Bush-Bashing Not Good For GOP
Posted on March 6, 2009
This originally appeared in The Politico
It is now highly fashionable for Republican thought leaders to throw George W. Bush under the bus. I didn’t work in the White House, and nobody will ever confuse me with a “Bushie.” But in my view, our 43rd president took enough arrows from the left. He shouldn’t have to take so many from the right.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in a recent speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, summed up the right’s newfound disgust with all things Bush: “There is a Bush-Obama continuity in economic policy, which is, frankly, a disaster for this country and cannot work.”
Newt’s comments were purposefully provocative and perfectly wrong.
There is no continuity between George W. Bush and Barack Obama. One believes in the free-market system; the other deeply distrusts it. One loved the investment class; the other has shown deep disdain for it. One pushed against domestic spending, the other pushes for it. One pushed to boost defense and intelligence spending; the other will seek to slash it.
We don’t know all of what Obama has up his sleeve, but his first steps as president are not encouraging. By all accounts, he wants to repeal many of the intelligence programs that have kept America safe. He may want to repeal the accountability standards that have made the teachers unions squirm. He is going to repeal all of the free-market reforms in the Medicare bill, including popular ones like the Medicare Advantage program. He is going to raise taxes on investors and small-business owners. He has set a deadline for our troops to leave Iraq, giving extremists a timeline to plan for the American departure. He will end the missile defense program that so many Americans just assume is already in place. His budget will create a new health care entitlement that will be paid for by only 2 percent of the American people, the first such direct wealth transfer in our nation’s history.
Yes, Bush pushed for a plan to unfreeze the credit market. He was told by his economic advisers that without a fast-acting infusion of capital in the marketplace, the world economy would completely collapse. And yes, when faced with that information, he took radical steps that he never would have taken otherwise. But Bush took those steps in order to preserve free-market capitalism. It is not entirely clear if Obama has the same long-term hopes for the free market.
We do know that Obama has used the crisis as an opportunity to sign legislation that included every Democratic wish list priority of the past decade. He has unveiled a budget plan that historian Robert Dallek likened to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and that CNBC’s Jim Cramer called “radical.” And he continues to push for more government interference and a bigger government presence in the marketplace.
There is no continuity between Bush and Obama. They have completely different outlooks and completely different philosophies. Linking Bush with Obama is not credible. And bashing Bush without at least acknowledging some of his important achievements is counterproductive to the Republican Party.
Bush governed in a time of great turmoil, great change and great challenge. The day he set foot in the White House, he faced a divided and angry electorate. Almost immediately, he was confronted with the worst terrorist attack on our nation’s soil. He led the country as it fought two wars. He faced unprecedented weather emergencies, including not only Katrina but also other hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and floods.
His presidency was notable, his achievements impressive and his failings infuriating. He was vilified by the left for most of his time in office, accused of things he didn’t do, mocked for an ignorance he didn’t have. As president, he always treated the office with the respect and honor it deserved. He was a good father and a loving husband, although he quite clearly married above his station, as he would readily admit in public.
Bush governed from the right, and he stuck to his principles throughout his administration. Sure, he should have cut spending more, but that was a failing he shared with his Republican colleagues on the Hill.
Conservatives who bash Bush discredit not only the former president but themselves, as well. He is not popular now, and he may not be popular in the next decade. But on issue after issue, he fought the good fight on behalf of the conservative cause. And he deserves more for his efforts than to be treated so shabbily by his own friends.
John Feehery worked for the House Republican leadership from 1989 to 2005. He is the founder of The Feehery Group, a strategic advocacy firm, and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com.