Friday, October 5, 2012

The Grand Old Ghost of George W. Bush

“I will not speak with disrespect of the Republican Party. I always speak with respect of the past.”
Woodrow Wilson




America is currently facing the highest pre-election jobless rate since World War II with an estimated 23 million Americans unemployed or underemployed. The number of Americans on food stamps has increased from 32 million to 46 million since Obama took office (source: USFDA). His signature healthcare legislation, as recently as June this year, had a mere 34 percent of the public in favour, while 48 percent disapproved of it (source: CBS News). The national debt increase is now officially larger under Obama’s watch than it was under all of Bush’s eight years in office; “The Debt rose $4.899 trillion during the two terms of the Bush presidency. It has now gone up $4.939 trillion since President Obama took office” (source: CBS News). The U.S. recession officially ended in June 2009, and the pace of recovery has been anemic at best and showing no signs of changing its current trajectory anytime soon.

History has also shown that no incumbent president has won re-election with a weak economy. George H.W. Bush got the boot in 1992 because of a weak economy (even though he had just won the Gulf war), Jimmy Carter in 1980, Gerald Ford in 1976, Herbert Hoover in 1932, William Howard Taft in 1912. Both Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland were also unceremoniously dispatched by the American people because the economy was hurting. “In fact, this formulation holds for every case of a deposed incumbent going back to the 1850s, which is as far back as NBER’s data goes.” (source: The Daily Caller). There have been numerous analyses done by pundits, and even academics are scratching their heads and offering explanations that say the personalities of the candidates maybe playing a more important role today versus the pain people are feeling at the pump. Or that it boils down to Mr. Romney’s inability to connect with the people, the way Mr. Obama does. A few days ago a group of twenty leading conservatives accused ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN of rigging coverage to help reelect President Obama.” (source: Washington Examiner). However, history and conventional wisdom would suggest that all other factors matter little when the economic picture is bleak, painful and unemployment very high. So, the only question that remains to be asked is why is Mitt Romney not running away with this election, and why is this race even a contest?

Rather than look to history, biased polling and conspiracy theories, the Republican Party would be better served to take a long hard look within their own tent. With some honest soul searching they will find that all the answers lead back to George W. Bush, and the party he left behind after eight years of internal turmoil. When Bush won re-election in 2004 it was clear that the cracks that emerged during his first term had started to widen within the party. It resulted in the GOP losing both the House and Senate in 2006, which served to further widen these internal cracks, ensuring that the ideological earthquake that had been swelling within the ranks was now a forgone conclusion. There has long been a small but vocal minority within the Republican ranks that believed this country has been on an unimpeded road to liberal hell and damnation; dominated by feckless Democrats and lily-livered RINO’s (Republicans in name only) who have enacted welfare policies and created a culture of handouts versus hard work, slowly destroying the once strong moral and God-fearing social fabric of America. The attacks on 9/11 presented the perfect opportunity, and George W. the perfect patsy, to implement their ultra-conservative agenda. It would start with a strike first (ask questions later) foreign policy and be followed by a audacious reversal and re-drawing of society and domestic policy to lead us towards a more conservative promised land. However, it did not quite pan out that way as they clearly bit off more than they could chew in an attempt to reverse sixty plus years in one Presidential term.

