Bush: Less than or Equal to Carter?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A few days ago, I saw a Dick Morris column whose warning was sound, but whose advice to Bush was lousy. Its title was, "Bush is turning into a Republican Jimmy Carter."

In the column, Dick Morris, usually an astute observer of the political scene, notices a symptom of something I have often complained about at this blog. The symptom:

Bush has truly become the Republican equivalent of President Jimmy Carter, out of control, dropping in popularity, unable to resume command.

Is he too tired or lazy to do so? Does he not believe in government doing very much in the first place? Or is he so preoccupied with Iraq that he can't divert his attention to new issues?

Even when he seeks to develop an issue, his approach is half-hearted and ineffective. It seems that on any issue other than taxes and terrorism, he has attention-deficit disorder.
The cause? Bush is a pragmatist. That is, he is someone for whom philosophical principles are floating abstractions, divorced from reality, and therefore irrelevant.

The principle of "consent of the governed", which he wrongly conflates with "democracy", a term which actually refers to "unlimited majority rule", is the animating force of his foreign policy in the MIddle East. His tenacity would be laudable if his implementation were guided consistently by a better appreciation of the full context in which "consent of the governed" becomes a principle of good government.

Namely, a nation that votes for tyranny has shown that it is indifferent at best to the notion of consent and the rational political discourse that the concept makes possible. And so we have Afghanistan being liberated so that it can threaten a convert from Islam to Christianity with death, Iraq making Islamic law a foundation of its political system, and Palestine electing a regime of our enemies, and not getting what it deserves in return: carpet bombing and a total blockade. All three places are, at best, candidates for a post World War II, Germany or Japan style of occupation.

The woozy notion of an "ownership society", by which Bush seems to imply some sort of endorsement of capitalism, he has betrayed by passing minor income tax cuts, while not trimming down the welfare state, or even reigning in its expansion, but greatly expanding it with his prescription drug benefit program. Whether or not spending cuts would have popular support, Bush, as the nation's most powerful Republican, has the bully pulpit -- the chance to at least make a case for them. He has not, with any regularity or consistency.

But where the weaknesses of Bush come together most egregiously is precisely at the point where I diverge from Dick Morris: Bush's bizarre (for wartime) state of the union address, which completely lacked direction, populated as it was with one microinitiative after another. Apropos of nothing, Bush introduced one item after another from a long laundry list in a speech most memorable for its denunciation of America's "oil addiction".

The entire speech struck me as attempt by Bush to be all things to all people, particularly Democrats. Dick Morris, for the rest of his column, basically advises Bush to take the Democrat agenda by the horns and show "leadership" in implementing it. This may or may not save his party from mid-term ruin in the short term, but this is terrible long-term advice. Why? It erases whatever few ideological distinctions exist between the two parties, and will cause the Democrats to look principled by comparison. Long-term, this advice will lead to Bush handing the Democrats his party's head on a platter just as surely as his current aimlessness will.

What else might Bush do to right the listing craft of his Presidency? This is pure fantasy, but he might perhaps consider standing up consistently for individual rights. This would entail an end to his mouthing of Democrat pieties and an offensive launched from the bully pulpit.

Consider again that phrase "addicted to oil". What has Bush done while taking cover under that powerful, but totally inappropriate, metaphor? For one thing, he has allowed the environmentalist crusade against the use of petroleum to replace a principled foreign policy of self-interest. (I outline this in some detail at the above link.) Rather than, say, taking over the oil fields of (at least) any country that supports terrorism, he has caved to the Democrats, who would hold that the oil in a given country belongs "to the people" -- not to the ones whose knowledge got it out of the ground, but to the ones whose ancestors happened to live there, which in practice means to their government.

