Why don’t Democrats fight back harder when Republicans blame them for the economic crisis?

Pence perceptions.
Pence perceptions.
Image: AP/David Goldman
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Donald Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, came out with an oft-repeated line on US president Barack Obama’s economic record, during his Oct. 4 vice presidential debate against Tim Kaine.

“The policies of this administration, which Hillary Clinton and senator Kaine want to continue, have run this economy into a ditch,” he said.

Which, frankly, sounds rather strange, given that Obama was handed an economy in the middle of an almost unprecedented meltdown by a president from Pence’s own party. If we’re in a ditch now, what was 2008?

Yet, the Democrats have utterly neglected to make a point of past Republican economic mismanagement. The closest thing to a criticism of president George W. Bush’s economic record that Kaine came out with was describing Trump’s economic plan as being “exactly what we did 10 years ago and it put our economy in the deepest recession since the 1930s.” But there was no mention of that being under a Republican, and no attempt to use this record to discredit the party of Bush, and of Trump, as being competent on the economy.

It makes for a stark contrast with recent elections in the West’s other financial capital, the United Kingdom, where the liberal Labour party was repeatedly pummeled by Conservatives for having been in power in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis. The phrase “the mess we inherited“ was pushed and pushed by then-prime minister David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne until the notion that the Labour party was responsible for a global financial crisis was ingrained into the public subconscious.

Some Labour spin doctors realized this as it was going on, and later acknowledged they had failed to effectively rebut the Conservative narrative on the economy.

By contrast, in the US, the Democrats have completely failed to press their advantage on recent economic records, including six consecutive years of growth on Obama’s watch.

Instead of a narrative of strength (Obama took over a collapsing economy and the country is doing pretty well by most metrics compared to its peers), Democrats have let Republicans characterize their economic performance as a weak point.