I finished Impostor By Bruce Bartlett some time last week, and haven't gotten around to blogging on it yet. Subtitled "How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan legacy," It's a scathing attack on Bush's performance on a variety of economic issues. (Bartlett is an economist, so he focuses on what he knows. He also faults him briefly on many other issues, but the thrust of the book is economic policy.)
Some of the criticisms of Bush are matters of style, but valid ones. Repeating the frequently made criticism of the Bush White House as insular, Bartlett faults Bush for failing to listen to his economic advisers and developing economic and tax policy through the political offices of the White House. This wouldn't bother me so much if I thought his political advisors understood economics. Instead, they seem to have a fundamentally liberal view of economic policy; handing out tax cuts and other economic incentives to interest groups rather than focusing on broad-based tax cuts that truly spur economic growth.
He rightfully rakes Bush over the coals for his Medicare prescription plan as a politically conceived proposal that not only may bankrupt the government, but also didn't deliver the promised political benefits, criticizes him as the most protectionist President since Hoover, blasts him for his spending that would shame a drunken sailor and disfavorably compares him to Richard Nixon. He also shows how Bush's economic and tax policies will inevitably lead to a large increase in taxes in the future. He closes with an argument for a Value Added Tax as a low-impact means of balancing our budget without too negatively impacting the economy.
As I've argued before
, the conservative movement needs to break with Bush for its own political credibility and survival. This book is an excellent start towards that goal. The only thing I strongly disagreed with in this book was the following:
In light of Bush's big-spending way, Clinton now looks almost like another Calvin Coolidge. As a friend once noted about disco music, it seemed so bad at the time because it was being compared to the golden age of rock and roll that had come before it. But by comparison to the awful music that came afterward, disco sounds pretty good today. So too with conservatives and Clinton. Compared to Ronald Reagan, he was awful. Compared to George W. Bush, he looks a lot better.
That's just 100% wrong. Disco still sounds awful.
The following comment is mostly for members of the DCBA, following up on a conversation we had at the Flight 93 movie night. Bartlett also writes:
...neoconservatism has always been almost entirely about domestic policy and was originated principally by social scientists. A neoconservative foreign policy is a very recent development that really has nothing to with historical neoconservatism, except that [Irving] Kristol's son Bill, editor of the Weekly Standard, was one of the leading proponents of the war. Nevertheless, those who were supportive of the war with Iraq were popularly tagged as neoconservatives. ... Neoconservatives have long been controversial among traditional conservatives, with some viewing them as ersatz conservatives.
This is the point I was making that night: neoconservatives, in their formative years, were former liberals who recognized the failure of the Great Society. Instead of joining traditional conservatives in recognizing the need for smaller government, however, they sought to steer the government to promote what they viewed as conservative ends in the domestic policy realm. For this reason, many conservatives (myself included) don't consider them true conservatives. Foreign policy, to the extent it was even considered, was largely based on anti-Communism, but their primary focus was domestic policy.
With that diversion over, I'll close by strongly recommending this book for both sides of the aisle: conservatives to recognize how wrong-headed Bush's economic policy has been and for liberals to recognize that Bush's policies are far from conservative, so please stop tarring our good name with his policies.