The GOP’s Ongoing Bush Problem
Pretending like the Bush administration never happened is a problem for the GOP.
Andrew Sullivan correctly notes:
When you have a party that hasn’t been able to repudiate the worst administration in modern times, and actually still attempt to hail it as some kind of achievement with respect to Iraq or Afghanistan or the debt, you cannot persuade anyone you have changed, or want to change.
One can argue if the George W. Bush administration was “the worst administration in modern times” but it is impossible to consider it a success (and getting bogged down in the appropriate adjectives and assessments misses the point in any event).
The bottom line remains that there has been no serious assessment of the Bush administration by the party and its candidates. This is a problem I noted back during the campaign when I noted Mitt Romney’s lack of a response to “The Bush Question:”
I have long thought that this is the the question that a Republican nominee was going to have to answer going into this campaign cycle. Obama was always going to be a vulnerable incumbent because of the state of the economy, however he was also always going to have the ability to correctly note that he inherited the worst economic downtown in almost a century from his predecessor. I know that Romney supporters will note, correctly, that Bush is not running. They can also rightly note that the president has to take responsibility for the the last four years. However, that does not erase the Bush administration and its clear shortcomings which includes two wars and Medicare expansion funded by debt and tax cuts that did not produce economic growth. These are not minor issues that can be ignored, especially since Romney’s basic plan is that tax cuts will create growth and that his views of foreign policy seem grounded in the notion that we must be strong and resolute (and apologize for nothing, because he is certain of the rightness of American actions and strength).
If one is going to be fair, one has to admit that tax cuts as the cornerstone of domestic policy and resolute strength as the basis of foreign policy sounds an awful lot like George W. Bush.
As such, Romney needs an answer to the question of how he isn’t Bush, and it should have been something that he had been discussing for months (instead of just pretending, for the most part, that the Bush administration did not exist).
Clearly, this is no longer Romney’s problem, but it remains the party’s problem.
Indeed, I was thinking of this yesterday (and before I read Sullivan’s post) when I saw Bob McDonnell, the Republican Governor of Virginia on Fox News yesterday.* I only caught a bit of the interview as I was in a waiting room as the time, but I was struck by the fact that he was making an assertion about failed policies of the current administration and the need to employ Republican policies instead. Now, I was not surprised he said this, as he is a Republican politician and the president is a Democrat. However, what was striking was that the basic policy outline of the GOP at the moment is drawn mostly from the Bush playlist: cutting taxing and a strong national defense (if not a war with Iran) with vague handing waving about cutting the size of government (specifically the deficit and the debt) and letting the free market do its thing.
The problems for these claims are as follows:
1) It pretend like the GDP growth rates and unemployment numbers are solely the result of the current administration’s policies. One can try and argue that different policies would have resulted in better growth rates and higher employment, but it would be nice to hear the arguments, rather than just vague promises about tax cuts motivating job creators—especially when the last Republican president was able to cut taxes and left office with the country in the middle of an economic collapse. Further, the current Democratic president signed off on the continuation of the exact same tax policies and yet the growth and unemployment rates are what they are.
Additionally: we know that public sector employment has decline during the first Obama term, which is precisely the kind of government shrinkage the GOP says it wants. This has, as been noted numerous times, helped contribute to the lousy unemployment rate.
2) It pretends like the deficit and debt are new creations of the current administration. This is one is especially problematic because it ignores a) the effect that major recessions tend to have on deficits (i.e., less revenue in and more spending going out), b) the overall historical trends (i.e., regardless of anything else, the current administration did not invent deficit-spending nor is the national debt a new issue), and c) the direct contribution of Bush era policies to the deficit (i.e., two wars, tax cuts, and Medicare Part D).
Republicans have not found a way to explain this or why what they propose would result in better results:
The GOP needs to find an answer to the Bush question. I would certainly like to hear such an answer because it would require facing up to reality, which I think would be good for the country as whole regardless of one’s partisan preferences.
(BTW: if one’s response to this post is along the lines of “Oh, yeah, but Obama…!” then you don’t understand my point).
*The clip can be found here and the part that I noted was towards the end of the interview (it is nothing earth-shattering, and was understandably simplistic given the forum and the time constraints. Still, it is pretty representative of what I am talking about here.