History Shows Presidential Blame Game Is a Risky Political Move
In 1979, as the U.S. was reeling from skyrocketing interest rates, high unemployment and an energy crisis, President Jimmy Carter delivered a televised address that would later infamously be labeled, “the malaise speech." He never used the word, but rather blamed the poor economy in part on a "crisis of the American spirit."
In hindsight, that speech now seems like a hard lesson on the political liabilities of the blame game -- something critics say President Obama has failed to grasp more than 30 years later.
Obama has suggested that blame for the stagnant U.S. economy lies in places other than the Oval Office. The latest example occurred Monday, when the president said, "There will always be economic factors that we can't control, earthquakes, spikes in oil prices, slowdowns in other parts of the world.”
This tactic from the Obama administration is not new. Five days ago, the president suggested "messy democracy” bore some blame for economic stagnation. "When I said, ‘change we can believe in,’ I didn't say ‘change we can believe in tomorrow,’” the president said.
He has at times leveled blame at Wall Street, commodity traders, natural disasters, Washington inaction and Republicans -- specifically the previous administration.
Obama’s top Republican critics say there comes a point in any administration when the passage of time means a president should take responsibility for the problems he inherits.
"Presidents who try to blame circumstances on their predecessors don't fair very well with voters,” conservative pundit Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner said. “[V]oters sense they have greater responsibility for the situation America is in after they've been in office for one term."
But Barone concedes this old tactic has worked for some.
“You know President Franklin Roosevelt for many years did continue to blame the depression on his predecessor President Hoover," Barone said. "That was a pretty good political tactic for Roosevelt.”
In an undeniable sign that Obama is facing one of the deepest crises of his term, once supportive friends on the left are now echoing the complaints heard from the right.
Over the weekend, the New York Times featured an opinion piece by Obama supporter Drew Westin, a professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, and it was far from friendly.
"Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor," Westin wrote.
Perhaps most daunting to Obama is that the tide of bad news this summer is not limited to the economy. Months after President Carter delivered his "malaise speech,” the media was saturated with images of Carter's failed hostage rescue mission in Iran. Pictures of burned American bodies and wrecked planes in a Middle Eastern desert left many Americans with a vivid image of a nation whose better days had passed. It helped seal the fate of a doomed presidency.
The day this August that marked the S&P downgrade of U.S. credit was also the deadliest day for America in the Afghanistan war. Thirty Americans, including 22 Navy SEALS from the same team that killed Usama bin Laden, died in the crash of a Chinook helicopter, apparently at the hands of the Taliban.