Kevin Williamson of National Review Online tackles the popular notion of the president’s dominant impact on the nation’s economic performance.

[T]his isn’t about data. It’s about bug-eyed, bone-in-the-nose, bark-at-the-moon primitivism.

We like to think that we have left behind such ancient notions as divinely sanctioned kingship and rule by chieftains who propitiate the gods and therefore make the fields fertile and the livestock fecund — or else displease the gods and bring upon us drought and plague. But we haven’t.

One of the great enduring stupidities of the American presidential cult is the belief, rooted in invincible ignorance, that the state of the U.S. economy at any given moment is a reflection of the intelligence and wisdom of the chief executive of the federal government and a result of the excellence or insufficiency of his administration. “Sure, Bill Clinton may have been an intern-diddling hillbilly and maybe even a violent rapist, but, man, my IRA kicked ass in the 1990s!”

It’s dumb, but it rules politics. …

… Besides the most obvious economic stupidity, there is some pretty deep political stupidity at work here, too. For one thing, presidents have to deal with Congress, which actually does things like set tax rates and appropriate money. People talk about “Reagan deficits” and the “Clinton surplus,” but it would be much more sensible to talk about the Tip O’Neill deficits and the Gingrich surplus: Reagan wanted substantial spending cuts that were never implemented, and Clinton resisted even modest fiscal reform until he couldn’t. These things get a little more complicated than the R-vs.-D, black-hats/white-hats mode of analysis would suggest.