The Burning Bush

After the earthquake of August 2011, word got out that it occurred on a rare and obscure fault-line known as “Bush’s Fault.”

This was, of course, a parody of Barack Obama and his leftist cohorts blaming any and everything that was wrong with America on the previous president.

But this view was shared by a remarkable high percentage of voters on election day 2012.  In an election in which the economy was by far the most important issue, almost half of voters blamed Bush more than Obama for the state of the economy.  Almost half.  When I heard that at about 7 pm on election night, I knew that if this was accurate, the election was over.

This view that Bush is mostly responsible for our troubled economy – even four years after leaving office – represents a stunning repudiation of not just the 43rd president, but the Republican Party.  This conclusion is undergirded by the fact that seven million less of the GOP base, caucasians, voted in 2012 than in 2008, and that Mitt Romney received three million less votes than John McCain – despite widespread acknowledgment that Romney was clearly a better candidate than McCain.  This was the difference in an election that saw the incumbent win despite receiving eight million less votes than he did four years ago.

Now that Obama has been re-elected, there is no need for the left to continue blaming Bush.  But now it may be, or perhaps should be, the Republicans’ turn.  And not just Bush 43, but Bush 41.

The stewardship of Ronald Reagan, who believed in smaller government with every fiber of his being, led to an unprecedented 116 consecutive months of economic growth.  That’s just four months short of ten years.  Reagan never backed down from his supply-side economic policies, even in the face of stubborn unemployment and inflation in the first half of his first term that carried over from the disastrous stewardship of Jimmy Carter (unlike Obama, he refused to blame Carter once he was in the White House), and even though they had famously been called voodoo economics by the man he ultimately and reluctantly selected as his running mate, Bush 41.

But when Bush was himself elected president in 1988, primarily because of the overwhelming popularity of Reagan and his policies, he immediately called for a “kinder, gentler nation.”  Kinder and gentler than what, or whom?  The answer was obvious: Reagan.  And in a promise designed to be his signature wedge issue, Bush took aim at the Democrats: “read my lips – no new taxes.”

Of course, the country club president failed to keep that promise, and it contributed to his resounding defeat four years later.

The Republican presidential candidate four years later was Bob Dole, caricatured as the “tax collector for the welfare state” because of his evident lack of core economic beliefs.  He was also soundly defeated.

Enter Bush 43, and his “compassionate conservatism.”  The implication was, of course, that conservatives are not inherently compassionate because they don’t believe in a large federal government, but that he would be different.  And after the narrowest victory in presidential history, he proved it by unleashing a torrent of federal spending that would stand as the most profligate ever, until Obama came along.

One of the core beliefs of conservatives is that education should be controlled by local communities.  But Bush pressed his federal No Child Left Behind initiative, granting even more power to a federal government that had been consistently increasing federal spending on education without any results to show for it.  This program, almost as unpopular on the left as on the right, has cost taxpayers some $25 billion a year for the last decade, in addition to burdening states with unfunded mandates that cost tens of billions more.

Even with Medicare already hemorrhaging and facing tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities going forward, Bush also forced through an unfunded Medicare prescription drug program (Part D), adding trillions more in federal obligations (even though the program has, incredibly and perhaps for the first time ever, cost less than the federal government estimated).

In addition to the expansion of federal power and increased budget deficits implicit in these and other programs, party discipline forced George Allen, Paul Ryan and many other conservatives to go along and support their Republican president, leading to the absurd spectacle in the recent Virginia Senate campaign of leftist Tim Kaine attacking Allen from the right for fiscal recklessness.

As reported in the epilogue of the excellent book Rendezvous with Destiny by Craig Shirley on the 1980 presidential campaign, here is what the Manchester Union-Leader reported in 2003 about Ed Gillespie. longtime Virginia-based political strategist and Bush’s hand-picked chairman of the Republican National Committee:  “Gillespie said in no uncertain terms that the days of Reaganesque railings against the expansion of the federal government are over…Today the Republican Party stands for giving the American people whatever the latest polls say they want…The people want expanded entitlement programs and a federal government that attends to their every desire, no matter how frivolous?  Then that’s what the Republican Party wants, too.”

