When pundits for years complained about the excess of ideology in politics, they did not consider what might replace it once gone. Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist with impeccable credentials dating back to President Reagan's White House, answers that question in this important book with disturbing results. Analyzing the administration of the current President Bush he concludes that lacking a coherent ideology, what comes to reign in its place is a crass political opportunism. While coming from a liberal writer such attacks might seem old hat, Bartlett moves from his home on the right, arguing not only that the current White House shows signs of frequent incompetence, but in fact has betrayed the principles that the conservative movement embraced for the last forty years.
Taking the competence question first, Bartlett examines how little appetite the current administration has for serious analysis and research. Citing sources on issues ranging from national security, to economics, to healthcare, the author offers examples to prove a pattern of stifling debate, cajoling, sidelining, and even threatening those who would question the policy conclusions determined mostly by political handlers instead of policy experts. Surrounding himself with "political hacks" whose main ability rests in the ability to "say yes and ignore the obvious," the administration often begins with policy and then searches out justifications. Thrashing dissent and ignoring the traditional policy experts who work from positions of expertise, Bartlett sees the President's failure on important issues as Social Security, healthcare, and perhaps even Iraq arising from this dysfunctional process. Thus the author looks to the rough treatment of both the Treasury Secretaries and the Council of Economic advisors, used not to formulate thoughtful policy, but instead to sell an often incoherent program to the public.
Troubled by the current White House's obsession with secrecy, the author further wonders how the notion of an imperial presidency overthrew a conservative commitment to openness and reliance on legislative authority. Sadly, the timing of this work's publication does not allow us to hear Mr. Bartlett's musing on the current question of domestic surveillance without judicial approval and what that means for the libertarian ideas Conservatives for so long cherished.
On the issue of breaking with conservative ideals, Bartlett proves even more adroit in his criticism. Time and again, Bartlett points out how President Bush ignores fundamental issues such as a fiscal discipline and the desire for smaller government in order to avoid tough decisions and opportunistically score political points. Thus the author wonders about the greatest expansion of the social welfare state since the new deal with the Medicare Drug Benefit under a supposedly Conservative President. Again, the competence issue comes into play, as the White House suppresses the analysis of dissenting experts with grave concerns that the cost estimates of the program were woefully inadequate. History speaks for itself, as the cost estimates of those experts that we never learned of proved to be correct.
Bartlett further stares aghast at the exploding federal deficit and wonders how President Bush can add new spending to a budget already flooded with red ink. That this President now hold a record for going the longest without wielding his veto pen, especially in the face of pork laden budget busters like the recent highway bill, leaves Conservatives like Bartlett truly dumbstruck. Indeed, the author commits a deep herasy when praising the budget discipline of the Clinton White House in contrast to the policies of the current administration.
If the author's work falls short in one area, it is his failure to examine why so much of the conservative movement follows in lock-step behind policies that clearly violate long cherished beliefs. Supposedly Conservative Congressmen passed the drug benefit. Conservative intellectuals and officeholders actively defend the President as he spies on some American citizens and holds others without due process, both affronts to the very idea of personal liberty do crucial to libertarian ideals. Fox News and Talk Radio overflows with once conservative voices now turned to mere shills defending whatever policy the White House happens to roll out.
Conservatives should look to Mr. Bartlett's fine book as a wake up call. No doubt, White House attack dogs will do all they can to savage this fine, thoughtful disciple of Reagan, but if the rank and file allow that to happen it will leave their party in grave jeopardy. Just as the Democrats find themselves adrift, having abandoned philosophy for the expediency of power and in the end finding them selves bereft of both, Republicans may end up walking the same plank.
on February 24, 2006
Very rare, to find someone on the right who speaks the truth about this administration.
He brings an insider's view, from the right, and documents his claims.
I've waited several years for a conservative "small government" supporter to explain to me how Bush inherited a $5.1 trillion deficit and is currently (per his own White House) expected to leave office with an $11.5 trillion deficit, a better than 100% growth in our national debt in eight years!
