Bush Bashed Over Economic Forum: U.S. Boosterism Falls Flat, Fails to Rally Confidence
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Bashed Over Economic Forum
U.S. Boosterism Falls Flat, Fails to Rally Confidence
WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush's boldest attempt yet to restore faith
in the American economy has crashed and burned, denounced by a chorus of voices
as futile and self-serving.
From San Francisco to Des Moines, New York to Houston, newspaper editorials eviscerated
Bush's half-day economic summit in Waco, Texas. Business leaders and economic
analysts condemned the effort as weak and devoid of ideas.
The New York Times' Maureen Dowd began her column: "President Bush tried to fix
the economy before lunch yesterday."
The Washington Post's editorial was equally sarcastic, noting that "among the
adoring Cabinet officers and supportive business executives ... there was a range
of opinion: Some people thought Mr. Bush is doing a magnificent job, while others
insisted that he is doing an extremely magnificent job."
Tuesday's event, heavily promoted by the White House, was clearly the biggest
mistake on the domestic front to date in Bush's presidency, said David Kusnet,
a visiting fellow with the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
"It was a media event which generated terrible media coverage and, even while
the president was speaking there, the stock market was tumbling," Kusnet said.
"I don't think you can build confidence just by telling people to have it, and
telling them to ignore their own personal economic experiences."
Some of those who've had the personal economic experience of unemployment said
the event, which they watched live on CSPAN, left them empty. Mike Nunez of Houston
voted for Bush in the 2000 presidential election. He lost his $100,000-a-year
(U.S.) computer software sales job last year.
"A lot of people like me are sitting around and wondering when any action will
be taken. I'm thoroughly disappointed," he told the Houston Chronicle.
As it turned out, the most astute political observer of all may have been Doonesbury
cartoonist Garry Trudeau, who has been running a series of scathing cartoon
strips for more than a week now mocking Bush's summit.
As Trudeau predicted, the Waco event was heavily scripted. Participants, who were
rigorously screened — no Democrats were allowed in — were given "talking points"
written by White House senior staffers.
Not a single participant criticized Bush's tax cut, which, combined with the war
in Afghanistan and the slumping economy, has wiped out the federal surplus and
left a huge and growing budget deficit.
One participant, Raleigh, N.C., restaurant owner Van Eure, gushed to Bush at a
summit session: "I'm just proud to be sitting next to one of my heroes." The comment
"seemed to sum up the tone of the forum," the Post noted dryly.
Other summit participants, including CEOs and company presidents, read messages
crafted by trade associations with close ties to the White House. Bush, meanwhile,
made a few jokes about the Texas summer heat and scribbled down notes, but didn't
raise any serious new economic proposals for discussion.
Bush's much-ballyhooed summit failed to restore confidence, even temporarily.
Hours after it ended, stock markets suffered more losses, with the Dow Jones industrial
average down 206.5 points, the NASDAQ composite index down 37.6 points and the
Standard & Poors 500 down 19.59 points.
And, even while summit participant Charles Schwab, CEO of investment broker Charles
Schwab and Co. Inc., was sitting beside Bush, his company was announcing 400 job
cuts, the Times noted.
Bush and his advisers are desperate to avoid repeating the mistake Bush's father,
the 41st president, is perceived to have made when he focused heavily on the Persian
Gulf War and not the economy, and then was defeated by recession-weary voters
after one term. The Waco summit was an attempt to show that Bush, the 43rd president,
is actively trying to restore the economy.
But the tone of the commentary that rained down on Bush yesterday made it clear
he is no longer the bulletproof president, immune to criticism, that he was in
the months after Sept. 11. Recent polls have shown that, with the November mid-term
elections looming, Americans rank the economy as their number one concern, far
ahead of terrorism.
Bush continued his two-day Midwestern road trip yesterday, telling a gathering
at the University of Wisconsin that Congress was contributing to the ailing U.S.
economy with excessive spending that would impede growth.
The U.S. president had interrupted his four-week Texas vacation to help raise
nearly $2 million for Republican gubernatorial candidates in Wisconsin and Iowa,
in advance of the November mid-term elections.
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