So here we stand four years after Bush left office with record low approval numbers, with almost two thirds of voters telling AP that the economy was the most important issue of the election…and re-electing the most leftist president in American history, who they blame less for the sad state of the economy than his Republican predecessor.

The conclusion is clear.  George W. Bush completed a process begun by his father, and ruined the Republican brand.   It will take a genuine conservative to restore it.  A conservative who doesn’t stipulate that conservatives are less kind or less gentle or less compassionate than leftists.  Someone who, like Ronald Reagan, will offer a choice, not an echo.

  • Nathan Miller

    Well said. I fear it will be many decades before the Republican brand recovers from GWB.

    • Roger R. Schweikert

      We don’t have decades to wait Nathan. For sadly I agree with both Mark Levin and RPV Chairman Pat Mullins who recently echoed words similar to those of John Paul Jones, Winston Churchill and George Patton rolled into one. Frankly I do not think we even a minute to waste either commiserating over our recent statewide and national political defeats in the recent election, but must need to simultaneously prepare for the next federal assault on our way of life as well as launch our own Dolittle like counter attack though the next General Assembly and reconvenied Congress.
      And while we are setting up the best political pickets we can muster to continue to defend the political ground we still hold, we also must more aggressively recruit, train and then launch or own counter-offensives to actually retake the same federal legislative, executive and regulatory grounds we recently lost. what we cannot do is continue to wring our hands, scratch our heads, blame one another or even consider abandoning any of our those same core principles that some pundits wrongly suggest we need to surrender in order to appeal to certain demographic groups currently outside our majority conservative/libertarian Party fold. If we do not immediately and almost constantly counterattack, we may never regain the offensive but may find ourselves only on the defensive, and you can rarely win any political contest when you only play defense. especially against this obviously better organized progressive/socialist big government cadre in both political parties. Regan defined them well when he once proclaimed not only that “Socialism was the halfway house to communism” but also that “Government was not the solution but was in fact the problem”, just as the prophets Samuel and Benjamin Franklin both predicted. Similarly RPV Chairman Mullins told the Madison Republican Women last night, “Whenever we run like Democrats, they win, but when we run like Republicans, we win.”
      While identifying the seemingly self destructive insanity that pereenial plagues our Party’s nominating process however, one thing Tim’s article does adequately explain, is why it is that so many of our top state and national Party leaders so frequently decide early to support a favorite candidate for President or the U.S Senate before the state nominating primary or convention because he (or someday she) appears to be eitherthe “more attractive or electable candidate in a general election” when in reality on even a cursory examination, it is obvious that this candidate is more willing to run away from the party platform rather than embrace, embody or promote it?
      Similarly why is it that when we most need our Congressional members to mutually and forcefully expound the superiority of our conservative solutions on the issues and to the national problems we face, those same members so egregiously decide instead last week to merely maintain the status quo especially in the house by so uninspiringly re-electing the same small exclusive cadre of failed leaders from the last Congresss seemingly more hostile to their more principled “extremists” Tea Party members than they are to the President or his party members and agenda?

  • Christopher Stearns

    Exceptionally well said, Tim.

    The Bush family has certainly done some considerable damage to our Republican brand, but it’s something that I see is totally repairable – but, we have to maintain the will to change course.

    That said, I don’t think either of the Bush presidencies should carry all of the blame. A number of circumstances were happening outside of the bully pulpit of the Executive branch (though many of our Presidents could have altered certain outside variables).

    For instance, Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Alan Greenspan (who was initially appointed by President Reagan), had his hand on the interest rate lever. I, personally, still maintain that the unnecessary excess of liquidity was the main contributor to the bubbles and bursts over his near 20-year tenure.

    Regardless, I think the days of neoconservatives shaping the debate in the Republican Party is on its way out. Much like modern social and economic progressivism, philosophical neoconservatism isn’t going to shape a realistic debate regarding our debt, deficit-spending, liberty and the overall role of government.

  • Loudoun GOPer

    Instead of blaming GWB for Romney losing the election, how about we lay the blame where it belongs – on Romney. If half of the people who voted in this election blamed GWB for the poor economy, it doesn’t mean it was Bush’s fault. It means that it was OUR fault for not doing a good enough job of laying the blame on Obama where it belongs.

