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Obama Sharpens His Reminders That He Inherited Fiscal 'Mess' From Bush

President Barack Obama says the economy is causing a lot of families 'incredible pain and hardship' but the government is providing them help. Video by AP

Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, denied that the president has changed his tone toward the previous administration. He said Obama is "not trying to place blame, but he is trying to say clearly: Here's what we've got and here's our way out of it. He's offered a positive alternative to their criticism."

"The truth is that 98 percent of his speeches are about the future, and 2 percent are about inheritance," Emanuel said. "Whereas I think for Republicans it's 2 percent about the future, and 98 percent hope that the people have amnesia."

Until recently, the job of reminding the country of the Bush-era legacy had been left mostly to senior administration officials, and it sometimes ranged beyond economic matters. Referring to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Vice President Biden said soon after the inauguration that "we're trying to figure out exactly what we've inherited here."

In early February, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that "after I accepted the position, I began looking at the broad array of problems that we were going to inherit," citing the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan in particular.

But most of the Bush-era blame has focused on the economy and the dismal state of the government's finances. Bush's spokesman, Rob Saliterman, declined to comment for this article.

Obama has strengthened his rhetoric gradually. Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, said the administration's "sharpened language is a response to the Republican argument against Obama based on huge deficits and big spending."

Six days after taking office, Obama kicked off an event on jobs, energy reform and climate change with "a few words about the deepening economic crisis that we've inherited." He lamented announced job cuts at such economic mainstays as Microsoft, Intel, Home Depot and Caterpillar, among others.

Just over a week later, Obama, arguing for his stimulus plan, said that "we've inherited a terrible mess," and a few days after that, in the economically depressed city of Elkhart, Ind., he told the audience, "We've inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the Great Depression."

During a prime-time news conference later that day, he used "inherited" twice in the same sentence to describe the deficit and "the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression."

This month, Obama has described inheriting "a fiscal disaster" and "a real mess," as administration officials emphasized that the effects of the stimulus package have yet to be seen in paychecks and job-creating public-works projects.

"There's a fascinating behind-the-scenes trend taking place for someone who remains a very popular president," said Ari Fleischer, a former Bush press secretary, describing the decline in Obama's approval ratings and an increase in disapproval numbers. "His response to that trend is to turn up the blame on George Bush and everything that came before him. And he was the one who talked about getting past partisanship."

The economy continues to shed jobs -- 651,000 in February alone -- and the Dow Jones index is roughly 12 percent lower than when the market opened on the day of Obama's inauguration. Perhaps most damaging has been the uncertainty surrounding Obama's strategy to rescue the banking sector, a plan that has been criticized for lacking detail.

Host Chris Wallace asked on "Fox News Sunday" this month, "Can this now fairly be called the Obama bear market?"

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) said, "I want to take the president at his word that he wants to work on these problems plaguing American families," adding that "people are looking for leadership."

"It is the Obama economy and the Obama stock market," Cantor said. "This is about today, and he's assumed his post."

Researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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