Fairness To Bush From A Critic
On Saturday, TexasGOPVote blogger Eric Golub posted "George W. Bush–Forever My President." Golub relates how impressed he is with the fact that while he and others craved for Bush to strike back at merciless critics, Bush never did and still doesn’t. He refers to it as class, and says he never abandoned Bush amid the heavy fire, came to respect this quality, and as the title says, considers him “forever my president.”
Now, anyone who has read what I have written for over ten years would never expect such words from me. But before I elaborate about that, I want to say first that such praise is justified. When I criticized Bush’s actions, I referred to his father’s confession that “I’m not much on the vision thing,” and said the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. But it seems clear that that also explains the grace and dignity of the man. Old dad is a gentleman and a patriot and so is the son. And you haven’t paid much attention if you can’t see the affection that each has for the other. It’s clear that George W. Bush could have no better compliment than to be compared to his father.
I am a conservative. Not in the British Tory sense of preservation of the status quo for its own sake or as liberals perceive of conservatives as resistant to progress. If you can’t shake such conceptions, I don’t care if you don’t label me conservative. What I am is someone who believes in the simple value and social potential of liberty constrained by a few basic moral principles. Years ago, I began to distinguish between sentimental and philosophical conservatism. I’m not sentimental about any elements of society but reverence for those few sacred and powerful principles. It isn’t only that they define justice, they also are distinctly potent to provide the best in social and material provision.
Both Bush Presidents did what they thought was best for American society when they defied those principles. The Republicanism that the father grew up in was one that some came to identify as “tax collection for the welfare state.” Democrats had controlled Congress for 40 years when he became president and racked up expenses, debts, and taxes all along the way, with the exception of John F. Kennedy’s tax cuts in the early 60’s, which were rather an interesting story in themselves. No, I don’t remember it; I was 5.
The “extremist” Barry Goldwater had opposed JFK’s tax cuts because “we couldn’t afford them.” But perhaps especially because marginal rates were over 90%, Kennedy argued that a cut would actually spur growth and increase revenue. He was right and Republicans from Reagan forward have made this case and referred back to Kennedy. Democrats since have insisted that higher rates will bring higher revenue, contrary to most evidence. Still right now, Democrats question how government “will pay” for extending tax cuts for earners over 250 thousand. Supposedly that would “cost” us 700 billion dollars that we can’t afford. It’s strange to talk of the “cost” of money not even earned, let alone collected, as though the rates won’t affect what is earned and how. In the computer field, they talk of proposed software as “vapor-ware.” Such “costs” are of “vapor revenue.” Investments are risked for a hoped-for return. But government spenders know exactly what profit will be earned and taxed in the future, even when tax rates are changed. RIGHT! But I digress.
Anyway, George H.W. Bush agreed to a tax hike to pay for growing government, even after his famous pledge: “Read My Lips! No New Taxes!” Democrats of course, flogged him for it. Conservatives like me were disgusted. In my 53 years, federal tax rates have never been too low. I’m in Texas. When George W. Bush was elected, I knew who he was and wrote, “Leviathan gets a night manager.” And government grew under him and a Congress that was Republican for 6 of his 8 years, at a faster clip than it had since Lyndon Johnson in the 60’s. And Bush topped it off with TARP after the largely real estate-caused meltdown. Securities were bundled with mortgage papers and freely traded because real estate had always appreciated, seemingly faster all the time. Traders were like gamblers on a huge hot streak. When the hot streak ended, there was a lot of bad paper.
I was among the few who opposed TARP. Bush even said and still does, “On the advice of people I trusted, I violated my free-market principles.” “Violate principles”…doesn’t work for me. But very smart men said it had to be done, and George W. was doing what he thought was best for the country. I feel pretty confident that most of the critics of George W. Bush mostly distrust the “R” after his name. I thought they should love a Republican who spends like this. I said back then that A) if Al Gore has won and done exactly the same things, they would have loved him. I even think Gore would have invaded Iraq in that situation. But B) Gore couldn’t have done the same because a Republican congress wouldn’t have rolled over with its feet up in the air for HIM. Imagine a Republican Congress passing a Medicare prescription drug benefit for Gore. I can’t.
I’ve listened to those, some friends who hated him no matter what. And even in the past few days I’m hearing the same old “He just wants to enrich his buddies” and “He lied us into war” nonsense. Supposedly the wars were the biggest reason for the deficits. And, they did have a role. But at least defense is an explicit constitutional federal responsibility, though constitutionally, Congress should declare war. I think Bush should have called for a declaration of war. At the time, he might well have gotten one. And if he hadn’t, a bad consequence would have been on Congress.
But even with all of the Bush administration spending, because of the activity and revenue generated by the tax cuts, the debt to GDP ratio was better than his father’s and Clinton’s and only a little above Reagan’s. If Bush was not scrupulous about principle so as to suit me, only Reagan had been better since Coolidge, long before my time. Like Eric Golub, I always respected George W. Bush’s good intentions, and do even more so in light of his recent interviews. No Bush ever considered some of the things that Nixon did even before he got in trouble, starting new regulatory agencies and imposing wage and price controls, which scandalized me at age 14. The country has unprecedented challenges right now, and dramatic action is going to be forced on us. But Bush served with good intentions, and is satisfied with that even in the face of unjustified derision. And, he has refused to question his successor, seeing it as bad for the office of the presidency. He’s a gentleman and a patriot; like father, like son.