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Credit for Clintonomics

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A good economy isn't just found somewhere "like a turtle on a fence post," President Clinton told Democrats in L.A.

That was a native Arkansan's colorful way of pumping up the ability of a president to make or break an economy. Or, as an old campaign slogan had it, put a chicken in every pot.

Chickens and turtles aside, the American economy is now so huge, complex, and dynamic that the government serves more as a minor maintenance man than a grand creator. Presidents tend to get more blame if something goes wrong than credit if things go right.

And the good times have been rolling along for so long (nine years) that too many voters take prosperity almost as a given, especially with a recession nowhere in sight.

Then, too, Americans have grown in economic literacy. They understand how interest rate shifts by the Federal Reserve, productivity gains from computers and in-their-prime baby boomers, and the efficiency of capital markets drive the economy more than Washington.

Still, to help Al Gore succeed him in the White House, Mr. Clinton claimed during his farewell speech at the Democratic convention that they both deserve credit for the nation's longest economic expansion. More than that, both claim George W. Bush would destroy the economy, mainly by oversized tax cuts that would bust the budget and thus hike interest rates.

Politicians can be cut some slack for exaggeration during a campaign, but Clinton might have helped Gore better if he admitted government's limited role in creating the New Economy and made other claims instead.

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