Bush, basen og bæstet

Skyerne er i den grad ved at samle sig over præsident Bushs hoved.  Her tænker jeg ikke så meget på Al Gores nye miljø-"dokumentarfilm", der ganske forudsigeligt har fået stor omtale i Danmark og ledt til spekulation om Gores mulige politiske come-back.  Jeg tænker heller ikke på, at Bush fortsat er inderligt afskyet af den amerikanske venstrefløj eller det meste af det politiske billede i Europa, og ej heller på at hans popularitet blandt amerikanske midtervælgere falder i takt med stigninger i benzinpriserne.

Næ, problemet er snarere, at de dele af den amerikanske højrefløj, som i nogle år har holdt sig for næsen og på måtten m.h.t. at kritisere Bush, nu er ved at sige "enough is enough".  Nogle, som i forvejen var kritiske (f.eks. den liberalistiske tænketank Cato Institute) har skruet op for lydstyrken; andre, solide konservative, er ved at smide håndklædet i ringen–eller noget tungere efter Bush-administrationen og det Republikanske flertal i kongressen.  Konsekvensen af denne kritik er efter alt at dømme en kraftigt medvirkende årsag til, at Bushs "approval ratings" nu er så rekordlave, som de er: Svækkelsen siden sommeren 2005 er ikke sket blandt venstrefløjsvælgerne, men i Bushs eget bagland.  Ifølge en Washington Post/ABC News meningsmåling fra denne uge er det konservative baglands utilfredshed med Bush på blot én måned steget fra 16 pct. til 20 pct., altimens konservative Heritage Foundation kan berette, at man ikke i 12 år har hørt på så megen kritik af det Republikanske Parti fra egne rækker, som man gør nu.

Her er et "round up" af nogle smagsprøver i mere eller mindre tilfældig rækkefølge:

  • Cato Institute offentliggjorde for få uger siden et større studie af Gene Healy og Timothy Lynch , "Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush", som stykke for stykke, punkt for punkt, afdækker, hvorledes Bush-administrationen over de seneste fem år har flyttet stadigt mere magt til den udøvende magt og på en række områder fundamentalt har rykket ved den magtdelingsfilosofi, som forfatningsfædrene ønskede.  Her er deres sammendrag:

"[Far] from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power. In its official legal briefs and public actions, the Bush administration has advanced a view of federal power that is astonishingly broad, a view that includes

      • a federal government empowered to regulate core political speech—and restrict it greatly when it counts the most: in the days before a federal election;
      • a president who cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statutes, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror;
      • a president who has the inherent constitutional authority to designate American citizens suspected of terrorist activity as "enemy combatants," strip them of any constitutional protection, and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror— in other words, perhaps forever; and
      • a federal government with the power to supervise virtually every aspect of American life, from kindergarten, to marriage, to the grave.

President Bush's constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers."

  • Samme organisations Chairman, William A. Niskanen, der er en af grundlæggerne af public choice skolen og var formand for Council of Economic Advisors under Ronald Reagan, er interviewet som hovedhistorien, "Stoking the Beast", i juni-nummeret af det aldeles fremragende Atlantic Monthly (som jeg ved en senere lejlighed vil skrive en længere anbefaling af).  I interviewet gør Niskanen op med selve kernen i Reagan-Bush "starve the beast" supply-side økonomien, d.v.s., at man ved at sænke skatterne nu i stedet for at forsøge at skære udgifterne, dels stimulerer økonomien og dels "udhungrer bæstet" således, at man efterfølgende vil blive nødt til at skære i udgifterne.  Niskanen har studeret tallene 1980-2005 og konstaterer, at alt tyder på den modsatte effekt: At denne strategi faktisk leder til højere offentlige udgifter, formodentlig fordi det skjuler de faktiske udgifter ved en stor offentlig sektor:

"[Until Reagan], the conservative movement had been at odds with itself. Libertarians in the Goldwater tradition wanted to reduce spending in order to shrink Big Government. Supply-siders derided that idea as a political loser, "root-canal economics." Instead, they demanded large tax cuts that would grow the economy. Traditional business conservatives, however, believed in balanced budgets, and they held tax cuts hostage to spending cuts that never happened. The movement was gridlocked.