War without an exit strategy, based on lies; largest expansion of the "welfare" system since Medicare was founded; spying on Americans in violation of Federal law...Yet so many who claim they are conservative just look the other way or make excuses.
Bartlett does a great job, and I recommend this to anyone (especially someone who considers him/herself a conservative)! Read it, then see if you still think George W. Bush is a "conservative"!
on March 13, 2006
Much of what Bartlett says will already be familiar to people who follow politics to some degree. To me an important purpose this book serves is that it represents a well-respected conservative confirming what anyone who follows politics honestly will have concluded on their own by now about the Bush administration: that it is not conservative, that it fails to represent Republican principles, that it engages in grandiose and reckless initiatives that are not grounded in reality, and that a good case can be made that essentially everything it has undertaken has been a failure.
One particularly good point made by Bartlett is that many of Bush's initiatives have been geared toward winning popular support for the Administration and the Republican Party, rather than serving the public interest (e.g. Medicare drug program), yet they have turned out not only (as expected) to be policy failures, but political failures as well.
It is heartening that the public is finally becoming more fully aware of just how complete a failure the Bush administration has been, as can be seen in the public opinion polls.
A couple of the most devastating indictments in Bartlett's book are those relating to the Medicare drug benefit and the drive to reform Social Security.
As Bartlett points out, the Social Security reform effort became divorced from the original supposed purpose of shoring up the long-term fiscal soundness of the system by the fact that it wound up simply being about private accounts, which, under the most charitable assessment, would not do a great deal to shore up the system.
However, Bush continued to pitch his reforms as being geared toward that goal. And not only did Bush's proposals not address the problem, they ignored the far bigger long-term problem of the fiscal soundness of Medicare. Bush instead put through a hugely expensive Medicare drug benefit that greatly exacerbated the Medicare insolvency problem.
Thus, Bush's handling of Medicare and Social Security has been absolutely incoherent.
During all this time, however, Republican loyalists were standing with Bush, extolling the virtues of these proposals, which to any moderately intelligent layman were clearly absurd.
It was frustrating that for so long a time Bush loyalists were able to maintain an intellectual climate in which any attempt to interject reason into these policy matters was simply dismissed out of hand, lest a broader awareness develop that "the emperor has no clothes". But by now, the smoke and mirrors aren't working much any more, and the public is becoming increasingly aware that the emperor is naked.
Bartlett does not cover the immigration issue a great deal in his book but that is another issue upon which Bush has proposed policies that fly in the face of reason. On that issue, however, Bush at least has company- the far left advocate "open borders" policies that share much in common with those proposed by the far right.
For more discussion of that issue, keep an eye out for my upcoming book "Immigration Politics" which should be in print by late April to May of this year. I include considerable material documenting the myriad ways in which the Bush administration has brazenly refused to enforce the immigration laws, endangering the public safety and even the very viability of the United States as a sovereign nation.
Five Stars!! At a time in history when George W. Bush is caught in the middle of Republicans who question his conservatism and Democrats who question his veracity and his intentions, this book arrives with the effect of throwing napalm on a White House kitchen fire. Our 43rd President of the United States takes a lot of heat from Mr Bartlett, who reportedly lost his job in writing this book. That fact alone demands attention from an informed electorate of both parties. Not written from a neutral position but by a card-carrying conservative Republican member of the Reagan administration, this is a scathing indictment of the 'man who is president'. The cover alone announces two major Bush problems: the BANKRUPTCY of America, drowning in huge deficits, and the BETRAYAL of Reagan Conservatism, making this Bush government the biggest and most expensive (and expansive) in US History.
Bruce Bartlett looks at both Bush policy and it's detrimental effects on America. He uses Ronald Reagan's legacy as the 'crucible of judgement', not the musings of arch-Liberals like Michael Moore, Al Franken, Randi Rhodes, or even the ultra-conservative musings of Rush Limbaugh or Ronnie's own son, talk show host Michael Reagan. It's Ronald Reagan who is the mirror that is held to reflect Bush's true identity. Reagan who turned the tide away from Carter liberalism back to true conservatism. I don't think anyone can argue the fact of Reagan's classic approach to politics OR it's ultimate success. As an independent, myself, I read books like this with a keen eye for the details, knowing that it's uninvited and unwelcome by many Republicans. I think Democrats will view it with wonder, but not glee.