The ill-conceived and poorly executed Iraq war only served to sidetrack from the half started war in Afghanistan and more importantly the hunt for Bin Laden. It also forced America to live beyond its means, at a time when her economic might and global leadership status were already in decline. China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Africa were all emerging as strong economic powers, feeling more confident about their place on the world stage and thus less fearful of American dominance, than ever before in history.  Meanwhile, an administration embroiled in trying to save face in Iraq totally missed the numerous red flags and warning signs within the over-heating housing marketing. While Bush is not responsible for the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, he is accountable for ignoring and not paying enough attention to the cracks that had started to show up in the housing market and broader economy, well before his treasury secretary informed him of the stark choice between a $700B bailout and total financial meltdown. At the same time, reeling from botched and hugely unpopular Iraq war, Bush had started to distance himself from Cheney and the Neocon’s; softening his rhetoric, seeking diplomacy in both North Korea and Iran, and giving the foreign policy reigns to his softer Secretary of State. By the end of his tenure, the Bush presidency not only looked and felt like an unmitigated disaster for the country but he had also shattered the hard right dream of taking back the country by reversing liberalism. Under Bush there had been an unprecedented growth in the size of government, never before seen deficits (all financed by borrowing from China), he championed immigration reform that would allow current illegals to stay, provided government handouts, corporate bailouts and extended unemployment assistance, and there was no more tough talk or threats of war with Iran or any other axis of evil power. This betrayal of almost all the most dearly held conservative principles by Bush led to further disenchantment within the Republican ranks and gave birth to the Tea Party. The Tea Party calls itself a grassroots movement for all the people but acts more like it is anti-government, anti-spending/bailouts/stimulus, anti-immigration and anti-compromise politics.

The Tea Party would not be a bad thing if it had a reasonable view about reducing the size of government, bringing down deficit spending, simplifying the tax code, reducing personal and corporate tax rates and overhauling and cleaning up Obamacare but the fact that it has refused to compromise or even sit down and discuss any of these issues makes it feels like their only agenda is to hijack the GOP and yank the entire party to the extreme right. Unfortunately, politics is about compromise by its very nature. Ideology is not. By holding a gun to the head of the GOP the Tea partiers have only served to hurt their chances of success. They have made the GOP look like the party of NO, and provided Obama a free pass, even though he has done little to reach out and seek compromise himself. If you ask the average voter they will say that the Republicans have refused to compromise or reach across the aisle. This growing movement within the party has also forced every GOP presidential candidate to lean further right and appeal only to the extreme right wing base of the party. We saw how John McCain’s VP pick to placate his base turned out, and now a once moderate, slightly right of center, and once imminently electable Massachusetts Governor has been forced to expend considerable time and energy trying to prove that he is conservative enough to his own base. Frankly, this is pretty much all that Romney has been consumed with so far and it is also entirely responsible for his choice of running mate and all his recent gaffes. The man is trying so hard to be someone and something he is not; in the bargain he has not spent any time wooing the electorate, or formulating a strategy to fight his opponent. Meanwhile Obama has spent all his time and money making Romney look like a man who is constantly flip flopping, on virtually every principle and dearly held belief, and has successfully painted him as a weak and ineffective leader who will bend to the will of his party, every time.

Finally, it amazes me how Republicans today behave like the eight years of Bush never happened. That by choosing to ignore all the harsh realities and problems faced by America under his leadership they will somehow magically bear no responsibility. Or that the electorate will simply forget. In this context, laying blame for ALL of America’s problems at Obama’s feet is not only disingenuous but an incredibly naïve and dangerous strategy. Americans are well aware that the grave problems facing this country have been in the making for a few generations. Social security, Medicaid, Medicare, federal spending and ballooning deficits are all cans that have been kicked down the road by both Democratic and Republican presidents alike. What’s more, the electorate today is completely disillusioned with both the House and Senate; much more than they are with the person in the White House. So blaming a president for all our ills, when it is Congress that has the power to act and solve many of them, is like cutting their nose, particularly for Republicans. Consider that during six of Bush’s eight years the GOP controlled both the House and the Senate, and for the last six years of Clinton’s, before that. They also won back the House after Obama’s first two years in office, so have controlled it for half of his presidency. So, as long as the party is unable to fess up to the skeletons in their own closet and admit to the many failures during the junior Bush years, every Republican candidate who is electable will be burdened by the ghost of George W. Bush. He will continue to haunt them until the party is willing to exorcise his ghost. Or, with each subsequent electoral loss, the party can continue to react by pushing itself further to the right supporting candidates who have no chance of being elected. They will only end up looking more extreme, older, largely white male and further and further out of touch with women’s rights and modern America.

The majority of Americans are thirsting for new ideas and real-solutions not no compromise ideology and zero accountability. It would serve the Grand Old Party well to remember that the voter is not a moron, (she is your wife)

1 comment:

  1. Many great points, however, touchey on your closing statement!

    ReplyDelete