26 September 2007

President Bush: A Leftist Failure

The Objectivist
GEORGE W. BUSH: A PROFILE IN FAILURE
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 24, 2007

President George W. Bush has been a miserable failure. Bush failed because of his enthusiastic support for government spending and his tireless push to increase the federal juggernaut at the expense of the states and citizens. In fact, given Bush’s love of government power, Congressional Republicans should have openly opposed him years ago.

In general, Bush spent like a drunken sailor. According to Stephen Slivinski of the Cato Institute, Bush increased federal spending in his first term by 33% and during this period increased the federal budget as a share of the economy from 18.5% when he took office to 20.3%. The real increase in spending was second only to drunker sailor Lyndon Johnson and Bush increased spending more in non-defense areas. In fact, between 2001 and 2005 non-defense spending by Bush rose by 23% (inflation-adjusted), which is larger than the rise in the whole Clinton presidency. From 200-2005, he increased welfare spending (payments to individuals) by 26% (again inflation-adjusted). The parts of the government that are symbols of the governmental overreaching also got fat under Bush. For example, largely under his watch, the education department budget grew by a whopping 115% (2000-2005). This occurred despite the fact that education is largely a state function and that there is little correlation between spending and educational success.

Bush’s accomplishments almost all involve an explosion in the size and scope of government. Among his biggest domestic triumphs was getting the government to pay for drugs for the elderly (Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, 2003). Bush could have limited this program to the poor. Instead, the big spender generously included the middle class and wealthy. In 2003, the bill barely passed Congress. A month after it passed, the administration changed its ten-year cost estimate to $534 billion, which is more than $100 billion over what the administration claimed it would cost when Congress considered it. Had the administration not lied, the bill probably would not have passed. Eric Boehlert of Salon.com claimed that the administration covered up the higher cost and threatened to fire government analyst Richard Foster if he provided the real cost to Congress. By 2005, Washington Post reporters noted that the White House Budget had increased the estimate to $1.2 trillion. While Bush was running up the tab to take a Democratic issue off the table, he did little to solve the oncoming deficits in Social Security and Medicare, deficits that will wreak havoc in the near future.

Another of his accomplishments was to increase federal involvement in education and jacked up the size of the Education Department in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-110). This program increased federal spending and instituted a series of testing requirements in return for federal funding. Despite the fact that America’s schools are the most expensive in the world and have mediocre to poor results when compared to other advanced countries, Bush did little to remedy these failings. In particular, he took a pass on encouraging market mechanisms and removing mediocre teachers from the classrooms.

Bush also didn’t keep his promises to protect American liberty. Despite his earlier promise to veto the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, he signed it. Again, he did so to eliminate an issue that was thought to support Democrats. The bill regulated soft money (money given to national parties) and limited spending on issue ads that name a federal candidate and that run close to primaries and elections. In some areas, the bill went even further and banned such ads paid by the corporate or union funds. Apparently, Bush decided that they should just shut up.

In limiting the amount of money that citizens could donate toward a candidate’s campaign, it sharply limited free speech. To see this, imagine that the Bush and company had limited the amount of money that a newspaper (for example, the New York Times) could spend in putting out its paper and ask yourself whether that limit would restrict free speech. Of course it would and the same is true for limits on money sent to get out a message through the political parties. It also made it even more difficult to dislodge incumbents because it disarmed candidates who might challenge them. This protection of incumbents ensures that political hacks like Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Ted Stevens (R-AK), and Robert Byrd (D-WV) stay in office for decades.

Bush could have tried to achieve real reform by fighting for term limits. Instead, he chose the easy way and signed off on a plan to regulate and equalize speech. Luckily, the Supreme Court has recognized that the Constitution protects speech by private political groups (527 tax-exempt political organizations). This exception will probably make the bill ineffective.

