Bush and the Republican Party

George Moneo raises the issue raised by Peggy Noonan, about Bush’s responsibility for what is shaping up to be a Republican electoral debacle, which gets me thinking…

W is like Bill Clinton in many political, though not personal, ways. The Republican base decided to overlook Bush’s flaws, which were obvious long before 2000, because they thought he was the only halfway-conservative candidate who could get elected. The Democrats’ left wing made a similar bargain WRT Clinton, even though he was clearly unprincipled and, as President, cut deals with Republicans, because they knew that their favorite lefty candidates didn’t stand a chance in any general election.

In both cases the parties’ committed members did the best they could, choosing electability over principle and hoping that things would work out well enough down the road that they would be able to hold their majorities.

But things didn’t work out, the electable compromise-candidates damaged their own parties, and the party faithful later paid (and are paying) the price. The Democrats paid by losing in 2000 and 2004, and it looks like the Republicans are going to pay by losing in 2008. I don’t see how it could have worked out much differently this year unless Republican voters had gone with a more principled libertarian or conservative candidate in 2000, in which case Gore might have won and all kinds of events might have worked out differently.

I think W has been a mediocre President on domestic issues, with great strokes like the 2003 tax cuts balanced by colossal bad judgment in encouraging reckless spending and terrible legislation like McCain-Feingold. But in foreign affairs he redeemed himself (and here I am talking about the W of 2001-2006, not today’s impotent lame duck) by taking the nation to war after 9/11 rather than appointing study commissions.

So we may get a Democratic President to follow a Republican one — rather than, perhaps, the other way around if Gore had been elected in 2000. I think we’re probably better off to have had a Republican first in the sequence but who knows. (And for all I know, if W hadn’t been elected in 2000 we’d now be at the end of the second Gore administration. But I doubt it.)

Both Parties seem to be adrift, the Democrats willfully so and the Republicans with bewilderment. Neither Party has been able recently to get an ideologue elected President, which makes sense given the country’s finely balanced political divisions. This year the Democratic candidate will be a socialist in all but name, while the Republican will be a relatively unideological — and, to the Party base, unprincipled — political pragmatist. It seems to me that the pragmatic/unprincipled Republican presidential candidates fit current trends better than the leftist Democrats do, yet the Democrats, who are, somewhat unfairly to the Republicans, not seen as incumbents despite their control of the Congress, are favored to win. Interesting times.

6 thoughts on “Bush and the Republican Party”

  1. It seems the New York Times is endorsing McCain and the WSJ has certainly leaned that way altho I would guess Murdoch is a Romney type (this endorsement, when issued, may say volumes about the independence of the post-Bancroft WSJ).

    I’m guessing it’s the Dem’s to lose and they could conceivably lose, but the incessant beat of Big Free Media for the Dems will probably be decisive.

    In any event, NOBODY wants to hear another word from George Bush – its painful to watch him anymore. He has certainly disabused us of the notion that government can’t “afford” ANYTHING, so let the good times roll.

  2. I suspect what the media wants most of all is a brokered convention – what are they going to do for news if all this is settled next weekend? With the writer’s strike & all, they can fill in time with outbursts from the leading candidates; I suspect McCain, Hillary & Bill are more likely to blow up than Romney or Obama. That alone would make them attractive in terms of circus.

    What I see Bush as failing at is social security reform & breaking the back of the teacher’s union. I’m pretty sure no Democrat would have even made the efforts he did in those two lines. And I have my doubts that any Republican will – or at least will be able to.

  3. I supported Bush through thick and thin until last year and he threw his weight behind the McCain Kennedy Amnesty bill.. That was the last straw.

    Like Don says.. I don’t want to hear another word from that guy. It’s great he stuck to his guns on Iraq, but all his other foreign policy regarding the Middle East is going to make all that we achieved in Iraq moot.

  4. I am much less upset about Bush’s domestic record than most. Logjams like bureaucratic accountability for poor performance have had “gordion knot” solutions proposed by conservatives for decades. They all failed. Bush adopted a multi-president model of putting in reforms that would allow the next Republican president to actually make significant cuts. Medicare is bankrupt and *could not be sold* prior to Bush because it was so out of alignment with medical practice that it was valueless to any private buyer. Now it is in rough alignment with the rest of the healthcare world thanks to Bush. The rating systems Bush imposed in exchange for the money giveaways in NCLB mean that the next time that governors or the President take on the teachers, the teachers will have a much harder time defending their incompetent performance in the inner city schools they are so horrible at serving and even the suburban systems that skate along aren’t going to have an easy time either.

    It’s been like that time and again. Bush met my expectations, winning the foundational battles but ugly, very ugly. Bush will rightly be viewed as a detour on mainstream conservatism, but it was a necessary detour. It was not a lost eight years even if you put aside 9/11.

  5. TMLutas,

    That is looking at the glass as being half-full. I hope that you are right about the necessity of the political detour. My guess is that Bush will eventually be seen by the public as an important or even great president for his war leadership, and that his big-govt domestic failings will be forgiven, but perhaps you are right about the domestic stuff as well. Only time will tell.

    One thing that’s obvious to me is that the conventional wisdom that regards Bush as a bad president is way overdone. It seems that everyone, including people who are always wrong, thinks that Bush is a failure.

    We are too close to events to see them clearly. Maybe in ten or twenty years…

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