    We all know that Obama never takes responsibility for anything. According to him, nothing is EVER his fault. So why is it surprising that he would blame the bad economy on Bush? The fact that he was able to get at least half of the country to believe him is our failure for assuming that the public would not fall for such a lame excuse. Hint: NEVER assume anything.

    For four years Obama and the Democrats had been building a narrative, a theme as it were, of class warfare and blaming rich people for all the problems in our nation. Look back at the rhetoric from the Democrats. Look back at the
    rhetoric from the pundits. Look back at the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests.

    Everything was geared toward pitting the country against rich, white, fat-cat, wall street millionaires. So who do we decide to nominate?? A rich, white, fat-cat, wall street millionaire. We played right into their hands because we were told we had to choose someone “electable”. We couldn’t pick somone like Rick Santorum because they might attack him on social issues. Of course, we choose the “electable” candidate and they still use the extreme social issues attack on him. Wow! I sure never saw that one coming!

    We need to stop fighting all the old battles and concentrate on how to fix the problem. Check out the article in the post about Obama’s voter database as prime example #1 of how we have failed to do what it takes to win elections in this new era of the internet and social media:

    Instead of blaming Bush for Romney losing, how about we ask Bush how he was able to win 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004? How about we figure out how to effectively communicate our conservative message to the youth vote? How about we start talking to all those Reagan Democrats in the Midwest and the Rust belt and show them how the Democrat party is not their grandparents party anymore and get them voting Republican?
    The 2012 presidential election was one we NEVER should have lost. The fact that we did speaks to not only the poor choice we made for a candidate, but the poor job we did in communicating our message and getting voters to the polls.

    • I blame stronger candidates for not running (Jindal, Christie, Rubio, Pawlenty (he quit too early),etc), which makes them less strong for future elections. I also blame the Republican electorate for choosing Romney in the first place. There’s also a place to blame Romney. But I agree with you that fighting old battles is a worthless endeavor.

      • The primaries were a cannibalistic feast. Why would any decent person, like Pawlenty (smart move getting out when he did) and Jindal, want to join in the slaughter of fellow Republicans?
        Aside from that, the secret societies that pour millions of secret money into campaigns, spoil it for someone like me. What difference does my $50 contribution mean? A drop in the ocean!
        The time of getting decent, honorable, truly patriotic people to run is gone, and gone forever, I fear. Now we have m(b)illionaires running because others would put themselves into debt, so deeply they’d never get out of the hole.
        Unless, of course, someone like Adelman and Soros etal, would deign to step in.

  • The Federal Farmer

    No love for Ron Paul? Not even a hat tip? He’s the only Republican candidate close to the Reaganite you describe and you can’t even give him a quick nod…..presumably because you don’t like the way he talks or looks…..but that’s why the conservatives will implode…..foolish pride. The GOP has become nothing more than a popularity contest devoid of principles. Nothing would have changed even had Romney been elected except the utter and complete burial of conservatives who can’t even define what that word means.

    • JR

      I agree with much of what the Federal Farmer said, but I am elated to see his resurrection, 225 years after his great battles with the Federalists. Right timing!

      The hope of the American revival is not in the improvement of the field of Republican candidates. The Republican Party is no longer capable of attracting and supporting the kinds of people of intellect and principle that it would take to lead America out of the quagmire. Albeit more sophisticated than Romney and George W. Bush, Jindal and Rubio are creatures of the same swamp, the very same in which America is stuck. Most likely, it is by reason of their greater IQs, not timidity that they elected not to run. They had to know it was beyond their abilities and beyond their permits to lead in changing the course of America, and neither would wish association with the sure, pitiful alternative.

      The only hope, admittedly deem, but maybe getting brighter, for American revival is in the resurrection of the great Antifederalists to lead in the draining of the swamp and guiding America toward higher grounds, where the measure of good government is first and foremost, loudest and clearest in the protection of the citizens’ individual rights and liberties. Of the American political institutions, only the Democratic Party is further in its ideals from this than the Republican Party, but not by much.

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