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President Bush and the economy

07/25/02 12:00AM By David Moats
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(Host) Commentator David Moats reflects on the crisis in American business, and how it is proving to be a crisis in credibility for President Bush.

Something has changed for George Bush. A perfect storm of trouble is playing into doubts already in the public mind about his leadership. You can just imagine the frantic conversations in the White House in the last few days. What are we going to do about the stock market? What are we going to do about the dollar? What are we going to do about our pals in Texas who've caused us so much trouble? What are we going to do about all the snoopy reporters digging through our little business deals back when life was simple and all we wanted was to make some money like everyone else?

The trouble is everyone else wasn't making money the way Bush and his pals were making money. Most Americans don't have the chance to manipulate stock prices in order to make a killing.

A lot of people have a tolerant attitude toward the rich. They figure if people like George Bush can figure out how to score, more power to them.

But something has changed. We already had a recession, which was worsened by September 11. Now we have a government that's racking up deficits again. The shenanigans of Enron and Worldcom and Tyco and Adelphia and Xerox and who knows who else have shaken the confidence of investors around the world. And the stock market, where a lot of regular people have their retirement money, has taken a dive.

So people are starting to wonder what Bush really knows about the economy. His views were shaped among Texas businessmen, whose idea of serving the public interest is to cripple the government by cutting taxes and gutting regulation.

Okay, so Bush's billionaire Enron pals have received their tax cuts, and lack of regulation has created the kind of crony capitalism for which we criticize Indonesia. People are starting to wonder if there isn't a better way to serve the public interest than to turn the economy over to the oil companies.

Unless the news takes a turn for the better, I think we can expect George Bush to become more and more defensive, less and less friendly with the press, more and more testy when his judgment is questioned. He did a good job after September 11, but that was almost a year ago. We've got new troubles now.

Of course, the president can't be expected to control the stock market or the economy, so it's a mistake to blame him for everything. But people are watching how he responds and wondering if the lessons he learned in the boardrooms of Texas were the right lessons for the White House.

Maybe the storm will pass and the stock market will bounce back and the deficits will shrink and we'll catch Osama bin Laden and the Palestinians will make peace with the Israelis and Saddam Hussein will quietly fade away. We can hope for the best. But the storm hasn't passed yet, and people are still watching the sky.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

Read the companion commentary by Jeff Wennberg.
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