Thursday, January 26, 2006

Legacies: Reaganism -> Bushism

by Tom Bozzo

Some fuss is being made about Bruce Bartlett's forthcoming Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. Bartlett is a supply-side economist, policy architect of the original Reagan tax cuts, and poster-child for the non-equivalence of think tank and tenured (or tenure-track) academic jobs for Horowitzian score-keepers of political biases in the academy (*). In James Wolcott's reading, the shrilly-titled book's thesis is:
...that Bush is much closer to Nixon than Reagan, and that conservatives have reason to rue that they ever mau-mau'd Clinton about Monica. An unharassed, unbesieged Clinton might have truly reformed Social Security in his second term, according to Bartlett. The Monica follies made that impossible. Yet history will record that in economic Clinton was the far more prudent, serious, and conscientious leader.
This is, of course, because
Compared to Bush, [Clinton] looks like a competent, responsible, functioning adult.
Failing to resist the snark opportunity, Brad DeLong mostly forgets the basis of comparison and takes the "yeah, but keep Clinton away from my daughter" route. Considering the stories about Bush's notably short fuse, his manias for secrecy and other trappings of official discipline, not to mention his suffering assault-by-pretzel, that Bush should be more welcome than Clinton near one's minor children assumes facts not in evidence.

The more substantive shortcoming of DeLong's and Wolcott's reactions to Bartlett (so far, anyway) is not calling bullshit on Bartlett's premise regarding George W. Bush and Reagan.

That is, the reality-based reaction should be, "What 'betrayal of Reagan's legacy?'" Is Bushonomics not in fact the apotheosis of Reaganomics — all the supply-side not-taxing and spending that's politically feasible, without grown-up worry-worts to whisper that borrowed money eventually must be paid back? (**) What exactly was Bush père punished for by Reagonomics' true believers, when he allowed reality to supersede lip-reading and set part of the stage for Clinton-era fiscal rectitude? Or, to the extent Reaganomics was occasionally moderated by some then-surviving grown-up Republicans, is there any reason at all to think that Reagan himself was one of the grown-ups?

Clearly, prominent conservatives willing to break orthodoxy and take on the Bush administration are rare, so perhaps there's an inclination not to take the opportunity to paddle the bottoms of defectors in the name of common cause. As a matter of political strategy, I strongly suspect such inclinations would be met with profane derision in Karl Rove's office.

(*) Bartlett, who holds an M.A. from economics powerhouse Georgetown, recently was fired for non-orthodoxy by the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis. See Wolcott for a link.

(**) It might be objected that the Medicare prescription drug benefit is not very Reaganish. However, faced with the contemporary Social Security crisis, Reagan signed onto a (payroll) tax increase to better fund future benefits, rather than privatization. Also, the correct counterfactual is whether Reagan, with political advisers selling the prescription drug benefit as a potentially popular means of outflanking the Democrats, would have drawn a line and either not promoted the legislation or vetoed it if it came to his desk anyway.
"Is Bushonomics not in fact the apotheosis of Reaganomics..."

Great argument!

Not to dignify DeLong's lame defense of Bush, but when I consider the women that Chelsea, Jenna, and Barbara grew up to become, I would have to say that I would rather have Clinton around my hypothetical daughters than Bush. Besides, Monica was a consenting adult.
Janelle: I think DeLong, who is often quite Shrill, was meaning to damn Bush by faint praise. However, I would rather my daughter come out like Chelsea than the Bush twins any day.
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