Domestically, Bush has done no better. As Walter Williams points out, America is the world's third largest producer of oil -- and yet Bush has not once stood up to the environmentalists who have caused us to stop drilling in Alaska, off California, and in parts of the Gulf of Mexico. He once timidly brought up a plan to drill in the ANWR, and that went nowhere.
Our true supply problem is of our own doing. Large quantities of oil lie below the 20 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The amount of land proposed for oil drilling is less than 2,000 acres, less than one-half of one percent of ANWR. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates there are about 10 billion barrels of recoverable oil in ANWR. But environmentalists' hold on Congress has prevented us from drilling for it.

They've also had success in restricting drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and off the shore of California. Another part of our energy problem has to do with refining capacity. Again, because of environmentalists' successful efforts, it's been 30 years since we've built a new oil refinery. [bold added]
And that bit about America having not built any new refineries in decades brings up another of Bush's failures. In addition to our crude supplies being made unreliable by weak foreign and domestic policies, environmentalists, never opposed by Bush, but for a temporary post-Katrina suspension of air quality regulations, have caused us to be squeezed yearly by inefficient use of what refining capacity we still have! As Brian P. Simpson points out in another column:
Although there are other causes of high gas prices, such as high gasoline taxes, the primary cause is environmental regulation. For example, environmental regulation significantly restricts drilling for oil in Alaska and on the continental shelf. More drilling could considerably increase the gasoline supply (up to 20% from greater Alaskan drilling alone) and thus lower prices.

Further, there are currently eighteen different gasoline formulations in use across the U.S., making it much more costly to produce and distribute gasoline. These blends aren't needed due to requirements of automobile engines, nor are they required by oil companies. The blends, including different ones used at different times of the year and in different states and cities, are forced on Americans by environmental regulations. [bold added]
But we haven't heard anything about that from our President or the Republican Party. Indeed, Republicans are hopping onto the "global warming" bus in droves! Aren't we at war? So why aren't we busy securing plentiful and reliable supplies of petroleum?

About the only thing Bush hasn't done (yet?) is impose Carter's silly price (read: supply) "controls". But we probably will get those when the Democrats take advantage of Republican silence and me-tooing to trounce them in the mid-term congressional elections.

Note the following news story: "Democrats Eager to Exploit Anger Over High Gas Prices".
Officials at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which advises House candidates, said they sent a memorandum to candidates on Thursday offering guidance on using the issue to their advantage. The memorandum includes a "sample statement" that recommends telling voters, "Americans are tired of giving billion-dollar tax subsidies to energy companies and foreign countries while paying record prices at the pump."

Increasing gasoline prices have put Republicans on the defensive at a time when they are counting on the economy to help offset the myriad other problems they face, starting with the Iraq war.

Republicans say they have spent years advocating policies that would reduce the reliance on imported oil, largely by promoting more domestic energy production, and they point to the energy bill that President Bush signed last August as a step in that direction. They said that the law encouraged conservation and greater use of ethanol in gasoline and that it would have done more for domestic oil supplies if Democrats had not fought so hard against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Republicans control both houses and the Presidency. So why aren't we drilling in the ANWR and talking about repealing the myriad environmentalist regulations favored by the Democrats by now? We are furthermore now faced with the prospect of the Democrats successfully pasting the Republicans with the blame they deserve even more, and getting into a position to cause more of the same!

The Republicans, by accepting the absurd notion that our nation's use of oil -- merely the most economically feasible energy source at the moment -- is like a drug addiction, are playing into the Democrats' hands, courting electoral defeat or making their own victory as good as an electoral defeat.

Our country needs energy. To call our extensive use of oil an "addiction" from which we must "recover" is disingenous and should be stopped at once. When a schoolyard bully steals your milk money, you don't let him keep taking the money while you recover from your "milk addiction". You don't give him money, while trying to smuggle in more milk money. You don't smuggle in powdered milk. You don't waste a bunch of time looking for "milk substitutes". You take the bully on, enlisting the aid of your friends if need be. You whip his ass and then you go right on drinking milk.

The Islamists, the Chavistas, and their intellectual "chickenhawk" alies in the Democratic Party are making it much more expensive for Americans to drive than it should be. Stand up to them, Mr. President. It's your job.

