What If This Were Bush?

It goes without saying that if Bush had presided over a phony end to the Iraq war, expanded the Afghanistan war, extended its reach into Pakistan, solidified the state secrets doctrine and claimed in no uncertain terms the right to assassinate American citizens without due process, the left would be up in arms. The partisan hypocrisy concerning war-related issues is clear.

But what about economic and domestic policy? What if the Bush administration had sunk the country another trillion dollars into debt with the explicit promise that his plan was all that could prevent a 9% unemployment rate – only to then stumble for a year with an unemployment rate closer to 10%? What if the Bush administration had imposed a mandate forcing Americans to patronize the health insurance industry? What if the Bush administration had been in place for these two years since the financial collapse, overseeing an obviously sheepish economy whose only signs of recovery are transparently superficial and temporary bumps in consumption and the employment for census workers? And speaking of “transparency,” what if Bush had vowed to have his deliberations with the medical industry out in the open, to put every major bill on the web before it was voted on, and to have the health care debate on C-Span for all the world to see, only to renege totally on these assurances and every other promise of transparency? What if the Bush administration had simultaneously designated carbon to be a “pollutant” while proposing to create a market in the right to pollute, with credits given to big firms to be bought and sold on Wall Street? What if the Bush administration had overseen the BP oil spill, with regulatory agents asleep at the wheel and had decided, unilaterally, to cap the company’s liability? What if the Bush administration had won an election on one major domestic promise – to take the corruption and chaos out of the financial markets and steady the economy back on track – only to preside over an expansion of the power of the very same agencies that led the markets astray, all the while those markets showed little sign of improving? What if the Bush administration had established such a flurry of ad hoc interventions as to frighten investors away from wanting to invest in the private economy?

I think there would be no end to the criticism from the left, if indeed Bush were doing what Obama has done. Now, the two presidents do have some differences in policy and even a bigger difference in rhetoric. But it is conceivable that much of what has happened since January 2009 could have happened on Bush’s watch, and while some conservatives might be less critical than they are now, even more tellingly, most left-liberals would be much, much more critical than the are now.

In his first news conference since May, Obama has defended his economic policies, once again. It is the same old balderdash we always hear from him and most Democrats: Progress has been made. The government has saved us from a fate too terrible to imagine. And if November proves to be an electoral referendum on the economy, “the Democrats will do very well,” Obama confidently says.

To the extent the economy is still suffering, what is the problem? Why, the Republicans, of course. They are refusing to work together in “a better spirit of cooperation,” which the president humbly takes some blame for failing to promote – a fact he assures us he is as frustrated about as anyone. So he does admit some fault – he thought that those evil, uncooperative Republicans could be brought to the table, but he was too naive in his charity toward them. Poor guy.

What else can be blamed? Why, the tax cuts on “the rich,” of course. The left-liberal Washington Post loyally echoes the Democratic line: “Extending tax cuts for those higher-income households – something Republicans favor – would cost the federal government $700 billion over the next 10 years.” Oh no! We wouldn’t want to “cost the federal government” by letting people retain a bit more of their money. And $700 billion over the next ten years? Holy smokes! That’s $70 billion a year – that’s almost 2% of projected federal spending for 2011. All we have to do is raise taxes on the rich five or six times over, and maybe we can close the deficit. (Putting aside the hard reality that raising taxes so much would hamper the economy even more, discourage wealth creation, and certainly fail to bring in the budget shortfall.)

The real problem is spending, which Democrats seem incapable of ever conceding. The U.S. government spends close to $4 trillion and the Dems hone in on the $70 billion that can supposedly be “saved” by letting some tax cuts expire. Almost a trillion goes to the bloated military establishment they claim to want to trim and laughably accuse Republicans of being uniquely extravagant on. Obama has increased “defense” spending more than enough to make up for this $70 billion a year, but such points are not to be discussed. All we get from these guys, who promised a line-by-line examination of the federal budget and a weeding out of waste, is the occasional display of surreal pride in cutting $100 million worth of spending in some areas while increasing it by hundreds of billions in others, as though this pathetic cut isn’t so microscopic so as to make the Republicans’ own miniscule promises of government cuts seem revolutionary in comparison.

But Democrats are only quite this absurd when in power. Can you imagine how they’d respond if Bush had busted the budget this much, had triumphantly boasted that he cut $100 million from a budget 38 thousand times as large, or had claimed fiscal responsibility or economic success of any sort even as the deficit skyrocketed and unemployment remained higher than in a generation? He would be mocked, ridiculed, shunned and held up as the very example of a man unfit to be president if ever there was one. He would be treated as a self-evident instance of how an arrogant destroyer of the economy, a liar and a fool could become president of the United States, and why it means we must be vigilant in our questioning of authority – for dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Add in the insane unwinnable wars, the surveillance state and detention policy, and Bush, if he were still president, would be pointed out by the left as an example of a would-be despot, a clueless war criminal, a very dangerous and deluded man whose fingers must be removed from the levels of power before he causes even more damage to America and to the world.

And if Bush were president, he would deserve every bit of this seditious disrespect. So why are so many people who should know better still defending Obama?

Anthony Gregory is a former Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent books American Surveillance and The Power of Habeas Corpus in America.
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