Bush's Statist Legacy

Friday, August 22, 2008

Via RealClear Politics is this article from MacLean's regarding the legacy of the Bush Presidency. Here are some highlights:

  • Sixty-eight per cent. That is how much total federal spending rose under Bush. That is more than double the growth in federal spending over the eight years of Bill Clinton's presidency.
  • Bush was aided and abetted by a Congress dominated by Republicans until 2006. Juicy spending bills were passed on everything from farm subsidies to health (up 44 per cent) and education (up 47 per cent). After all, Bush had run as a "compassionate conservative"; he introduced the largest new entitlement since the Great Society programs of the 1960s: a prescription drug benefit for seniors that will add a US$1.2-trillion liability over 10 years.
  • Bush also asserted, and acted on, sweeping new claims of presidential power on issues to do with national security and foreign affairs. Rejecting the traditional division of power with Congress and the judiciary, Bush claimed that these areas were exclusively the province of the commander-in-chief. If Congress passed a statute to restrict or regulate his authority, he claimed the law would be unconstitutional and therefore not binding. ... He acted on his claim that the president can ignore statutes forbidding wiretapping of citizens in the U.S. without a prior judicial warrant, thereby setting a precedent that future presidents will be able to invoke if they, too, want to bypass a law.
  • Bush tied his foreign policy to his faith: "From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the maker of Heaven and earth. So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." [So much for the notion of the government existing to protect the citizens from foreign threats. --ed]
  • "I don't think anyone can say the Iraq war was worth it," says Matthew Duss, research associate at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington. "I think we have averted what could have been a major, major disaster -- but that is not the same as saying we won. Even if Iraq became a Jeffersonian democracy, I don't think we can look at the people killed, maimed, displaced, and the billions we have spent to do this, as an acceptable cost." [Savage should have noted that in addition to freedom for a foreign people being the wrong primary motivation for a war, that Iraq as a base of operations for eliminating Iran as a threat was never taken advantage of. --ed]
  • [Bush] leaves behind little coherent policy toward the emerging economic and military power of China. The relationship with Russia is in crisis. It is unclear whether Iran's nuclear ambitions are being successfully contained. The de-nuclearization of North Korea is proceeding [Is it? --ed], though at a snail's pace, but stockpiles of nuclear weapons continue to pose a threat to the world. [This deserves an entire article of similar length on its own. --ed]
  • In the year 2000, the U.S. was spending US$140 million on AIDS programs around the world. Today, it is spending US$6 billion, and most of it is going to Africa. [Savage -- who headlines her article by accusing Bush of being "shockingly liberal" -- praises this. Redistributing wealth is not the proper purpose of government, however. Ditto for his efforts in the Sudan. --ed]
  • Despite his pledges to do so in both inaugural speeches, he did not manage to put either Social Security or Medicare on solid financial footing for the future. [Or, better yet, abolish them. --ed]
  • The issue of climate change is also a blank slate for his successor. [But not in the way, I am afraid, that Savage might mean. Bush should have made a principled stand against the government doing anything on this, but he has failed to do so. --ed]
As you will gather from a few of my comments, I don't agree with author Luiza Savage about everything here. For example, I have no problems with the government torturing foreign combatants if that's what it takes to protect American citizens. And then, she is far easier on Bush's prosecution of the current war than he deserves. Most of all, her overall evaluation of Bush's legacy as "shockingly liberal" lets him off the hook for being a theocrat. (Regarding Bush's tying "his foreign policy to his faith", she seems to complains that he did not live up to his claims rather than expressing a proper degree of alarm about the very idea.) Nevertheless, this article is a must-read, although it is quite long.

If Bush's legacy is statist, it is because his ideology, Christian conservatism, is statist, and guides his actions. Savage, who I think is also a conservative, inadvertently demonstrates this in her own criticism of his presidency, which considers individual rights no better than Bush protected them. If Bush is "shockingly" liberal for increasing federal entitlement spending, how can he be praised for spending more of our money in Africa? Or is the flaw with "liberalism" that domestic spending is too "selfish", given that the money still hasn't left the country after having been lifted from our wallets?

If Savage's article is required reading for the facts it brings to our attention, I must once again point the interested reader to C. Bradley Thompson's "The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism" in The Objective Standard for its indispensable aid in the interpretation of those facts. Bush's failure as a president has not been because he wasn't conservative enough, it has been because conservatism is antithetical to individual rights.

-- CAV


Myrhaf said...

If Bush were a Democrat, then we would hear these facts and figures every day from Limbaugh, Hannity, Hewitt, every other right-wing talk show host, and the right-wing blogosphere. The left does not think Bush has expanded government enough and the right gives Republicans a break, so posts like this are left to those of us more worried about big government than partisan politics.

Gus Van Horn said...

What's worse is that the whole, "At least he's not as bad as so-and-so" line of thought will keep getting Bush and worse (e.g., McCain) elected.

We won't get a government that protects individual rights until the public becomes more generally aware of the essential nature of proper government. The whole phoney "liberal vs. conservative" debate is keeping that from happening.

mtnrunner2 said...

Something I have noticed in the Bush administration is a striking and very destructive amoralism, in a manner that I have not heard commented on in the media.

I'm not referring to the oft-cited whipping boy "greed", which as an Objectivist I regard as a red herring at best, and backwards at worst.

I am thinking of an overarching *unprincipled* approach to moral issues that results in a moral free-for-all within the Administration. Examples: the apparently unsupervised feeding frenzy of contractors in Iraq (of course they have a right to profit if it's done honestly), the constant pressure to find loopholes in our laws to allow extra-legal activities such as torture, extradition, imprisonment, privacy violations, etc., the sacrifice frenzy in Iraq of providing democracy, rebuilding and security at our expense, the ugly partisan attitude of the Administration reflected in a desire to simply screw everyone in order to win regardless of the cost in reputation or honor. And of course the liberties that they are taking with *our* liberties when they propose their idiotic economic and welfare programs. Actually, some do involve free markets, but they are few.

My take on this free-for-all is that this is a direct result of the religious piety of the participants. This veil of piety masks the actual lack of moral guidance provided by religion on real earthly issues, and gives them a moral green light on pretty much anything they can get away with, as long as they are considered to be "good Christians". In my opinion this phenomenon is a glaring statement of Christianity's ultimate moral incompetence.

Gus Van Horn said...

That is a profound point, and I would add that the same doubles standard demonstrated by the Bush administration pervades religious thought on morality.

Just observe the attitudes and behavior of the deity of most religions: extremely jealous, demanding of obedience, violent, and vindictive. This is both held as a moral ideal and forbidden, and it leaves the religious two choices: "prosper" by taking advantage of the double standard, or be a sucker -- i.e., live as you are told.

When someone makes a big deal out of following Christianity (or any other faith), it is an immediate red flag and carries with it the moral credibility of a jailhouse conversion, as far as I am concerned.