I voted for George Bush because he would, I thought, at least fight back against the Islamists. But as his second term wears on, his failure to adjust his policies during the war and his dismal domestic policy have made me very unhappy. Minus the idiot grin, the above picture and the remarks that went with it remind me of Jimmy Carter more than any other President I can remember.

(At best, Bush is refusing to impose price controls. This is very good. But why not go on the offensive? Why not make it clear once and for all that our problems are being greatly exacerbated by an irrational domestic energy policy? There is no need whatsoever to be on the defensive here!)

Less maliase, less government regulation of the ecomony, and more principled support of individual rights, please. This means less economic intervention at home and more military abroad.

At least try to make me think more of Ronald Reagan. Coming from me, that isn't asking much.

-- CAV


Myrhaf said...

"A Republican Jimmy Carter" -- could there be a greater insult to a Republican president? I wonder if their Christianity, which they have in common, has anything to do with their feckless, floundering presidencies.

Gus Van Horn said...


Indeed, there could not, and if Bush succeeds in losing his majorities, he will arguably be worse, and I haven't even gotten around to what that would entail for the war effort. Or his damage he has inflicted on the secular nature of our state....


And if he had a penny for every blog you write, he, could afford them! :-)


Vigilis said...

Gus, Bush is an ardent student of history, and one may wish to call that the basis for his pragmatism versus the much more eloquent sounding "philosophical principles are floating abstractions, divorced from reality, and therefore irrelevant."

The particular faults cited in Bush are very frustrating to me, too. But, let's make no mistake here. While Carter and Bush are both politicians (Reagan was a rare individual, afterall) history will be kinder to Bush than to Jimmy simply because the Jimmy was belittled by his own party for his propensity toward micromanagement.
The crises Jimmy created Jimmy also sponsored (note that Secretary of State Vance resisned in disagreement with Carter's fatal Iranian hostage "rescue plan"). Then, price controls on and gas rationing. What really fried my temper with Carter was his fatuous MEOW (moral equivalent of war).

Bush has none of Carter's hangups like those. Yet, as a politician, he sucks. I like that quality in a leader who also has guts. It used to be called integrity.

Gus Van Horn said...


I will grant you that Bush is persistent, and this is an admirable quality, but as to how kind history will be to him, that is anyone's guess.

The qualities we both find frustrating in Bush could potentially (and some would say "already are") lead to the undoing of what he has done correctly.

He deserves blame for this, but not all of it, as I alluded to above. His own party is failing to provide him backup. This is, in part because much of the GOP is religious fundamentalists who are less interested in the war (and have no interest in the economy) than in making America into a theocracy. And the "small government" conservatives" have been cyphers over the last few years.

Unless the Republicans start making some major changes, they will be out of power soon or enacting the Democrat agenda for the Democrats, who will then ride a wave of discontent into power.

Who wants either outcome?

Anonymous said...

I know I don't want either outcome. What I do want is for those that complain so much about high gas prices to either stop complaining or start accepting that the only way to lower the prices is to open up ANWR and other options to increase supply. While everyone wants to have their cake and to eat it too, it just isn't possible in this situation.

Anonymous said...

Mmmmmmm, cake, and eating it too.....

I agree that sacrifices need to be made and it starts at the top. Government needs to cut the free spending on special interest projects and start putting the money toward developing a plan to ween us off of foreign oil. Raising taxes on oil and controlling gas prices are proven disasters tat hopefully someone remembers to do their homework on.

Not holding my breath but that's what needs to happen...

Gus Van Horn said...


But the oil isn't, properly speaking, "foreign". It is produced mainly through Western technology and, before the property of oil companies was nationalized as a matter of course, the oil fields and the oil were regarded as theirs. See the first bit of this for a sketch.

The current unviability of "foreign" oil is a direct result of our failure to protect the property rights of our oil companies.


Anonymous said...

Not just ANWR but also the Rockies and the Outer Continental Shelf. We need some sensible energy policy in this country to reduce our dependence on foreign oil!!