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Bruce Bartlett Fired After Writing Anti-Bush Book

Longtime conservative columnist Bruce Bartlett has been fired by a conservative think tank after writing a book which argues that George W. Bush isn’t really a conservative.

In Sign of Conservative Split, a Commentator Is Dismissed (NYT)

In the latest sign of the deepening split among conservatives over how far to go in challenging President Bush, Bruce Bartlett, a Republican commentator who has been increasingly critical of the White House, was dismissed on Monday as a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative research group based in Dallas.

In a statement, the organization said the decision was made after Mr. Bartlett supplied its president, John C. Goodman, with the manuscript of his forthcoming book, “The Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.”

Mr. Bartlett, who was a domestic policy aide at the White House in the Reagan administration and a deputy assistant Treasury secretary under the first President Bush, confirmed that he had been dismissed after 10 years with the center but declined to make any further comment.

The statement from the organization said Mr. Bartlett had negotiated a deal last year to reduce his workload to give him time to write a book about economic policy and taxation for which he had received a six-figure advance. The statement said that the manuscript he showed Mr. Goodman was “an evaluation of the motivations and competencies of politicians rather than an analysis of public policy.” The statement said the organization did not want to be associated with that kind of work.

[...]

Mr. Bartlett was an early proponent of supply-side economics, and in the late 1970′s was active in promoting the tax-cutting philosophy that later became the basis for President Ronald Reagan’s economic agenda. In recent years he has written a syndicated newspaper column as well as articles for academic journals.

Like many economic conservatives, he has grown increasingly disenchanted with the current administration’s fiscal policy, arguing that Mr. Bush has tolerated if not encouraged a federal spending spree, dashing conservative hopes for progress toward a smaller, leaner government.

[...]

In his next column, to be published on Wednesday, Mr. Bartlett wrote that it is dawning on many conservatives “that George W. Bush is not one of them and never has been,” citing the administration’s positions on education, campaign finance, immigration, government spending and regulation. The choice “of a patently unqualified crony for a critical position on the Supreme Court was the final straw,” he wrote.

In “Impostor,” which is scheduled to be published in April by Doubleday and has already attracted attention on conservative Web sites, Mr. Bartlett expands on many of the themes he has struck in his columns and other writings. He is critical of the administration for policy decisions like backing away at times from its commitment to open trade and for failing to sell conservative ideas like introducing investment accounts to Social Security.

The National Center for Policy Analysis has every right to fire someone who has written, on company time, a book which differs from their viewpoint and which would otherwise likely generate quite a bit of negative publicity for them in certain circles. Also, while I haven’t seen the book, it is quite conceivable that the Center’s explanation is substantively true and that rather than an academic public policy analysis, the book is polemnical.

As decribed by the Times, at least, Bartlett’s thesis has some merit. While I disagree with him and my OTB cohort Leopold Stotch that Bush isn’t a “real conservative,” there’s little doubt that he has been in many ways disappointing to conservative Republicans.

The American conservative movement has always been a collection of people with different emphases, most notably religious/social conservatives and fiscal conservatives/economic libertarians. Bush is in the former camp, is a True Believer, and serves that part of the Republican base quite admirably. Bartlett, Stotch, and I are in the latter camp and are often quite disappointed.

While Bush is more conservative in both senses than his dad, he has always presented himself primarily as a social conservative, although one who has been in private business and wants to minimize governmental regulation and cut taxes. If we didn’t know in 2000 that he wasn’t a spending hawk, though, we certainly knew by 2004. Given that the alternatives were Al Gore and John Kerry, though, it wasn’t as if fiscal conservatives had better alternatives.

Update: Dan Drezner and Matt Yglesias have interesting takes on this controversy as well. Matt doesn’t think this much matters because Bush is still quite popular among ordinary conservatives. He cites the following from a piece in TIME:

Bush’s friends contend that it is the conservative élite, not the President, who miscalculated and that self-righteous right-wingers stand to lose their seats at the table of power for the next three years. “They’re crazy to take him on this frontally,” said a former West Wing official. “Not many people have done that with George Bush and lived to tell about it.”

Matt adds,

Not only is the rank-and-file still loyal to Bush, but dare I say that the pundits who matter are. Fox News and the talk radio hosts with big audiences are still in his corner.

Dan thinks the conservative elite are more important than Matt contends, however:

One could argue that the people Bush is losing right now have been the idea entrepreneurs. Matt is correct that Bush still has quite the firm grip over important policy and power levers. With a reduced bench for supplying supporting ideas, however, will that advantage hollow out?

