Bruce Bartlett on "The GOP's Misplaced Rage"


Economist Bruce Bartlett, who has written for Reason and still (I think) defines himself as a conservative, lays into "Republican Party hacks trying to overturn the election results" of 2008. These critters, he writes at The Daily Beast, are "not representatives of a true grassroots revolt against liberal policies" but simply bitter partisans opportunistically attacking the opposition.


To a large extent, Obama is only cleaning up messes created by Bush. This is not to say Obama hasn't made mistakes himself, but even they can be blamed on Bush insofar as Bush's incompetence led to the election of a Democrat. If he had done half as good a job as most Republicans have talked themselves into believing he did, McCain would have won easily….

In 2003, the Bush administration repeatedly lied about the cost of the drug benefit to get it passed, and Bush himself heavily pressured reluctant conservatives to vote for the program.

Because reforming Medicare is an important part of getting health costs under control generally, Bush could have used the opportunity to develop a comprehensive health-reform plan. By not doing so, he left his party with nothing to offer as an alternative to the Obama plan. Instead, Republicans have opposed Obama's initiative while proposing nothing themselves.

In my opinion, conservative activists, who seem to believe that the louder they shout the more correct their beliefs must be, are less angry about Obama's policies than they are about having lost the White House in 2008. They are primarily Republican Party hacks trying to overturn the election results, not representatives of a true grassroots revolt against liberal policies. If that were the case they would have been out demonstrating against the Medicare drug benefit, the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, and all the pork-barrel spending that Bush refused to veto.

Bartlett, one of the popularizers of supply-side economics back in the day, manages to squeeze in his latest passion: The need for tax hikes (as opposed to spending cuts, which he thinks are basically impossible) and the related revision (true enough, sadly!) of Ronald Reagan as a tax hiker:

Ronald Reagan worked hard to pass one of the largest tax increases in American history in September 1982, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, even though the nation was still in a recession that didn't end until November of that year. Indeed, one could easily argue that the enactment of that legislation was a critical prerequisite to recovery because it led to a decline in interest rates. The same could be said of Clinton's 1993 tax increase, which many conservatives predicted would cause a recession but led to one of the biggest economic booms in history.

Whole thing, worth reading for its various comparisons of Bush vs. Clinton, here.

I like Bartlett on a personal level and, far more important in this context, I've always found him to be interesting, even when I disagree with him. I think Bartlett is right that most GOPpers sat on their hands when it came to denouncing all sorts of really idiotic Bush or Bush-allowed policies, ranging from the Medicare prescription drug bill to the Iraq War to Sarbanes-Oxley. There were some real dissenters, but more often than not, they went along to get along, or whatever. Certainly that was the case with TARP, where too many Republican congressman voted in favor of it almost certainly because it was pushed by a GOP president.

I even agree that Bush's tax cuts, which were always pitched in stimulative terms, should have been deeper and permanent. And accompanied by actual spending cuts, rather than Godzilla-sized increases in everything possible. There's no question that Bush, with a fully compliant GOP Congress, broke the bank, not just for us, but for our kids' kids.

It's easy to see why Bartlett's analysis will find favor with liberal Democrats, even though his thesis disproves their constant contentions during the Bush years that Dubya was starving orphans and widows and schoolkids. Bartlett's surprise that party hacks are party hacks feels forced to me. And it ignores the basic flip-flop that has happened since, oh, the election of 2008. Dem operatives seem much more prone to support war (in Afghanistan, which is like totally different than Iraq!), indefinite detention of non-prisoners of war, profligate spending (Obama's stimulus is righteous, whereas Bush's was simply for fat cats), you name it. Meet the new boss and all that.

Where I definitely don't follow Bartlett is in his implication that because Republican Party hacks are whores, I've got to put up with a massive and seemingly perpetual increase in the size and scope of government. Bruce, baby, what about all of us who were protesting everything you're complaining about (go read the Reason archives)? Reason ain't no partisan rag and I'm not a Republican, of course. But as a small l libertarian who has never voted for a winning politician at any level (including student body president), I refuse to accept the idea that I need to pay the bill for the grandiose delusions of Reps and Dems.

More to the point: According to his own ludicrous 10-year plan, Obama isn't just mopping up the Bush doo-doo, he's doubling down when it comes to deficits and more. If Obama is interested in, I don't know, fixing Medicare, maybe he could have started with a plan to do something like that, rather than trotting out a trillion-dollar waste of resources? His own goddamn Council of Economic Advisers just recently pointed out that about one-third of Medicare's costs could be cut "without adverse health consequences."

You watch the nightly pundit shows and you hear about a newly degraded discourse, where politics was never as partisan or bullshitty or whatever. If you never affiliated with one party or another, the more things change, the more they stay the same. What does seem to be in the air is not the whiff of gunpowder that Rachel Madow is fretting over but some actual outrage from the great boob public over what's shaping up now as a decade of irresponsibility emanating from Washington, D.C. like so much stink from a swamp. People got fed up with Bush's baked beans and they're getting pissed off that "green jobs" really means weatherizing vacant buildings in Flint, Michigan.

If polls are any indication, Obama's policies are genuinely unpopular because, well, they stink on ice. Town hall outrages and tea parties aren't the work of GOP hacks (though these guys would surely love to co-opt what they can), they are the barbaric yawps of Americans ready for 21st century government now that we've only 90 or so years left to get it while we still can.