It's listed as 310 pages, but over 100 pages are tables, notes, appendices, references, and a 13 page index, so one third of the book is empirical and supporting data. This takes the book beyond mere opinion.
Bartlett, using the economy as a gauge, gets down to brass tacks pretty fast pointing out economic failures and problems: tax policies, trade policies, scapegoating, nepotism, bad planning, etc. The Medicare prescription drug bill gets special attention as a bill that is a major failure, produced at a time that Bush allegedly said he'd sign any drug plan. Dick Cheney in the Vice Presidency is a huge problem because he's not electable as President, and no clear successor exists to spend what little political capital Bush has built up.
If nothing else is accomplished by Mr Bartlett's detailed tome, the conservatives are serving notice to history that George Bush's administration does not adher to traditional conservative tenants. In other words, (my words) "Don't Blame His Actions on Us". The fact that he uses the term "Impostor" speaks volumes all by itself: Impostor President, Impostor Administration, Impostor Foreign Policy. And it also serves as an impassioned plea to future Republicans: (my words)~ "COME HOME to conservatism!" Five Scathing Stars!!
A Reagan-era conservative who served as a domestic policy adviser, author Bruce Bartlett offers a scathing critique of the Bush administration's current economic policies and their extreme deviation from the traditional conservative principles of small government, low tax rates, free trade and lighter government regulation. But instead of the expected diatribe from someone who deifies the leader of a conservative era long past, the book identifies the articulate voice of a true believer who has lost his faith in a leader who convinced his followers that a new dawn of fiscal conservatism was about to break.
The author's disappointment turned out to be swift and pervasive, as he provides compelling evidence that Bush has made no effort to restrain the growth of government. Rather, the current administration has greatly increased domestic spending, created a new entitlement program for prescription drugs, and failed to veto bills. In fact, Bartlett does a clear-eyed job in yanking the blanket off 9/11-related expenditures to reveal the discrepancies that have led toward government expansion. The book's title seems particularly appropriate since a genuine conservative would clearly not increase the country's unfunded liabilities by over $20 trillion in four years. Bartlett makes the valid point that economic policies require guiding, consistent principles to stand up to political scrutiny. Conversely, he has been an eyewitness to what he sees as Bush's haphazard decision-making.
He drills down quite a bit on the most egregious policy instigated by the Bush administration, Medicare expansion and the exorbitant cost of prescription drug benefits that remains unspoken. Bartlett explains how large corporations will be the chief beneficiary, not the senior citizens whom the President claimed it would help the most. Through such examples, a most intriguing parallel emerges from the author, Bush's similarities with former President Richard Nixon, whose legacy of arch-conservatism also hid a closet liberal when it came to domestic policy. Bush, Bartlett claims, is following the same pattern, and the end result will be a massive fiscal shakedown that will start with huge tax increases and may even include a European-style value-added tax (VAT). The irony is that much of the fiscal impact and credibility damage to the Republican Party will occur after Bush leaves the White House.
Bartlett's points are extremely valid, and he indeed shows courage in authoring this revelatory albeit denigrating book since his views got him fired from a $172,000-a-year job as the senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based, free-market economic think tank. On the other hand, it's quite obvious that Bartlett intentionally waited until the last election was over before publishing his recipe for rectifying the Republican Party for 2008. His bottom line is that Bush is simply not conservative enough and that Republicans would best serve themselves by distancing themselves from him. Democrats, however, should also recognize that Bartlett's illuminating points represent wedge issues for Republican-leaning voters and that an opportunity arises as to how quickly they can respond before the Republicans can offset the albatross that has become the Bush administration. In the meantime, the imperial hubris continues to flourish and confound the skeptics. Although we know where Bartlett resides on the political spectrum, his most valuable point is that a solution to our fiscal problems is impossible without political bipartisanship.
on March 3, 2006
He expanded on an goverment entitlement that inevitably will lead to tax increases on all Americans, passed Federal goverment regulation on business that it will make it more costly for them to comply with (as a result, some companies have gone public to private because of this new regulation) and has increased the size of big goverment to a level not seen since Lyndon B. Johnson. Am I talking about a Democrat president here? No, I'm talking about Republican George W. Bush.
