In February 2005, as President George W. Bush’s second term began, reason asked “a variety of pundits, pols, and profs to tell us their biggest hopes and fears for the next four years.” During the final days of the Bush administration in January, reason asked the same writers to revisit their predictions.
In 2005 one of the only optimists was American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray. “The task is to come up with a proposition that a large proportion of the electorate will hear and instinctively say, ‘Damn right,’ ” Murray wrote. “To say that the money we spend on Social Security is for our own retirement and that we ought to have ownership over it sounds to me like the Damn Right proposition that could catalyze a political majority.” Looking back at this statement, Murray now says: “Complications kill the power of even the best ideas. The Republicans before Bush did it with medical savings accounts, and Bush did it with privatization of Social Security: create a bill so bureaucratic, so studded with subsections and paragraphs and exclusions that it sounds just like every other government program, promising paperwork, bureaucracy, rules to trip you up, and no clear benefit at the end of it all.”
Some fears went unrealized as well. Instapundit blogger and University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds feared Bush would take the wrong lesson from his re-election and focus on social issues in his second term, although there was “little reason to believe Americans eagerly cast their votes in November in the hope that busybodies would finally start telling them what to do.” In retrospect, Reynolds says today, “Bush managed to avoid an excessive focus on ‘traditional moral values,’ which was certainly not a theme of his second term.”
Former Republican congressman Bob Barr, who became the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate during Bush’s second term, got a prediction right: “Even more than outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft,” he wrote, “Attorney General-designate Alberto Gonzales appears to support virtually unlimited executive branch power to gather evidence on the citizenry.” Gonzales resigned in August 2007, amidst a flap over—you guessed it—abuse of executive power.
One man’s fears were right on the nose. The late John Berthoud, then president of the National Taxpayers Union, wrote, “I fear that spending won’t be restrained.” He passed away before the stimulus spending spree began, but he was more right than he knew.