It has been said that every president makes us nostalgic for his predecessor. But as bad as the presidency of Barack Obama has turned out to be, I still look back on the Bush years with regret rather than longing.
George Bush will go down in history — at least among proponents of liberty, property, and peace — as one of the worst presidents ever. Instead of abolishing the Department of Education, he gave us the No Child Left Behind Act. Instead of rolling back the welfare state, he expanded Medicare with a prescription-drug program that Lyndon Johnson himself would have been proud of.
Bush started two immoral and senseless wars against other states, and he declared war on a tactic (terrorism). These wars have lead to perpetual incarceration, torture, and innumerable other violations of civil liberties and human rights.
Bush also “abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system” with his bailout and stimulus programs “to make sure the economy doesn’t collapse.”
He doubled the national debt, massively increased government spending, and gave us the first trillion-dollar budget deficit. Bush also crippled corporations with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, destroyed the Fourth Amendment with the Patriot Act, waged war on the Bill of Rights, created the monstrous Department of Homeland Security with its groping TSA goons, and increased farm subsidies and foreign aid.
Being nostalgic for Bush is like being nostalgic for a train wreck.
But now that the equally horrendous presidency of Barack Obama is winding down, the cry is made by Republicans — oblivious to the fact that Obama’s presidency has been indistinguishable from a Bush third term — that had John McCain the Republican been elected, things would be much different.
As much as I detest what has gone on during Obama’s term in office, I’m afraid that’s just not so.
On the economy, McCain supported Bush’s Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 and the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (the TARP bailout). He voted to raise the debt limit four times during the Bush years (2003, 2004, 2006, and 2008). He opposed the Bush tax cuts in 2001, and he has voted against ending the estate tax.
On civil liberties, his record is no better: McCain is a drug warrior par excellence. He is the coauthor of the horrendous McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act. He once sent letters to all state governors asking them to ban UFC-style fighting. His record on gun control is mixed, which means it is bad. He called the Supreme Court decision affirming habeas corpus for prisoners at Guantanamo “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” And he supports the Patriot Act.
On environmentalism, McCain accepts anthropogenic global climate change, supports a cap-and-trade system, limits on greenhouse gas emissions, restrictions on carbon emissions from cars, and increased fuel-economy standards. Additionally, he opposes drilling for oil in a portion of the 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
On the welfare state, McCain wants to save Social Security and Medicare. He loves NASA. And he supports federal funding for education, including vouchers and Pell Grants.
On the warfare state, McCain fully supports the U.S. empire of troops and bases that encircles the globe, our interventionist foreign policy, and perpetual war with the Muslim world.
Once, when asked about Bush’s comment about the United States staying in Iraq for fifty years, McCain replied: “Make it a hundred.” He reasoned, “We’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea 50 years or so. That would be fine with me.” He even said he would be alright with American forces staying in Iraq for a “thousand years” or “a million years.”
In 2011, McCain has supported U.S. military intervention in Libya and opposed withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
When all else fails, Republicans always fall back on the abortion issue. But at least McCain would appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices, they say, as if that alone is enough to overcome McCain’s horrendous record on the economy, civil liberties, the welfare state, environmentalism, and the warfare state. But why would any pro-lifer trust McCain? After all, as a senator he voted to confirm to the Supreme Court the liberal, pro-choice justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter.
Although McCain and Obama may disagree on some issues, it is a myth that things would be any better under a McCain presidency. The Republican Party is utterly and hopelessly statist and interventionist — just like the Democratic Party. As George Wallace famously observed, “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats.” Republicans may talk about liberty, free markets, the Constitution, lower taxes, less regulation, and limited government, but their actions show that all such talk is just hot air. Republicans are not the party of small government; they are simply the party of Republican government.
Just look at Republican senator Jim DeMint. The senator from South Carolina recently wrote an article in the Washington Times assailing the Department of Energy for issuing loan guarantees for green energy projects, one of which went to the now-bankrupt Solyndra:
Government officials rushed $535 million to Solyndra because the Obama administration was determined to make the company the centerpiece of its green agenda regardless of the law of supply and demand. Billions more have been wasted by politicians betting on favored companies and making Washington bigger, using the brute force of government to force liberal preferences into the economy. Mr. Obama calls them “investments,” but this is really venture socialism.
Yet, DeMint voted for the very Energy Policy Act of 2005 that set up the loan program Solyndra took part in.
And still the myth of small-government Republicans continues, not only among deluded conservatives, but also among liberals. In a recent interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, liberals Michael Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown and coeditor of Dissent Magazine, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor and publisher of The Nation, talked about the fate of the political Left. Here is a comment from vanden Heuvel,
So I think we do need to create our own institutions. They are under fire because, as Michael I think mentioned, the right has been intent on destroying the very foundations of progressive left political activism as they work to repeal the New Deal, the Great Society, I would argue even going back now to pre-Civil War, to the Enlightenment and to reason and science.
The last thing liberals need to worry about is the Right actually doing anything to repeal the New Deal (Social Security, unemployment insurance, and the minimum wage) or the Great Society (Medicare, Medicaid, and anti-poverty programs).
After Bush was elected in 2000 and Republicans held on to control of the House and Senate, they had the chance to roll back, not only Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society, but also Truman’s Fair Deal, Nixon’s DEA and EPA, and the many collective blunders of all previous presidents and congresses.
After Republicans gained a majority in the Congress in the third year of Clinton’s first term (for the first time since the 83rd Congress of 1953–1955), their first excuse for not doing anything to scale back government was that they needed a larger, veto-proof majority in Congress to get bills past Clinton. Then, after Clinton only vetoed seventeen bills during his eight years in office, another excuse was proffered: we need a Republican in the White House to complete the Republican revolution.
Well, they got their Republican president in 2000 with an absolute Republican majority in the House, a fifty-fifty split in the Senate, and a Republican vice president to break tie votes. But when Republican senator Jim Jeffords switched from Republican to independent on May 24, 2001, the Republican majority fizzled, giving the GOP yet another excuse for not rolling back government.
The midterm elections of 2002 resulted in a new Congress (the 108th, 2003–2005) for the last two years of Bush’s first term that was once again solidly Republican. And what did this absolute Republican control of the Congress and the presidency do before its first year was over? It gave us the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act — the biggest expansion of Medicare and the welfare state since Lyndon Johnson.
When Bush was reelected in 2004, the Republicans increased their majority in Congress and continued to increase the budget, government spending, the deficit, and the national debt.
During the last two years of Bush’s presidency, the Republicans continued their downward slide, joining with the Democratic majority to enact stimulus and bailout legislation, and even to pass the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which mandates the phaseout of incandescent light bulbs.
So, after destroying the free market, busting the budget, ignoring the Constitution, violating civil liberties, doubling the debt, and expanding the welfare/warfare/nanny/national-security state, Republicans have the audacity to tell us that things would be better had a Republican like McCain been elected. And now Republicans tell us that things will be better if we just put a Republican back in the White House, give them a Republican majority in the Senate, and keep the Republican majority in the House. This time, say the Republicans, we will do something. We really mean it this time. We really do.
I’m not holding my breath.