Dow Jones, 1998-2008. Source.
Today the Dow has dropped below 10,000. As I write this at 9:15am cst, the Dow is 9,972, a drop of 353 points (so far). On January 2, 2001 the Dow was at 9,878. This means that the wealth created during the Bush years -- in 2007 the Dow reached over 14,000 -- effectively has been erased. I am sure we can think of other aspects of the Bush years we would rather have erased. But the best we can do is try to explain, learn from, and recover from this eight-year failure.
In that spirit, I recently read this account by the journalist, Ron Suskind. While the value of the Dow is due to many factors more significant than who is in the White House. But the excerpt reveals, I think, a lot about why America is in the position we are in. Frankly, leadership at the top matters.
One morning in 2001, one of President Bush's most senior economic advisors walked into the Oval Office for a meeting with the president. The day before, the advisor had learned that the president had decided to send out tax-rebate checks to stimulate the faltering economy. Concerned about deficits and the dubious stimulatory effect of such rebates, he had called the president's chief of staff, Andy Card, to ask for the audience, and the meeting had been set.
As the man took his seat in the wing chair next to the president's desk, he began to explain his problem with the president's decision. The fact of the matter was that in this area of policy, this advisor was one of the experts, really top-drawer, and had been instrumental in devising some of the very language now used to discuss these concepts. He was convinced, he told Bush, that the president's position would soon enough be seen as "bad policy."
This, it seems, was the wrong thing to say to the president.
According to senior administration officials who learned of the encounter soon after it happened, President Bush looked at the man. "I don't ever want to hear you use those words in my presence again," he said.
"What words, Mr. President?"
"Bad policy," President Bush said. "If I decide to do it, by definition it's good policy. I thought you got that."
The advisor was dismissed. The meeting was over.
It is one story among many such stories. Why, you might ask, would the president bother to have advisors who are expert in various constellations of policy-making if he then disregards utterly whatever they have to say? The answer is at the heart of the failure of this presidency.