It seems to me, though, that the crux of the matter remains what I noted in the closing sentence of the original post: What is the alternative? As Kevin Drum has constantly pointed out, it doesn’t matter if the public is tired of the Republicans if it finds the Democrats even more repugnant. Likewise, the conservative base doesn’t need to be kept particularly happy if they’re fired up to keep Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean out of power.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. ken says:

    I think it is pretty clear by now that conservative idealogy is essentially bankrupt. It stands for nothing but the pure self indulgence of cutting taxes coupled with increased spending.

    Those who naively believe otherwise need only to review the actual fiscal policy of conservatives in office starting with Reagan to see that this is true.

    The only real constraint on spending, as liberals have discovered, is the willingness of the American people to pay for it through taxes.

    Once Reagan ‘proved’, to the conservative mind at least, ‘that deficits don’t matter’ then conservatives felt free to indulge themselves in an orgy of tax cutting and spending increases.

    James, you are completely wrong about what conservatives stand for if you think that to them deficits matter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. legion says:

    I’ve had thoughts like this for awhile now… This administration is much more about boosting “themselves” than the GOP. They’ll turn on anyone who disagrees with or threatens them in a heartbeat, Rep or Dem. Just ask Arlen Specter…

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  3. James Joyner says:

    Ken: As noted in the post, “conservatives” aren’t one group at all. There are conservatives to whom deficits matter and those to whom it doesn’t.

    Personally, I’m not all that concerned about deficits per se but rather spending. Given that we’re at war, it’s likely necessary to borrow. It makes little sense to cut into other necessary programs to pay for emergency spending. On the other hand, there are plenty of programs that I would prefer to see cut or eliminated at the federal level.

    The problem, politically, is that there is little electoral incentive to fight to cut spending as there is little evidence voters reward those who do so.

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  4. Roland Jasso says:

    I agree the bum should have been fired. Dont ever misunderstimate George W.: There are a lot of Yellow Dog Democratic liberals that have made that mistake. I thibk this is another left wing tactic to weaken our commitment to our conservative values; it ainT gonna work!

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  5. ken says:

    Ken: As noted in the post, “conservatives” aren’t one group at all. There are conservatives to whom deficits matter and those to whom it doesn’t.

    There hasn’t been a so called conservative who won electorial office since Richard Nixon who actually believed in fiscal responsibility. And today Nixon would be considered a liberal for his style of fiscal and social policies.

    The modern conservative, for all their knashing of teeth over deficits, votes for and supports only those who will cut taxes and increase spending. The nations very ability to pay for their debt may soon match the conservatives actual unwillingness to pay for it.

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  6. Kent says:

    Ken,

    Do you know what a “straw man” argument is?

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  7. Pug says:

    Kent,

    I saw no straw men there.

    The modern conservative, for all their knashing of teeth over deficits, votes for and supports only those who will cut taxes and increase spending.

    Pretty much nailed it, I think.

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  8. James Joyner says:

    Kent: It’s a strawman in the sense that it attacks an argument that isn’t being made. As noted several times now, few conservatives “knash their teeth” over deficits. And all spending is not created equal. Most conservatives favor high defense spending, for example, but are more squeamish over entitlement spending.

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  9. DaveD says:

    I never expect a candidate to align with my views 100%. But Bush has remained an enigma to me. It has never been clear to me what his legacy would look like if 9/11 had not occurred. I think his domestic policy efforts have been sloppy. Seems to lose interest but perhaps that’s because he can’t get good backup in Congress. Then he falls back again on the Iraq/terrorism issue. The Miers nomination and his immigration policy leave me very confused. And I voted for the guy. But, James, your last statement says it for me. Gore and Kerry were not serious alternatives in my mind.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. jahfjhasf says:

    Also, while I haven’t seen the book, it is quite conceivable that the Center’s explanation is substantively true and that rather than an academic public policy analysis, the book is polemnical.

    This is curious since the National Center of Policy Analysis is, first and foremost, a purveyor of polemics.

    It certainly isn’t an organization that publishes “academic policy analyses.” They are essentially an advocacy organization with a particular ideology.

    In fact the reason Bartlett was fired is precisely because his analysis didn’t correspond to the polemic wishes of his patron.

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  11. bithead says:

    While Bush is more conservative in both senses than his dad, he has always presented himself primarily as a social conservative, although one who has been in private business and wants to minimize governmental regulation and cut taxes. If we didn’t know in 2000 that he wasn’t a spending hawk, though, we certainly knew by 2004. Given that the alternatives were Al Gore and John Kerry, though, it wasn’t as if fiscal conservatives had better alternatives.

