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Posted by on Aug 14, 2009 in Economy, Health, Politics, Society | 3 comments

“Sensible Conservative” Is Not an Oxymoron

I have, as Bruce Springsteen would say, living proof:

Where is the evidence that everything would be better if Republicans were in charge? Does anyone believe the economy would be growing faster or that unemployment would be lower today if John McCain had won the election? I know of no economist who holds that view. The economy is like an ocean liner that turns only very slowly. The gross domestic product and the level of employment would be pretty much the same today under any conceivable set of policies enacted since Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Why? Because, Bartlett writes, the president whose policies wrecked the economy left the White House on January 20:

I think conservative anger is misplaced. To a large extent, Obama is only cleaning up messes created by Bush. This is not to say Obama hasn’t made mistakes himself, but even they can be blamed on Bush insofar as Bush’s incompetence led to the election of a Democrat. If he had done half as good a job as most Republicans have talked themselves into believing he did, McCain would have won easily.

Conservative protesters should remember that the recession, which led to so many of the policies they oppose, is almost entirely the result of Bush’s policies. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession began in December 2007—long before Obama was even nominated. And the previous recession ended in November 2001, so the current recession cannot be blamed on cyclical forces that Bush inherited.

But did leading conservatives at the time hold Bush responsible for his mistakes? Not at all:

Throughout the Bush years, many conservative economists, including CNBC’s Larry Kudlow, extravagantly extolled Bush’s economic policies. As late as December 21, 2007, after the recession already began, he wrote in National Review: “the Goldilocks economy is outperforming all expectations.” In a column on May 2, 2008, almost six months into the recession, Kudlow praised Bush for having prevented a recession.

But the truth was always that the economy performed very, very badly under Bush, and the best efforts of his cheerleaders cannot change that fact because the data don’t lie.

Here is what Bartlett has to say about the most sacred of conservative Republican sacred cows:

… [C]onservatives have an absurdly unjustified view that Republicans have a better record on federal finances. It is well-known that Clinton left office with a budget surplus and Bush left with the largest deficit in history. Less well-known is Clinton’s cutting of spending on his watch, reducing federal outlays from 22.1 percent of GDP to 18.4 percent of GDP. Bush, by contrast, increased spending to 20.9 percent of GDP. Clinton abolished a federal entitlement program, Welfare, for the first time in American history, while Bush established a new one for prescription drugs.

Conservatives delude themselves that the Bush tax cuts worked and that the best medicine for America’s economic woes is more tax cuts; at a minimum, any tax increase would be economic poison. They forget that Ronald Reagan worked hard to pass one of the largest tax increases in American history in September 1982, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, even though the nation was still in a recession that didn’t end until November of that year. Indeed, one could easily argue that the enactment of that legislation was a critical prerequisite to recovery because it led to a decline in interest rates. The same could be said of Clinton’s 1993 tax increase, which many conservatives predicted would cause a recession but led to one of the biggest economic booms in history.

Then Bartlett gets to health care reform:

But there is yet another dimension to Bush’s failures—the things he didn’t do. In this category I would put a health-care overhaul. Budget experts have known for years that Medicare was on an unsustainable financial path. It is impossible to pay all the benefits that have been promised because spending has been rising faster than GDP.

In 2003, the Bush administration repeatedly lied about the cost of the drug benefit to get it passed, and Bush himself heavily pressured reluctant conservatives to vote for the program.

Because reforming Medicare is an important part of getting health costs under control generally, Bush could have used the opportunity to develop a comprehensive health-reform plan. By not doing so, he left his party with nothing to offer as an alternative to the Obama plan. Instead, Republicans have opposed Obama’s initiative while proposing nothing themselves.

Do you see what he does here? He completely deflates the GOP nonsense about Pres. Obama “rushing through” health care reform legislation. Republicans sat on their hands for eight years, knowing that health care reform was a huge issue that would not go away. They deserve nothing but scorn and raucous mocking laughter for claiming now that they “haven’t had enough time” to consider the issue.