Quote of the Day: Bring Back Poppy
Our political Quote of the Day comes from the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman who says he misses George H.W. Bush and the “kinder, gentler” brand of Republicanism he represented.. His piece does reflect sentiment I have picked up in the past few months from some who were for a while or long time Republicans and no longer are:
Watching today’s Republicans being led around by an extremist Tea Party faction, with no adult supervision, I find my mind drifting back to the late 1980s when I was assigned to cover the administration of George H.W. Bush, who I believe is one of our most underrated presidents. I have long admired the elder Bush for the deftness with which he dealt with the collapse of the Soviet empire. But, in later years, I came to admire him even more for the fact that he believed that math and science were not matters of opinion — a view increasingly rare in today’s G.O.P.
Despite having run on the promise of “Read my lips: No new taxes,” when the deficit started spiraling to dangerous levels under his presidency, Bush agreed to a compromise with Democrats to raise several taxes, along with spending cuts, as part of a 1990 budget deal that helped to pave the way for the prosperity of that decade. It definitely hurt his re-election, but he did it anyway.
George H.W. Bush also believed in science. How many Republicans know that he and his aide Boyden Gray pioneered the use of cap-and-trade to deal — very effectively — with the problem of acid rain produced by power-plant emissions?
George H.W. Bush also believed that to be a conservative was to act with “prudence,” one of his favorite words and a philosophy he demonstrated in foreign policy by deciding, once he defeated Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, not to follow him to Baghdad.
I find it hard to look at today’s G.O.P. without thinking how far it has drifted from the kind of balanced conservatism the elder Bush brought to politics. Today’s G.O.P. has gone from espousing cap-and-trade to deal with pollution to espousing the notion that all the world’s climate scientists have secretly gotten together and perpetrated a “hoax,” called climate change, in order to expand government — all of this at a time of record heat waves and climate disruptions.
One reason is that today’s GOP takes it cues increasingly from what I call the talk radio political culture where defiant sound bytes negatively defining the other side dominate. The problem is that ideological media, talk show hosts, and ideological websites don’t gain audience share if content is about the need for compromise or seeking solutions that gain wider support by trying to bring in foes so conflict is defused. They gain audience share by sawing off an enraged demographic that they cultivate and play to. It’s not just preaching to the choir but also picking a song the choir likes so they come back again and again and making sure that choir members warn elected officials that they better not sing a different tune.
Increasingly, George W. Bush seems a world away from the kind of Republicanism we see today. Which raises the question: if Jeb Bush does run in 2016 will he have to be more of a Michelle Bachmann than a Bush? More:
On the economy, the G.O.P. has gone from the magical thinking of Vice President Dick Cheney — who argued that “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter” and used this argument to help run up the deficit to its current astronomical levels with huge tax cuts — to an anti-tax cult that spurned a “Grand Bargain” with President Obama because it would have not only cut $3 trillion in spending over the next decade but also involved $1 trillion in tax increases. Somehow, the G.O.P. has forgotten that even Ronald Reagan didn’t believe deficits don’t matter and he raised taxes when our fiscal stability demanded it. As for prudence today, well, the willingness to risk a default on America’s financial obligations by refusing to raise the debt ceiling may be many things, but it is not prudent.
Where have all the adults in this party gone? Where is Dick Lugar, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Colin Powell, Hank Paulson and Big Business? Are you telling me that they are ready to fall in line behind Michele Bachmann, Grover Norquist, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin? Are these really the pacesetters of modern conservatism?
Will it last? It’s too early to tell. But trending suggests it will and since nothing succeeds like success more clones will pop up. Contrast that with
liberals progressives’ failure to hold the line on New Deal/ Great Society legislation, launch truly competitive progressive talk that was good broadcasting versus simply boring ideological anti-Rush, and the Democratic left’s penchant for undermining its party by punishing it and staying home (and thus later seeing GOPers consolidate a hold on the bureaucracy and the courts) in key elections when Republicans turn out in force.
Either the market will impose a Grand Bargain on us in a haphazard way or we can do it rationally by a Democratic and Republican consensus. The president says that he is ready and that his party is behind him. I hope so. But without a Republican Party that returns to the sane conservatism of the likes of George H.W. Bush — which accepts that both spending and tax increases are, reluctantly, needed to fix our budget and maintain social stability — we’re not going to get even a minibargain, let alone a grand one. It is time for a counterrevolution in the G.O.P.
This would only occur if the GOP loses some elections and decides to make shift to something “new” — the kind of Republicanism that aggregated interests, compromised for a perceived good, and saw governing as a kind of stewardship not just for the economy but to nurture national unity. The “new” would be the “old” but then increasingly the new Tea Party Movement seems like “the old” — an attempt to take the United States back to the days before Teddy Roosevelt shocked Republicans and made some key changes in clamping down on corporations and protecting the environment.
George H.W. is reviled by some. And missed by some. Right now he’s exactly the kind of Republican many Republicans don’t want to be which could be OK for a while unless future elections indicate a large number of Americans (including former Republicans) don’t want to be like the current brand of 21st century conservative Republicans.