As if McCain-Feingold weren’t enough, Bush declared war on the Constitution. As part of his drug-prohibition efforts, the Bush administration argued that the Supreme Court should interpret the Constitution as providing almost no limit on federal power. The Commerce Clause ("The Congress shall have Power ...To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes," Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution) is part of a list of specific powers that the founders intended to exhaust what powers the federal government has. They intended that all other powers would reside with the states and the people. A narrow reading of the clause is essential if the federal government is to be hemmed in the way that the Constitution requires. In 1996, California voters passed a referendum that legalized the medical use of Marijuana. The federal government prohibited marijuana in 1937 and challenged this law. The Supreme Court backed by the liberal justices and Justice Scalia backed the federal government, asserting that the federal ban on such marijuana was Constitutional despite the fact that it was grown, sold, and used in California and was not plausibly part of interstate business.

Persons might differ with regard to the justice and success of the Iraq war but the notion that this was a defensive war doesn’t pass the laugh test. Small-government proponents don’t support interventionist wars (whether in Vietnam, Serbia, or Iraq) because U.S. security is not at stake. Administration officials justified attacking Iraq because it allegedly had weapons of mass destruction, connections to Al-Qaeda, and was the lynchpin for promoting democracy throughout the Middle East. None of these claims have panned out. The war has also turned out to be prohibitively expensive. The Congressional Research Service estimated that the total expenditures have exceeded $500 billion and cost almost $2 billion spent per week. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winning economist, estimates that the war’s total costs will be greater than $1 trillion and stand a good chance of being greater than $2 trillion. The war has also resulted in roughly 3,800 American troops dying and 28,000 injured.

In short, President George W. Bush has been very successful in expanding federal power. He has shot spending through the roof, carved out chunks from the Constitution, and poured money and lives into an interventionist war that that had a weak connection to U.S. interests. It’s just a shame that he didn’t campaign on his plan to pursue the policies of the American left.

9 comments:

The Objectivist said...

Note that I left out his attempt to eviscerate the Fourth Amendment via warrantless wiretaps and the Due Process Clause via his designation of some persons as enemy combatants.

The Objectivist said...

Bush also had the effect of making the Republicans no longer more financially responsible than Democrats and has given "moderate" Republicans (actually RINOs) and dones his dead-level best to kill off the libertarian wing of the Republican Party.

The Constructivist said...

So how exactly is Bush a leftist again?

The Constructivist said...

Also, I'm glad to see you're coming around to expressing your substantial agreement with me publicly. So are you leaving the Rethuglican Party or do you have a horse in this primary race? Is Guiliani your guy?

The Objectivist said...

Dear C:
Bush is a leftist because he believes in the following. 2-4 are instances of 1.

1. Government should expand its role in American's lives.

2. Rights that protect us against searches, seizures, and interference in our lives should be given less recognition and weight. See medical marijuana, the Patriot Act, and the Commerce Clause.

3. The U.S. should engage in wars fought for reasons relating to helping others rather than for merely defensive purposes.

4. We should pay for the medical care for old people, lower middle class children, and the education of people in other states.

I claim that these are distinctive of a leftist world view.

The Objectivist said...

Dear C:

In the Presidential race there is Ron Paul and everyone else. Aside from his being pro-life, he is the only one who wants the government substantially pared down and the only one who has shown over time a commitment to smaller government.

Who is your favorite Dem?

The Constructivist said...

O, this definition is overbroad. Unless you're of the "Hitler to Hillary" school of wingnuttery, most people recognize that there are fascists and conservatives who are all about expanding state power. In fact, many left traditions, from anarchy to marxism, are as much against the state as any libertarianism. Labelling Bush a leftie is just another way of shirking responsibility for what the Republican Party itself became under the Bush years. This kind of intellectual Stalinism is beneath you and I'd hope you'd do more than repeat the usual talking points.

I'm undecided among the Democrats running for President. I like a lot of what I'm hearing from Kucinich, Edwards, and Obama, but in the end I feel any of them (even Hillary) would be such an improvement over Bush or any possible successor, I'll do my usual primary protest vote and then hold my nose for whichever Democrat wins.

The Objectivist said...

Dear C:

You don't like my definition of "leftist" because it includes fascists and conservatives who want to expand state power. Even if this is true and it would be true that a government is leftist to the degree that it wants to expand government involvement in the economic realm. To the extent that fascist or conservative governments are doing this, they are leftist despite how they and others might label them.

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