Though liberals and a good deal of Bush's followers may see Bush as one of the most conserative presidents ever, anyone who remembers the day of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan where converastism was once defined as limited government will have a tough time defining Bush as a conservative. Thus, anyone who still believes in the Goldwater and Reagan values of conserativism can't help but be disappointed by Bush.
Reaganite Bruce Bartlett expresses his disappointment in his new book Imposter. Here, Bartlett wisely focus his criticism on Bush's economy policy, since Bartlett is a economist from the Reagan White House and clearly an authority on the subject of economic policy. Bartlett's attacks are not only sharp because there are well researched, articulate (never shrill in the least) but also because he offers solutions to the criticisms he has with Bush's economic policy.
In this book, you will find out that Bush's tax cuts turn out not to be as sharp they've could been to stimulate economic growth (in fact, Bush never cut taxes down to the rate he initally promised in his 2000 campaign), how this tax-cutting president is setting the country up for some big tax increases down the road (even these tax increases may occur while Bush is still in office), how Bill Clinton is much more fiscially conserative than Bush, and how Bush blew the opportunity to reform Social Security.
Keep in mind, this book is strictly dealing with Bush's economic policies. Those looking for criticisms with Iraq, the Patriot Act, Katrina, etc. should look elsewhere. In fact, I have to wonder how other people not familiar with Economics would be able to follow Bartlett's book since I wouldn't have been able to follow some of this if I hadn't been an Economic minor in college. Nevertheless, this is compelling reading for anyone who believes in limited goverment and fiscal responsibilty.
This is an interesting work. Many of the critical analyses of the Bush II Administration (George W. Bush as opposed to George H. W. Bush, referred to as Bush I below) have come from journalists or those on the left or from Democrats. This book is fascinating precisely because it is authored by a conservative, one who served in the Reagan White House and in the Bush I Treasury Department. In that, it is akin to Francis Fukuyama's critical analyses of neocons and the Administration's Nation-Building efforts. And, indeed, Bartlett paid a personal price for his criticisms--he lost his job.
He suggests that the Bush II Administration is simply not conservative. In fact, the first chapter's title exemplifies that theme: "I Know Conservatives and George W. Bush Is No Conservative." Among his contentions: the Bush II administration simply does not care about serious policy analysis; it is more concerned with attaining its goals. The chapter, entitled "The End of Serious Policy Analysis," quotes part of Ron Suskind's interview with a top Bush official (some opine that this quotation may come from Karl Rove himself): "You guys, the aide said, are 'in what we call the reality-based community.' Such people are defined, the aide went on, as those who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality.'" The aide went on, quoting Bartlett: "That's not the way the world works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. Any while you're studying that reality--judiciously as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities. . . ."
Other chapters question the Bush II Administration for its tax cuts, its trade policy, why Enron serves as metaphor for Bush's economic policy, the budget (mirabile dictu, Bartlett suggests that Bill Clinton's policy is preferable to Bush II), and so on.
Precisely because this is a critique from the right, this becomes a very interesting volume to reflect upon. While sometimes the critique becomes a bit shrill, this is still worth looking at and thinking about.
on March 12, 2006
Whether one is a solid conservative, or raging liberal, we should all agree that, except under VERY extreme circumstances (like war), the government should never spend more of our money than it takes in ... we should never have a deficit, and we should get rid of our national debt, which is slowly choking American competitiveness.
Former Reagan official Bartlett shows in this smart new book, that Bush II is not fiscally responsible by any standard. Rather, he is destroying this country, not because he doesn't follow the liberal diatribe, but because he is bankrupting our government. Bush offered us the Faustian bargain of a tiny tax break now, when he could have used the then surplus to eliminate the national debt, and given us all a HUGE tax cut down the road instead.
