Friday, January 27, 2006

Bartlett's Quotations
Posted by James Wolcott

Ah, sweet irony of life. It was less than three years ago that Bruce Bartlett, a supply-side economist who's held a bouquet of policy-adviser positions, was writing columns trying to dump ice water on the "angry," "inflammatory," "apoplectic" Paul Krugman. But last October Bartlett, a sure-as-shootin' Reagan conservative, was hustled to the exit from his post at the National Center for Policy Analysis for impure thoughts and words that violated the rightwing think-tank's canon.

Next month will see the publication of his new book about Bush's superbad economic policy, and, my my, does much of it sound Krugmanesque, an adjective that I consider a compliment. Bartlett emerges from these pages drenched in an auburn shade of Bitter Disillusionment, and the title alone tells you how fed-up, cheesed-off, and ready to bring on the funk he is:

Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy

Four presidents dominate this book: Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush the Son. And the thesis of the book is that Bush is much closer to Nixon than Reagan, and that conservatives have reason to rue that they ever mau-mau'd Clinton about Monica. An unharassed, unbesieged Clinton might have truly reformed Social Security in his second term, according to Bartlett. The Monica follies made that impossible. Yet history will record that in economic Clinton was the far more prudent, serious, and conscientious leader.

"I think it is telling that Bush’s Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, was far better on the budget than he has been. Clinton vetoed bills because they spent too much. Bush never does. Clinton not only reduced the deficit, but he actually cut spending. Bush has increased both. Clinton abolished an entitlement program. Bush created an extremely expensive new one. One can still argue about whether Clinton was a better president or a better man than Bush, but on the budget there is no ambiguity. Clinton was much better."


"...Opinions about Richard Nixon are much different today than when he left office, with many liberals who hated him at the time now viewing his domestic policies in a much more favorable light. Something similar is under way with regard to Bill Clinton. Many conservatives who thought he was the devil incarnate when he was in the White House are now inclined to look upon his domestic policies more favorably. The key reason for this reassessment has been the extremely poor record of George W. Bush on the budget from the point of view of conservatives. In light of Bush’s big-spending ways, Clinton now looks almost like another Calvin Coolidge. As a friend once noted about disco music, it seemed so bad at the time because it was being compared to the golden age of rock and roll that had come before it. But by comparison to the awful music that came afterward, disco sounds pretty good today. So too with conservatives and Clinton. Compared to Ronald Reagan, he was awful. Compared to George W. Bush, he looks a lot better."

Compared to Bush, he looks like a competent, responsible, functioning adult. And I suspect that by 2008 a lot of Republicans are going to be secretly hankering for a Hillary presidency to put Bush's manifold wrongs right. As for the Bush Legacy, Bartlett speculates:

"I think [Republicans] will eventually think of Bush the way earlier Republicans thought of Nixon—as someone who severely undermined the party and its principles just to get reelected. Not only did Nixon come close to exterminating the Republican Party with Watergate, he put in place policies that continue to burden the economy to this day—all to win one lousy election in 1972. I think Bush and his congressional enablers basically did the same thing in 2004. Bush’s motives may have been higher than Nixon’s—Bush believes he is fighting a holy war against terrorism, whereas Nixon was simply selfish—but the results may be the same.
01.24.06 8:04PM