Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category
By John Feehery
First published in The Hill.
Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann recently released It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, a book dedicated to the principle that bipartisanship is a worthy goal and that its breakdown is all the Republicans’ fault.
It’s hogwash on two fronts.
First, the nature of our politics is adversarial. We have a two-political-party system, where compromise between the parties is supposed to be a rare accomplishment. Otherwise, why have two parties?
In such an adversarial system, it is complete nonsense to blame one party for being too partisan. The Democrats are looking out for their own constituents just as ardently as the Republicans are looking out for theirs.
In fact, Democratic leaders are far more beholden to their extremes than are Republican leaders. Think about it. Barack Obama is far more liberal than Mitt Romney is conservative. John Boehner, while not exactly a centrist, is not by any means a conservative ideologue, while Nancy Pelosi was easily the most liberal Speaker in the history of the House.
I would contend that compromise has not moved America forward. The Missouri Compromise, after all, was a failure. We still fought the Civil War to decide the legitimacy of slavery in this country. Compromise served to delay the inevitable.
Our national politics, instead, has been punctuated by the thrust and parry between winners and losers. Franklin Roosevelt didn’t rely on compromise to pass the New Deal. He relied on pure political power.
Sure, Lyndon Johnson relied on Republican votes to pass civil rights legislation, but the bulk of his Great Society program was done through his massive majorities in both the House and the Senate.
Ronald Reagan was able to muscle through his program in the first two years of his presidency because he had the votes of Boll Weevil Democrats, not the support of House Speaker Tip O’Neill. And those Southern Democrats didn’t vote with Reagan because of their desire to compromise; they voted with Reagan because they knew that it was their only chance to stay ahead of the Republican revolution that was soon to sweep the region.
Experts like to point to Reagan’s Social Security compromise as an example of significant bipartisan cooperation. But guess what? Social Security is still one of the top reasons this country is going broke, and the grand compromise only delayed its eventual bankruptcy.
George Bush understood that to get his tax-cut program through, he had to use the raw power of reconciliation. His compromise was not with Tom Daschle. It was with Olympia Snowe.
And Obama understood that compromise in his first two years was a waste of time. He had to hurry and pass as much of his program as quickly as possible and hope that it would work out. He did it with no Republican votes. And it hasn’t worked out as well as he thought it would.
Should the Republicans take control of the House, Senate and the White House in this coming election, they will pass significant tax and entitlement reform. They will do it under a reconciliation process, which will allow them to get it through the Senate with a simple majority. The law they pass will expire in 10 years, plenty of time for the country to decide whether their reforms were worthwhile or not.
Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann will condemn the Republicans for “jamming” the Democrats, and once again, they will blame the GOP for being too conservative and too unwilling to “compromise” with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
But progress doesn’t happen with false compromise. It happens only with raw political power and the will to get big things accomplished.
By John Feehery
Let’s posit right now that George W. Bush loves his parents, his wife, his kids, his siblings, his Maker and America, and all of that love is a good thing, and helps to make him a good person.
You may think that the Bush Administration was the greatest 8 years in history or the worst debacle since the Harding tenure in the White House. Either way, you have to give George W. Bush credit for being a good family man, a patriot and a good Christian.
The question on the table right now is not about George Bush the man. The question on the table right now is about George Bush the President.
That question was brought to the fore because he has a new book talking about his life as a politician. I haven’t read the book yet, because well, it just came out today, but I hope to get to it someday soon.
I am thankful that Mr. Bush held off on his book tour until after the election, because, as I have said before to anybody who will listen that this midterm should not be about the former President, but about the current President. Sticking his face on television right before the election might have confused the issue for a lot of voters.
That is not to say that Gorge W. Bush didn’t leave Barack Hussein Obama some real challenges. The economy collapsed because of the financial crisis, we are engaged in two costly and unpaid-for wars, our debt situation is untenable and 10% cyclical unemployment threatens to turn into structural unemployment, all problems that started under Bush and have become immeasurably worse under Obama.
The Bush years, when measured through the prism of history, will be seen as a mixed bag. Bush had some major domestic legislative accomplishments, including No Child Left Behind and the Medicare Modernization Act, which helped move the ball forward when it comes to education and health care in this country. But these accomplishments are orphans, reviled by conservatives as expensive boondoggles and by liberals as insufficient investments in the future of the government.
Bush won’t be judged on those domestic achievements, however. He was a war-time President and it is through the prism of war that Bush will ultimately be judged.
Although some kooks might try to blame GWB for the 9/11 attacks, just as earlier kooks tried to blame FDR for the Pearl Harbor attack, Bush’s war-time leadership really started immediately following the second plane hitting the World Trade Tower.
He had a shaky beginning, as Dick Cheney immediately sought to seize control as the President flew around the country in Air Force One, but eventually, he got his sea-legs, especially as he seized the microphone at the World Trade Center sight. His decision to go to war in Afghanistan was logical, because it was there that Osama Bin Laden got support and refuge. His later invasion into Iraq was a far more controversial and, in many ways, indefensible action.
Bush (and it must be added Colin Powell) were convinced by some elements of the intelligence apparatus, including the Vice President, that weapons of mass destruction were being built by Saddam Hussein, and that was entire justification for the war. It was not a sufficient explanation to say, “whoops”, but that is pretty much what everybody associated with the war said when it was discovered that there were no such weapons.
Now, Hussein was a bad guy, an evil tyrant, and a sociopath to the nth degree. But he was no fan of Osama Bin Laden, and all attempts to make the linkage were never proved and, in retrospect, were ridiculous.
When you are in the fog of war, sometimes you make decisions that are incorrect. Invading the wrong country for the wrong reasons, however, goes beyond the fog of war excuse.
This is not to re-litigate the past, but history will judge Bush harshly for getting us into Iraq. Will history judge him more harshly than it judges Lyndon Johnson for the Gulf of Tonkin, or McKinley for “Remember the Maine to Hell with Spain”? Time will tell.
Bush’s courageous decision to authorize a “surge” in Iraq, which helped America ultimately win the war against the insurgents, on the other hand, will go down as one of his better ones. Once you are in a war, you better win it, no matter how you got in it. Historians judge winners far better than losers.
Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal about how the Tea Party rescued the Republican Party from the legacy of George Bush. “The tea party rejected his administration’s spending, overreach and immigrations proposals, among other things, and become only too willing to say so. In doing this, the tea party allowed the Republican establishment itself to get out from under Mr. Bush.”
It is an interesting point, but she fails the mention the centrality of the war to the Bush era. Bush kept us safe after the attacks of 9/11, and that is no small feat. He used every tool in his tool box, some that may not have passed constitutional muster, but that is for constitutional historians to decide. That was his greatest triumph.
His greatest failure was that in refusing to pay for the war, and by expanding the size of government instead of contracting it during war-time, Bush put us on a path that will make it harder for us to maintain our military and financial supremacy for the long-term. His unpopularity also ushered in the presidency of his successor, which has only accelerated this troubling trend.
I like George Bush and I supported him when he was President. I have many close friends who worked for him and I did my fair share to help him when I worked for Speaker Hastert.
But that doesn’t mean that I can’t look at his Presidency with a fresh pair of eyes. Mr. Bush, with his new book, is basically asking us to revisit his tenure. Like most Presidents, Mr. Bush had his wins and his losses, and it is really up to the historians to decide whether he was a success or a failure.