Bush betrayed conservatives, but fooled them all into voting for him anyway. How? Over gay marriage! It was a con game ... one that hardly any fiscally responsible thinker believes is worth bankrupting the country. Heck, hardly anyone even believes it important anymore. Yet Bush disciples -- Frist, et. al. -- will try to raise that bogeyman again. Like all politicians, they try to get you to look at their right hand on the Bible, so you don't see their left hand picking your pocket.
Best yet, now Republicans in Congress (Frist included!!) are mad at Bush because HE hasn't stopped THEM from spending like drunken sailors in a whore house.
Bravo for Bartlett for having the courage to show how Conservatives are being hoodwinked by insignificant "social" issues, only to sell their soul on every last economic and fiscal issue that is supposed to be the key defining characteristic of any true conservative: small, limited and fiscally responsible government that keeps us safe, but otherwise stays out of our lives.
on March 3, 2006
One always wants to gauge books written about sitting presidents carefully, and this book is no exception. Bartlett -- and the conservatives he admires throughout -- is disaffected and so is unlikely to write kindly about George W. Bush.
That fact notwithstanding, he is a conservative, so one can't dismiss this as Frankenesque liberal attacks. Bartlett is, in fact, an exemplar of what he claims to be is a dying breed -- the Reagan conservative. Bartlett's premise (and sub-title) is that Bush is "betraying" Reagan's presumably "true" or "pure" conservatism. Far from being a real conservative (small government, low taxes, private/public sphere separation), Bartlett argues, Bush is an old-fashioned partisan. His interests are not conservative -- they are Republican (which would explain the frequency with which Karl Rove feels he must reassure the Federalist Society as to the President's conservative bona fides).
So for Bartlett, Bush and "movement" conservatives are not "real" conservatives, principally because they want to use government to advance a particular social agenda -- anathema to a government-distrusting "real" conservative like Reagan.
Bartlett's most trenchant critique is that there is no real policy-making in the Bush White House, because the policy-making process is based on the assumption that ideas matter and that solutions are not self-evident. In the Bush White House, the solution comes first and the experts are deployed mainly as cheerleaders to validate publicly decisions taken off-the-cuff by Bush/Cheney/Rove (Bartlett is never clear about who is really driving the West Wing train).
As a Democrat and an unashamed Iraq war veteran Bush-hater, I am certainly not going to take issue with anyone who wants to point out that the president is a high-functioning imbecile. There is no real evidence to the contrary, Fred Barnes' lickspittle devotion to the man notwithstanding. There is no evidence in Bartlett, either, that the President is anything more than a showman who, unlike Ronald Reagan, actually is a dunce (and not, according to insiders, even an amiable dunce).
However, I would suggest to Bartlett and other Reaganites (of whom I was once one) the following possibility -- perhaps Bush IS the real face of American conservatism, and it was Reagan who was the aberration. As Bartlett himself describes it, Bush is Nixonian in his approach and Saddam-like in his demand for subordinates' obeisance -- qualities associated with most Republican presidents other than Reagan and demonstrably not associated with those failed Republican presidential candidates who were also impeccably conservative, such as Barry Goldwater.
Bartlett correctly points out that there is no evidence in Bush's domestic policy record to bear out claims that he is a conservative. As the Wall Street Journal has shown, the most profligate spenders in American politics in the past 40 years have been LBJ, Gerald Ford, George HW Bush, and George W. Bush. I would suggest that conservatives like Bartlett must now make a choice -- to be conservatives or to be Republicans. Nearly across the board, the GOP has abandoned conservatism. Conservatives would find a comfortable ideological home in the Libertarian Party, but that, of course, would also mean living in the political wilderness. I wonder how many of them are true enough to their convictions to make the choice?
on March 8, 2006
"Imposter" brings to mind Robert McNamara's "In Retrospect" which was published in 1996 - 30 years too late and well after the damage was done. As well, "In Retrospect" and "Imposter" share another similarity - that is, an admission of what most thinking people already knew admitted too late for it to any good.
Well, Mr. Bartlett your book maybe a cathartic exercise for you but you should have spoken out when you had the chance - PRIOR to the 2004 election.