Former President George W. Bush fired a salvo at President Obama on Wednesday, asserting his administration's interrogation policies were within the law, declaring the private sector not government will fix the economy and rejecting the nationalization of health care. I know it's going to be the private sector that leads this country out of the current economic times we're in, the former president said to applause from members of a local business group. You can spend your money better than the government can spend your money. Repeatedly in his hour-long speech and question-and-answer session, Mr. Bush said he would not directly criticize the new president, who has moved to take over financial institutions and several large corporations. Several times, however, he took direct aim at Obama policies as he defended his own during eight years in office. – Washington Times
Dominant Social Theme: The debate about free markets continues.
Free-Market Analysis: It is ironic that former president George W. Bush returns to the rhetorical fray by criticizing President Barack Obama on the issue of free markets. President Bush's tenure at the White House was marked by a concerted attack AGAINST free-markets, in the opinion of many free-market thinkers. He vastly expanded the nation's dysfunctional public school regime with a series of test methodologies that froze what was already foundering, and he looked to gigantic federal programs for solutions to other sociopolitical problems as well. As he went, he expanded the national debt from US$5 trillion to US$10 trillion.
He tried to allow religious institutions to gain access to federal dollars. He set up the Department of Homeland Security, which brought under its umbrella more than a dozen of America's intelligence apparatuses and extended regional surveillance of ordinary citizens through police fusion centers. He sought through various secretive treaties to create a far closer union between America, Canada and Mexico – a union which would have been far more productive and legitimate had it grown out of private sector initiatives rather than public ones.
One rarely saw President Bush, especially in later years, mingling with civic groups, entrepreneurial associations or business leaders. His public appearances seemed overwhelmingly built around speeches at military facilities and academy graduations. He pursued two expensive wars (neither of which have formally ended), and then nearly three (had Iran heated up). In doing so, he provided the US military industrial complex with a virtual blank check at the expense of the private sector, one that it still exercises today. When the disastrous flooding took place in New Orleans, he flew overhead in the presidential airplane and then panicked and stood in the French Quarter promising US$200 billion in municipal aid (much of which was apparently never delivered).
President Bush referred to himself as a war president and his emphasis was on utilizing all the paraphernalia of America's state power – sometimes it seemed not to solve civic difficulties but just for the sake of its exercise. He characterized his administration as conservative, and today defends the free-market. Yet his last acts in the White House involved propping up the nation's bubble-banking system with some US$700 billion, much of which has never been accounted for and probably never will.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan expanded the power of the US government, especially its military, but both the conversation and the executive bias under Ronald Reagan was meaningfully focused on free markets. At one point, Reagan even sought to abolish education as a cabinet post – in stark comparison to President Bush who sought to buttress the federal governments role in that arena with his testing endeavor. While President Bush makes good points in this latest speech, the behavior of his administration for eight years exploded the American conversation about what actually constitutes free-markets. It paved the way for elections that not only brought Obama to power but gave him a window of opportunity to pass radical and leveling legislation.
There is a significant American constituency for classical liberal solutions to America's increasingly fragile economy and anti-business stance. But when the mainstream media presents George Bush as he apparently wishes to be presented, as a proponent of free-markets and market capitalism, the already difficult-to-understand political conversation degenerates further. The social fabric itself becomes frayed. Voters become first apathetic and then irritated, even agitated. Iran comes to mind.
One can only hope that today's Iranian civil unrest leads to better days for those unhappy Iranian citizens. But economic difficulty often triggers despair, and the West is not immune. In America, one hopes that the rhetoric of the nation's leaders eventually begins to bear some resemblance to actual deeds. The conversation of the American "exception" is in a terrible muddle. Absent a coherent conversation, frustration grows.