Las fall, when I first heard about Bruce Bartlett’s then-forthcoming book,
Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, I was eager to read it. A senior White House policy analyst in the Reagan Administration, Bartlett served as deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department from the last year of the Gipper’s second term through the end of George H.W. Bush’s administration. A smart economist with libertarian economic views not too different from my own, he had his first job on Capitol Hill working for Texas Congressman Ron Paul (one of the few men who has retained his small-government principles despite decades on the Hill). Later, working for New York Representative Jack Kemp, he helped draft the Kemp-Roth bill — which, when passed (in slightly revised form) in 1981, helped spur the economic boom of the Reagan years.
Over his three decades in public life, he has consistently advocated cutting taxes and reducing the size of the federal government. (One does wonder what he thought when his boss in 1990, the first President Bush, betrayed his campaign promise and pushed through a tax increase.) I generally enjoy Bartlett’s columns (available here) because of his keen understanding of economic issues — and our shared libertarian principles. Given Bartlett’s domestic policy background, one would expect him to be critical of the current Bush Administration because the president has basically failed to follow the Reagan domestic policy agenda.
While the president has done a better job in his three most recent budgets of holding the line of federal spending (than he had in his first few budgets), he has still failed to veto a single bill, especially those spending bills “enhanced” with “Set-Asides,” federal money earmarked for “pet projects.” Those who want to see Gipper’s agenda realized should be upset about this failure to hold the line on federal spending.
Ronald Reagan’s agenda, however, involved more than just cutting federal spending. Indeed, while he wanted to reduce the size of (if not just plain eliminate) many federal programs, he saw national security as the paramount issue. Believing, when he took office, that we needed to counter the Soviet threat, the Gipper compromised with the Democrats who then controlled the House of Representatives and agreed to backtrack on some of his proposed spending cuts in order to get the increases in military spending he believed necessary to win the Cold War.
The current president, however, doesn’t have a Democratic Congress with whch to contend and has so far, shown an inability to stand up to a spendthrift Republican one. That said, the above anecdote reminds us that Ronald Reagan’s agenda included more than cutting the size and scope of the federal government.
In addition to supporting a strong national defense and an aggressive foreign policy, the Gipper’s agenda also included appointing conservative judges who would interpret the federal constitution and laws rather than legislate from the bench. And on those issues (national defense and judicial appointments), the president (with a few exceptions) has basically followed a course set more than a quarter-century ago by Ronald Reagan.
Bartlett is right to fault President Bush for betraying the “Reagan legacy of fiscal conservatism and smaller government.” In this column, he succinctly puts forward a strong case against the president’s domestic agenda. Had he focused those issues while noting that, in many cases, the President has stayed true to the Gipper’s vision, I likely would have bought the book and reviewed it here. But, when he says “if you look at Ronald Reagan’s philosophy as being the cornerstone of what Republicans believe in, I think [President Bush has] done more to go against it than to go towards it. And that’s really the gist of my argument,” I think Bartlett goes too far and downplays many of the president’s accomplishments which were fit in comfortably with the Gipper’s philosophy, still the cornerstone of what we Republicans believe.
Unlike most critics of the president, Bartlett relies on facts and has made solid arguments against the president’s policies. I continue to recommend his columns (particularly on domestic policy) to you. Yet, I wonder why he, like other erstwhile supporters of the president, turns a valid criticism of certain Administration policies into an overall indictment of his leadership.
Bartlett is spot on when he says President Bush has betrayed the Gipper’s legacy on fiscal conservatism. But, on many other issues, the president has stayed true to Ronald Reagan’s great vision for our nation. It’s too bad the Gipper’s successors can’t live up to his high ideals. But, then that great man set the bar pretty high.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com