So it hasn't really been all George Bush's fault, the stupendous American fiasco. He came to power armed with an ideology that was about to crash and burn; that was, years before the present tumult, already fatally disconnected from historical reality. It was on his watch that American government needed reinventing. It was responsible government that was needed in Iraq and Afghanistan; government that was desperately needed in New Orleans after Katrina, while all George Bush could manage was a fly-by. It is government that this most anti-governmental of all American administrations is learning that is needed now to save the United States from a second Depression. In his heart of hearts I actually think the shell-shocked Dubya, somewhere in the bowels of his presidency knows this. But he is nowhere to be found, and so on goes the mad rant that health care reform and progressive taxes are the Trojan horse for socialist revolution. To which those who have another view altogether might want to say, fear not, for yours, as a Republican president once said, is a government of the people, by the people. And really it will not perish from the earth. – Guardian
Dominant Social Theme: President George W. Bush was a free-market guy who blew it.
Free-Market Analysis: The craziness of the narrative ratchets up. It is not only the Guardian, a leftwing UK newspaper that carries the current nutty meme – it's American newspapers as well. Though American newspapers dare not be as blunt as the above article excerpt.
The reason? Those in the United States are considerably closer to this outgoing president than journalists in Britain or Europe. To try to make Bush out as anything other than a big-government guy is to offer an inaccurate description. Of course, the descriptions will be made because the American party out of power has to make them. If those who run in opposition to the current candidate admit his policies are much the same as theirs, then they don't have much to run against, do they? Thus it is, they throw caution to the wind and describe Bush as a "conservative," or a free-market administrator.
In truth, George W. Bush's record is one of militant government activism. He used every lever of federal government machinery to build a legacy featuring a public debt over $10 trillion, two hot wars and several more cold ones, a dysfunctional, national educational system, an obscenely bloated domestic intelligence structure named Homeland Security, and a series of failed initiatives such as those that would have allowed the federal government to fund religious programs – effectively federalizing spiritually oriented charities.
This president's biggest legacy failure, however, may be in the dialogue he leaves behind. Because he ran as a Republican, it is easy enough to declare, without much evidence, that Bush was heir to Ronald Reagan's muscular libertarian conservatism. In fact, a cursory look at "W's" record indicates that nothing could be farther from the truth. The only thing that the current president did that might be considered Republican in the laissez-faire tradition of that party was to lower taxes in the beginning of his term. But even that legacy is tainted by his aggressive expansion of government and subsequent leveraging of its duties and functions via borrowing from abroad.
The pace and scope of the borrowing was so large that it ended up distorting the monetary system. To keep up with government spending, the Federal Reserve printed a flood of new dollars, weakening the world's reserve currency and helping to create a housing bubble that had a number of other consequences as well.
Of course, one cannot blame the entire world's financial crisis on George Bush. The seeds for the current crisis were laid long ago and had to do with the monetary apparatus of central banking itself. But Bush's supine approach toward the gigantism of the federal government contrasts sharply with his predecessor, President Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan brought a sharply articulated perspective to the White House. He was a Republican who believed in minimal government and while he expanded government tremendously during his terms in office, no one could doubt that the conversation (anyway) under Reagan was fairly clear. The Republicans were the party of small government and decentralization. Reagan Republicans believed in lower taxes and entrepreneurialism.
Under Bush the conversation changed. It soon became unclear what Republicans stood for as Bush used every lever of big government to pursue his brand of compassionate conservatism, whatever that meant. And today, some eight years later, labels mean little in American politics. It could well be said that Bush governed much as Obama will govern if he wins the election. Superficially policies will change, but essentially they will not. Bush had no real questions about government power, about America's corrupt legal system, its war on drugs, its monetary policy and, after 9/11, the ability to project military might anywhere in the world.
Were Obama to win, the apparatus of big government that Bush used so aggressively, will remain intact and energetic. And chances are that Obama will use it just as enthusiastically. He will not wind down America's wars expeditiously, but will do so cautiously. He will not dismantle Homeland Security, but seek to make it more efficient. He will not rein in America's 20 or so out-of-control intelligence agencies but seek to shift the patronage and power to his own party. Obama, if he wins, will be a continuation of the imperial presidency as constructed under the watch of George W. Bush. It may be an important election, but in truth, Bush governed as a corporate socialist and Obama's rhetoric indicates he will govern as a populist one.
How any of this is a repudiation either of capitalism or of laissez faire economics is difficult to explain. It may be that capitalism, and by extension free-market thinking – is out of style at the moment. But that is not because anyone actually tried to implement these concepts and failed. America's President Bush never tried to begin with. And thus any "change" is bound to be more of the same.
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