even as the Dow hits record levels and the wealthy continue to do very nicely. If he is a socialist, he is surely the most incompetent practitioner in the history of Marxism."
The point, of course, is not to snicker at a misguided Wall Street Journal op-ed several years later. Rather, there's a larger salience to all of this.
Indeed, though it's easy to forget, in early 2009, a wide variety of Republicans eagerly told the public that the Democratic White House should be blamed for falling stock prices.
As we talked about a couple of years ago, Karl Rove and Lou Dobbs made the same case. So did Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Fred Barnes. For a short while, it was one of Mitt Romney’s favorite talking points, too. Even John Boehner got in on the larger attack.
Each of them were spectacularly wrong, and as best as I can tell, none of these figures have made any effort to explain their mistake.
But the larger point is the "heads I win, tails you lose" dynamic, which is far too common. When gas prices are high, Republicans insist President Obama is to blame; when gas prices are low, Republicans change the subject. When job creation is weak, the GOP is desperate to point the finger at the White House; when job creation is strong, the GOP again focuses its attention elsewhere.
To be sure, looking at the Dow Jones as a reliable metric of economic health is a mistake -- there are far more important measurements -- and suggesting that the president is solely responsible for the direction of market indexes is wrong.
That said, a little consistency would be nice. Conservatives shouldn't say a falling stock market in early 2009 is proof that Obama's agenda is a dangerous failure, and then ignore a rising stock market as irrelevant.
Or put another way, maybe Republicans can consider the value of forethought when going after Obama: stop picking metrics for presidential success that invariably make Obama look better.