05 August 2011

Quit Blaming Bush

It may be surprising, but I'd like to take a moment to defend former President George W. Bush, who has become the singular scapegoat for our economic woes.  As mentioned in a recent post, "Already Broken," many Americans feel that three years later, it's high time we quit assigning blame to Mr. Bush.  After all, he's been out of office for almost three years.  Taylor Swift has released eight of her fourteen singles since then, and "White Horse" was released in December 2008 and did most of its chart run during the nascent days of the Obama administration.  To some degree they're right.

We're to blame.

When Bush took office, the federal government had a surplus to be used to make a considerable payment on our debt.  Instead, it was squandered on needless tax cuts.  This would have been fine, had Bush responsibly kept the revenue level equal to the spending level--which he did not.  It's one thing to just pay the bills, but it's quite another to actively take in less money than you need to pay those bills.  We welcomed those tax cuts in 2001, and only Congressional Democrats balked when the Bush administration announced on 1 August 2001 that it was going to borrow $51 billion from the credit market to cover the cost of the tax cuts.
Democrats seized on Treasury's about-face, blaming President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax package, which includes the rebate checks, and expressing fears it will sow the seeds for a return to days of government red ink.

But the Bush administration sought to dismiss those fears, saying the need to borrow in the third quarter is a short-term cash squeeze and doesn't signal a move from budget surplus to deficit.
Give credit to Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY), who declared at the time, "The whole Republican rationale for passing such a big tax cut is that we needed to send the surpluses back to the people. How ironic is it that we are now borrowing from the people in order to pay them their checks?"

In August 2001, though, everything was all hunky dory and our biggest concern was whether we would like the contestants on the new season of Survivor.  Debt schmebt.  Then came the decision to go into Iraq--no monetary value can be assigned the loss of life (last I saw it was near 4000 Americans), but the calculable figures for the cost of the war are staggering by any measuring stick.  We're quite angry as a society that we're still in Iraq, now that we've buried our own and received the bills for the operations there, but we were even angrier in 2003 when anyone suggested it was foolish to start a war of choice.  You're welcome to consult then-Secretary of State Colin Powell or Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines if your memory is fuzzy.  We can pitch a fit about being in Iraq today, but let there be no mistake: we wanted to be in Iraq.  President Bush had enormous support from the country when he had Congress rubber stamp his invasion plans.
Remember this?  Take a good long look, America.
Throughout the eight years of his administration, Mr. Bush oversaw a seemingly endless parade of de-regulatory legislation signed into law that effectively placed business owners on the honor system.  There were objections, but even during good times these are the kinds of issues that fail to engage the interest of most Americans and during seven-plus of his years in office, he was a wartime president and criticism of his policies was tantamount to anti-Americanism.  Want to know the difference between the loyalty of Bush's supporters and the loyalty of Obama's supporters?  Obama supporters have called him out for Libya, whereas Bush's supporters wouldn't listen to arguments against his tax cuts or invasion of Iraq.

This idea that we need to quit "blaming" Bush isn't about requiring Obama to take ownership of his presidency.  It's about continuing to deny our own culpability for what happened between 2001-2008.  Conversely, assigning blame to failed economic policies and an ill-planned war of choice is not about continuing to vilify Mr. Bush or to let Mr. Obama off the hook for his presidency.  It's about recognizing what happened that led from a position of economic health to where we are today.  I've made mistakes in my life, and I know this for certain: the only way to fix a problem is to understand it and the only way to avoid repeating it is to learn what to avoid doing again in the future.  You can't do either of those things by refusing to own up to what got you into a mess.

Quit blaming Bush and take a long hard look at how you spent his eight years in office.  If you had one of these stickers, chances are you had a hand in getting us into this mess.
Incidentally, it was a lot harder than I had imagined to find photos on the Internet of pro-Bush bumper stickers and rallies.  You couldn't sit at a red light without seeing them for several years, but now Google searches only seem to find anti-Bush propaganda.  So kudos for being that thorough in covering up the evidence that you stood by Bush once upon a time.

Oh, and while it may be snotty, this is my "I told you so" moment.  I spent eight years questioning the prudence of continued tax cuts and an unnecessary war of choice.  I cast losing ballots for Al Gore and John Kerry, and for Democrats running for Congress.

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