For George Bush the elder, the recession of the early 1990s was a
difficult subject, something best not discussed in public. As he put it
on November 20, 1991, "I think more than anyone else in this country,
obviously, that if the president misspeaks or sounds euphorically
optimistic, or overly pessimistic, you send the wrong signals to a
skittish market and to the people. So I'm trying to say, 'Look, we're in
tough times; they're going to get better.'"
But the new Bush-Cheney administration is using reverse psychology.
In December, even before taking office, Vice President-elect Dick Cheney
warned that the United States "may well be on the front edge of a
recession here." Three days later, George W. Bush told CBS News, "There
are some warning signs on the horizon about the economy; both Secretary
Cheney and I have spoken about that publicly." Bush and Cheney were
trying, of course, to date a recession to the late stages of the Clinton
administration. But eyebrows were raised in some circles about whether
it was wise for the new leaders to be talking down the economy.
Nevertheless, Bush has continued to use evidence of a slowing economy
to market his proposed tax cut. "A warning light is flashing on the
dashboard of our economy, and we just can't drive on and hope for the
best," Bush said on February 8.
So is George W. discarding his father's advice about sending "the
wrong signals"? Or has he decided, as some have suggested, that the time
is right for a recession and it's better for political reasons to have
it early in his term? That "warning light" on the dashboard may be just
the signal he's hoping for.