The centerpiece of Jeb Bush’s campaign is a promise to restore 4 percent growth. This goal has already been claimed by the guy Bush is trying to make people forget — his brother, Dubya, whose post-presidential center has also made “4% growth” its primary theme. Borrowing your theme from a failed ex-president brother you’re trying not to be associated with seems like a questionable strategy.
But James Glassman, founding executive director of the Bush Center, tells Tim Noah that it’s fine, because Jeb is the guy who came up with it in the first place. “We were having a quarterly meeting,” recalled James Glassman, former executive director of the Institute, where Bush served on the advisory board, “and Jeb just piped up, ‘Four percent growth.’ And I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea.’”
“Four percent growth” is not a great idea. It’s arguably not even an idea at all.
The last time economic growth hit 4 percent in a year took place during the Clinton administration, a fact that lends this goal its comic undercurrent. When Bill Clinton raised the top tax rate to 39.6 percent, conservatives insisted it would drive the economy into a recession. Instead, the tax hike was followed by a boom. George W. Bush won the presidency and argued that undoing Clinton’s increase of the top tax rate would produce more rapid economic growth. Bush’s plan completely failed to achieve this goal; instead it yielded a historically anemic period of growth, weaker not only than the 1990s recovery but even the much-derided Jimmy Carter presidency.
Bush’s response to this failure was not, of course, to rethink his policies. It was to label his economic ideas the “4% Growth Project,” employing as a branding device a target that his administration achieved in zero of the eight years in which it held office. This is a bizarre approach to presidential legacy burnishing. Even terrible presidents realize they need to find some positive aspect of their work and emphasize that. This is why Nixon spent most of his post-presidential life emphasizing his outreach to China and other diplomatic feats.
If you’re the brother of the designer of the Titanic, you might not want to name your proposal for a new shipbuilding design the “Arrive Safely In New York Without Any Passenger Fatalities Project.” And yet this was Jeb’s idea!