WASHINGTON -- Blame everything on Bill Clinton.
That's the long pass Republicans are throwing as the clock ticks toward the midterm congressional elections influenced by the sagging economy and corporate accounting scandals.
"There's no question our economy has been challenged by a recession that was beginning when we took office," Bush told his Texas economic forum last week. He repeated the message as he took to the road to campaign for Republicans.
The recession rhetoric headlines the White House's new public relations offensive on the economy. Many Republicans on November ballots also are seeking to implicate Clinton in the business scandals, suggesting lax oversight and a permissive attitude during his White House years.
"Clearly, the actions by these corporate executives was a result of the go-go Clinton years," said GOP consultant Scott Reed.
Reed said the issue can be a winning one for Republicans. "The candidates have now been home for a couple weeks and are getting a real front-line experience on what the voters care about," Reed said.
Bush himself does not go quite so far in blaming Clinton and his aides for corporate fraud. But Bush has cited a national hangover from "the economic binge" of the late 1990s and has claimed that his chairman at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Harvey Pitt, "was put in place to clean up a mess."
"After some scandals had been in the making for awhile, they bubbled to the surface," Bush said Thursday during a visit to Mount Rushmore.
Top Republicans are attacking Clinton's treasury secretary, Robert Rubin. They assert that Rubin, as a Citicorp director, tried to trade on his Washington connections in seeking to avert Enron's bankruptcy filing. Citigroup is the collapsed energy-trading company's biggest creditor.
Democrats scoff -- and note that the Clinton years saw the largest economic expansion of the post-World War II period.
"All I know is 18 months ago, we had a surplus," says Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.
Blaming your predecessor is hardly novel. Presidents often claim credit for the good times -- and try to shift responsibility for the hard times.
Ronald Reagan blamed President Carter for the weak economy of 1980, when interest rates topped 15 percent and inflation approached 13 percent. Carter leveled similar criticism four years earlier, complaining of inheriting from President Ford a then-historic budget deficit and 7.8 percent unemployment.
Clinton made the economy the top issue in his 1992 defeat of the first President Bush. Once in office, he accused his predecessor's budget office of cooking the books to hide the magnitude of the federal deficit.
The current Bush White House has blamed Clinton for other problems, too. Some officials have even suggested the two-term Democrat's efforts to prod an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement helped fuel the recent Mideast violence.
"These people ran on responsibility, but as soon as you scratch them they go straight to blame," Clinton responded in a recent television interview. "Now, you know, I didn't blame his father for Somalia. I didn't do that."
Will voters buy the blame-Clinton strategy?
"All of the political polling experience has been that the man in the Oval Office gets the glory -- or the blame -- at the time things happen," said pollster Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.
"I'm not sure the American public is blaming Bush or Clinton. It's more that they want something done about this, and turning to Bush because he's the president and Clinton's not." Kohut added.
Even though Dick Cheney, now the vice president, suggested in late 2000 that the economy was weaker than it appeared, Bush and other Republicans have been able to legitimately use the "inherited" recession claim for only the past two weeks.
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