Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Ezra Klein is, I think, substantially right in this (emphasis added):
Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum are chewing over the hefty bipartisan support Bush got for his various domestic initiatives. The roll call is impressive: No Child Left Behind, the 2001 tax cut, the post-9/11 war resolution, Sarbanes-Oxley, McCain-Feingold, the Iraq war resolution, the 2003 tax cut, the Medicare prescription drug bill and the bankruptcy bill.
To make a bit of a heretical point, most of those cases prove that Bush's domestic agenda was a capitulation to liberalism, not that Democrats were spineless wimps. NCLB and the Medicare prescription drug bill were both longtime Democratic ideas. The problem with NCLB was implementation, and while the problem with Medicare Part D was that its design was a giveaway to drug companies, it was also hundreds and hundreds of billions funneled towards the largest expansions of Medicare since the program's creation. Health-care reform, in particular, would likely be impossible if the prescription drug benefit hadn't been accomplished. There'd be no way to add that money to the bottom line of the bill and pay for everything. Democrats owe Bush a debt of gratitude for tossing that onto the deficit.
Sarbanes-Oxley and McCain-Feingold were, again, bills doing basically progressive things. As I understand it, Bush didn't actually support either bill, but he decided against actually vetoing them. On some level, they represented the administration submitting to Congress and pubic opinion.
The war stuff is, well, the war stuff. Liberalism may have trumped conservatism in the Bush era, but neoconservatism was clearly dominant over both. The tax cuts were free money, and the bankruptcy bill was indefensible. But on the whole, Bush's domestic record is more a tale of co-opting liberal ideas and adding money for corporations than it is a tale of achieving longtime conservative ends.
By contrast, Barack Obama really is pursuing longtime progressive agenda items. There's no analogue to welfare reform on his docket. The administration's grim determination to leverage their uncommonly large majority to achieve things like health-care reform and cap-and-trade is, I think, somewhat underappreciated. The fact that they're not dogmatically liberal in the details can distract from the aggressive liberalism of their vision.
I'll up Ezra's heretical ante and say this: The Bush administration (including the mostly Republican Congress during that era) did more to harm business and entrepeneurialism in America than any presidency since Nixon's at least. This is not to say that individual corporations did not benefit from one program or another under Bush (just as individual corporations have gotten billions out of Obama), but that Bush administration policies, particularly regarding the regulation of public companies and the effective conversion of generally accepted accounting principles into a criminal statute, were and remain very destructive to the economy as a whole.
It isn't an odd thing that Ezra Klein just arrived at this conclusion since he was still in middle school when Bush began wreaking his damage upon the American economy. At a guess, most or even all of us who follow this blog agree with the conclusion, and many of us stated similar things over the years. What discourages me to no end is how the delight Klein and his ilk take in seeing the government expand so much. Isn't it obvious that when government expands it does so only by reducing liberty?
I'll give Bush two other compliments that business and consumers should be happy about. He pushed more free(er) trade agreements than the current Democrats will. He also improved corporate financing efficiency slighlty by getting dividends taxed less.
Blame our impulsive society, too. Sarbanes-Oxley was conceived and passed in the heat of the Enron scandal. Yes, politicians should resist knee-jerk demands of the public, but as I remember, I was considered a lackey apologist for corrupt management when I questioned Sarbanes-Oxley. It was a pretty lonely position. For a politician juggling a war, a declining market, a struggling economy, and a baying press, I can see the cave-in on SOX. Better to save your limited political capital elsewhere.