    Precisely so.
    Bartlett, on the surface, is making the same argument I have for many years… that GWB, as well as GHWB before him… neither are conservatives. Remember, GHWB was selected by Reagan and his people not because he was a conservative, but hebcause Reagan was, and balance was needed for the 1980 ticket.

    All that said, if we take the severity of his bitching at face value, Bartlett appears to want the lesser of the alternatives in the 00 and 04 campaigns. Thus is his firing not only needed, but it should be applauded.

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  12. Anderson says:

    I am gnashing my teeth over “knashing.”

    But certainly, it’s a problem for the Dems that they faced a schmuck like Bush in 2004 and couldn’t beat him. Snatching defeat, etc.

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  13. anjin-san says:

    Freedom thru censorship. Sounds like today’s GOP to me…

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  14. ken says:

    As noted several times now, few conservatives “knash their teeth” over deficits. And all spending is not created equal. Most conservatives favor high defense spending, for example, but are more squeamish over entitlement spending.

    James, I think you are the perfect example of the modern conservative. I said above that the conservative idealogy is bankrupt but should have clarified that to say morally and ethically bankrupt. It obviously is not popularly bankrupt else it would not attract as many followers as it does.

    Any person who called himself either a liberal or a conservative before Reagan would have understood on a gut level that the level of spending must be related somehow to the level of taxation. Reagan cut that relationship in the minds of conservatives, but not in the minds of liberals. Ever since Reagan people like you have voted for and supported those who will cut your taxes and will increase the kind spending you deem beneficial.

    The obviously false justification for this absurdity was the so called supply side economic theory. It gave you comfort to think that you could have it all, cut taxes, increase spending, cut even more taxes, increase even more spending, ad infinitum.

    James, the problem for America is that our ability to pay for your reckless deficit spending may soon match your unwillingness to do so. What then? This is profoundly immoral and unethical.

    To expect future generations, my children and grandchildren, to pay for your tax cuts and spending increases, if they can, is just sinfull.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. James Joyner says:

    ken:

    Borrowing isn’t inherently a bad thing. Certainly, we can afford the modest-compared-to-GDP payoffs.

    The questioning is What is the borrowing FOR? Borrowing to build, to use the current popular example, bridges to nowhere, is a bad thing. It’s like going into debt to pay for a vacation or a more luxurious automobile than you can afford. On the other hand, borrowing to invest in the nation’s infrastructure may well be worth it and there’s every reason future generations should help pay for it.

    Similarly, spending on the national security or to recover from a natural disaster is worth borrowing for, although wasteful spending can take place in both instances and should be criticized.

    I disagree with much of the spending of the current Republican administration and Congress. A not insignificant chunk of it is of the “bad” variety. Implicitly, the post acknowledges that. Bush isn’t a fiscal conservative, except on the issues of taxation and regulation. To the extent he isn’t, that’s largely a bad thing in my view.

    It remains the case however that 1) Bush is a “conservative” in the social sense of the term and that 2) recent past and likely near future Democratic nominees are not “conservatives” in any meaningful sense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. TJIT says:

    This conservatives philosphy is cut both spending and taxes:)

    If I recall correctly I believe simply freezing spending (no baseline budget increases) would do much to reduce the deficit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. TJIT says:

    James,

    You said

    “the conservative base doesn’t need to be kept particularly happy if they’re fired up to keep Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean out of power.”

    As far as I can see Bush has given mostly platitudes to both the social and fiscal conservatives.

    If the conservative base is not happy that may be enough to allow Hilary to win. So discontent in the base needs to be taken seriously if Republican leadership wants to keep winning elections.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. ken says:

    James, I see you don’t get it, about modern conservatives, that is. Your reply has an underlying assumption that the modern conservative is the same as the pre-Reagan conservative. Nothing can be further from the truth. Reagan changed everything.

    The modern conservative does not care about deficits so is perfectly willing to cut taxes and increase spending. Since deficits do not matter there is no such thing as the “bad” variety you naively call bridges to nowhere. Reagan proved, in the words of Dick Cheney that ‘deficits do not matter’. How much clearer do you have to have it spelled out.

    Even the idealized fiscal conservative you may be imagining is nothing but a shallower version of the modern conservative. Oh, they may ‘gnash’ their teeth over deficit spending, but then blithely vote for and contribute money to only those people who studiously ignore the mounting deficit problem.

