Sunday, September 6, 2009

Blaming Bush, Part II

I guess this is something of a random observation. Take from it what you will.

A few months ago, I posted an article I headlined "Blaming Bush," and I used it as an opportunity to discuss the practice of scapegoating because it seemed to me then — and it still seems to me today — that many Democrats have been content to blame Bush for the nation's economic woes — as if that excuses them from taking responsibility for dealing with it as forcefully as they should.

I can't tell you how many times Democrats have told me, when the subject of unemployment has come up, that "it's Bush's fault."

This is called passing the buck.

Well, I'm a Democrat, too. But I don't want to hear that it was Bush's fault. He's history. I want to hear what the Democratic administration and the Democratic Congress are doing about it now because that is why they were elected — to do something about it.

What are they doing about it? Aside from the lip service that was used to sell the public on the stimulus package, not a hell of a lot.

Sometimes I almost feel sorry for Dubya. Talk about a pariah. Even members of his own party are reluctant to acknowledge him. I have a female friend who is a conservative Republican, and she has frequently told me that Bush was "not a real conservative."

Like most Republicans, she reveres Ronald Reagan as the father of modern conservatism. And Bush, in her eyes, was not a worthy heir — even though he always spoke admiringly of Reagan.

Perhaps my friend is right. I don't regard myself as a conservative. I am a centrist — a member of a group that is virtually extinct within the Republican Party and rapidly moving in that direction in the Democratic Party.

Perhaps Reagan deserves the accolades that conservatives give him. But I think you also can give Reagan most of the credit (or blame) for Bush's rise to power.

When Reagan won the Republican nomination in 1980, he represented a still nascent wing of the party. Republicans in those days were clearly more conservative than Democrats, but most of the more prominent voices in the party were moderates. In fact, before he announced his selection of a running mate, there was a movement at the Republican convention to get former President Gerald Ford to be Reagan's running mate — the idea was that the more moderate Ford would unify the party and, once elected, be a "co–president."

I'm not sure which one vetoed that idea. Perhaps they both did. Ultimately, I got the impression that neither one wished to share presidential power, and Reagan, as the presumptive nominee, held most of the cards.

Ford agreed to campaign for the ticket — which, as I recall, he did.

In the end, though, Reagan still opted for a running mate who, it was believed, could unite the delegates behind the ticket. He chose George H.W. Bush, the man who had been Reagan's chief rival in the primaries.

By most accounts at the time, Bush was a moderate. He was pro–choice and had been the one who labeled Reagan's economic policies "voodoo economics" during the primaries. But his political philosophy made a politically prudent shift after the convention, and Bush conveniently became a convert to both pro–life and supply–side politics.

History tells us, of course, that Bush served as Reagan's vice president for two terms and then was elected to a full term as president in 1988.

But Bush only won half a dozen states in pursuit of the 1980 Republican nomination. If Reagan had chosen someone else to be his running mate in 1980 — then–Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker, perhaps, or Rep. John Anderson, who ran third among Republicans and wound up running as an independent candidate for president in the general election — I think a plausible argument could be made that neither Bush would have become president.

The elder Bush probably would have returned to Texas. He might have run for the House or the Senate. He might have run for governor. Reagan might have appointed him to something. But, whatever he did, he wouldn't have been next in line for the presidential nomination in 1988.

And that means he likely wouldn't have said "read my lips — no new taxes," and he wouldn't have been elected president. It goes without saying, then, that he wouldn't have been denied a second term in large part because he broke that promise.

Consequently, the younger Bush could never have capitalized on his father's national prominence (since it wouldn't have existed). In fact, he probably wouldn't have gone on to be one of the owners of the Texas Rangers baseball team, much less be elected governor of Texas twice. Most likely, he would have continued to go from one failed business venture to the next.

Of course, this alternate political reality doesn't presuppose that Reagan wouldn't have been elected president. And his actions likely wouldn't have been altered by the identity of the vice president because, as far as I know, Reagan never made policy decisions based on advice he received from Bush.

So Paul Krugman's assessment in the New York Times that "the key wrong turn — the turn that made crisis inevitable — took place in the early 1980s, during the Reagan years" likely wouldn't have been affected.

Bottom line? If you've lost your job or your home — or if you're one of the truly unfortunate people who have lost both — that likely still would have happened.

But you'd be blaming someone other than George W. Bush.

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