For the past few days, I have been contemplating a few posts offering a kind of retrospective on the Administration of George W. Bush. The more I think about this project, the more I realize how complicated it is. The incumbent is hardly the caricature his opponents paint, yet he has blundered badly on a number of issues, particularly on domestic issues in his second term.
On the issue which will (likely) most define his term, particularly in the years immediately after he leaves office, he exhibited characteristics which reveal his greatest weaknesses and greatest strengths. He stubbornly adhered to a failing strategy from 2004 through the end of 2006, then against widespread opposition from the political class (and even the military brass), shifted course, showing incredibly resolve in adopting a new –and ultimately successful–strategy.
And while I commend the president from learning from his father’s mistake and refusing to raise taxes, that’s all he learned from his father’s domestic record. He didn’t fully understand that Ronald Reagan’s Vice President betrayed his predecessor’s legacy not merely by increasing taxes, but also by not holding the line of domestic spending.
It seems George Bushes don’t value fiscal discipline; domestic spending increased at a rapid clip during each man’s tenure in the White House.
And with a Republican Congress under Tom DeLay committed more to preserving political power than to promoting conservative policies, the party departed from the fiscal principles which led the GOP to electoral success in the 1980s on the presidential level and in the 1990s on the legislative level. Our political fortunes would surely have improved had the principled Bob Walker defeated the opportunistic Tom DeLay in the 1994 election for House Majority Whip.
Walker’s loss that year paved the way for Democratic success in 2006 and 2008. Had he been elected Whip in 1994, he would almost assuredly have become Majority Leader in 2003 when Dick Armey left Congress. He would not have kowtowed to a spendthrift White House, demanding instead that the president exercise restraint in federal spending. Bob Walker would not have countenanced the explosion in pork-barrel politics which Tom DeLay allowed.
It was DeLay’s success in 1994 coupled with the incumbent president’s failure to understand the small-government philosophy of Ronald Reagan that allowed Barack Obama to campaign successfully on change in the presidential election. The president-elect’s words yesterday indicate he understands that Ronald Reagan’s ideas still resonate.
And indicate as well that he might not have achieved the political success he had had Republicans remained true to the ideas which served us so well in the concluding decades of the twentieth century.