    Like I said before James, our problem is that we may soon be actually unable to repay the debt you care nothing about paying off anyway. When our ability to pay it off meets your lack of desire to do so we will have an economic apocalypse the likes of which the world has never seen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. TJIT says:

    Bithead,

    You and the Republican leadership need to realize that constantly repeating “but the other guy would have been worse” is a poor and ultimately losing way to run a political party.

    There are far too many people who are Bush supporters first and conservatives last. These are the people who as one person described them “would praise Bush for creating constuction jobs if he burned the White House down”

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  20. TJIT says:

    Ken,

    The only area I think you could reasonably say conservatives support increased spending would be on the military.

    The fiscal conservatives were opposed to the medicare prescription drug coverage and Bush had to do some impressive over the top arm twisting to get enough Republicans to vote for it to allow passage.

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  21. Herb says:

    Mainstream American conservatives really don’t care what label of conservatism is placed upon them, but do care about what the conservative movement stands for. Unlike the liberals who are for increasing our government to a “Big Brother” style of social dictatorship, conservatives will continue to vote Republican because they don’t want the USA turned into a European social society.

    It’s indeed strange to see Ken, a hardshell liberal, socialist democrat lecturing James on what conservatives are all about. It sure gives me “The laugh of the day”.

    What I do know is, All Americans can sure thank God that Gore was not president when 9/11 happened, and that Kerry was not there to follow Gore up and give the country to the Frenchys.

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  22. flino says:

    What I do know is, All Americans can sure thank God that Gore was not president when 9/11 happened, and that Kerry was not there to follow Gore up and give the country to the Frenchys.

    Aint that the truth! If it wasn’t for GW Bush, we all would be speaking Arabic right now. He saved us from Saadam’s invading army through his brave and heroic leadership.

    Even though he missed the boat on 9/11, it doesn’t matter since Hillary and Bill Clinton basically created Bin Laden and the crazy al Quaedas through their funding of the mujahadeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

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  23. ken says:

    The only area I think you could reasonably say conservatives support increased spending would be on the military.

    Actually my point is that regardless of how money is spent the modern conservative simply does not care. And the reason he does not care is because in the minds of conservatives there is no longer any relationship between spending and taxation. Hence they believe they can and spend money, cut taxes, and spend even more money and cut even more taxes, and all is well in the world.

    Once it was common understanding, on a gut level, by both conservatives and liberals alike that there had to be some relationship between spending and taxation. Reagan changed all that for conservatives but not for liberals. Hence we have the phenomonon, unique to a the modern American conservative, of people believing, contrary to fact, that they can borrow and spend money without ever having to pay it back.

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  24. Bithead says:

    You and the Republican leadership need to realize that constantly repeating “but the other guy would have been worse” is a poor and ultimately losing way to run a political party.

    Clearly, you’re upset Bush is not more of a flaming right-winger, rather a Reagan on Steriods. And candidly, I wouldn’t mind that, myself. But what that is is idealism, and completely ignores the reality of what, exactly, constitutes the political center of the country.

    I tell you; Reagan himself couldn’t get elected in today’s environment. Consider the state an an electorate where Bush the younger a moderate leftist if there ever was one, can be labeled ‘Hitler’, and where such labels find traction. Think conservatism is going to sell in such an environment?

    I don’t. Not in the near term, anyway.

    There are ways…. long-term ways… to push us towards that goal. But bitching about the small steps we take in that direction isn’t one of them.

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  25. LJD says:

    Not only does Ken know more about Iraq than Iraqis, he also knows more about Conservativism than Conservatives…

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  26. McGehee says:

    I rather suspect Ken is a veritable expert on intelligence…

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  27. Evan Gahr says:

    Did the White House play any role in Bruce Bartlett’s dismissal? It’s worth wondering since I was fired from the Hudson Institute and purged by AEI under pressure from the White House after I embarassed Karl Rove and Marshall Wittman left Hudson under mysterious circumstances after Tim Goeglein, who then worked closely with Jay Lefkowitz and Rove, complained about him.

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  28. bithead says:

    Evan…

    The AEI hasn’t been taking my phone calls either.
    Do you suppose the WH is pissed at me, too?

    Sorry… “It’s all George W. Bush’s fault” doesn’t wash.

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  29. [...] Luckily, I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Thanks to Outside The Beltway, I’ve read that Republican commentator and early proponent of supply side economics Bruce Bartlett was recently fired from his job as a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank based in Dallas for writing a book criticizing President Bush. The book is called The Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. [...]

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