Reagan and his supply-side vanguard saw a way to break the jam—or, more precisely, two ways. First, some argued that tax cuts would so energize the economy as to pay for themselves. That claim was widely controversial, even among Republicans (Reagan's then-rival George H. W. Bush called it "voodoo economics"), and it proved mostly wrong. Less controversial, but in the end more important, was the claim Reagan lobbed at Anderson. Often called the Starve the Beast hypothesis, it held that tax cuts shrink the federal Leviathan by starving it of funds. Tax cuts need not await spending cuts because they would cause spending cuts.

For modern conservatism and the country, the importance of Starve the Beast is impossible to overstate. Suddenly Republicans could offer both lower taxes and smaller government without any need for fiscal dentistry. Suddenly it was the Democrats who were trapped. From then to now, tax cutting has been the lodestar of conservatism, rising to its apogee under the current President Bush. But there have always been dissenting voices, of which perhaps the most prominent speaks from within the conservative movement.

When Diogenes searches Washington, D.C., for an honest man, he could do worse than carry his lantern to the office of William A. Niskanen, the chairman of the libertarian Cato Institute. Niskanen's wall displays portraits of Isaac Newton, Adam Smith, and Charles Darwin, each captioned ORDER WITHOUT DIRECTION. …  In the Reagan administration, he served as acting chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Blunt-spoken and seemingly impervious to partisanship, he was passed over for the permanent chairmanship after telling senior politicos, in Reagan's presence, that one of their pet tax proposals would have made Walter Mondale proud.

Even during the Reagan years, Niskanen was suspicious of Starve the Beast. He thought it more likely that tax cuts, when unmatched with spending cuts, would reduce the apparent cost of government, thus stimulating rather than stunting Washington's growth. "You make government look cheaper than it would otherwise be," he said recently. …

To the naked eye, Starve the Beast looks suspiciously counterproductive. After all, spe
nding (as a share of the g
ross domestic product, the standard way to measure it) went up, not down, after Reagan cut taxes in the early 1980s; it went down, not up, after the first President Bush and President Clinton raised taxes in the early 1990s; and it went up, not down, following the Bush tax cuts early in this decade.

Niskanen recently analyzed data from 1981 to 2005 and found his hunch strongly confirmed. When he performed a statistical regression that controlled for unemployment (which independently influences spending and taxes), he found, he says, "no sign that deficits have ever acted as a constraint on spending." To the contrary: judging by the last twenty-five years (plenty of time for a fair test), a tax cut of 1 percent of the GDP increases the rate of spending growth by about 0.15 percent of the GDP a year. A comparable tax hike reduces spending growth by the same amount. …

Thanks to the Bush tax cuts, revenues have been well below 19 percent since 2002 (17.8 percent last year). Perhaps not surprisingly, government spending has risen under Bush."

  • Richard Viguerie, som spillede en stor rolle i Reagans sejr i 1980 og Bushs i 2000, skrev søndag i et langt essay i Washington Post, hvori han direkte opfordrede amerikanske konservative til at holde op med at støtte det Republikanske Parti og dets forskellige organisationer.  Viguerie gik så langt som til at foreslå, at man ikke støtter Republikanerne ved midtvejsvalget i år og til næste præsidentvalg, i 2008, arbejder på at skabe en ny bevægelse.

"As a candidate in 2000, George W. Bush was a Rorschach test. Country Club Republicans saw him as another George H.W. Bush; some conservatives, thinking wishfully, saw him as another Ronald Reagan. He called himself a "compassionate conservative," which meant whatever one wanted it to mean. Experts from across the party's spectrum were flown to Austin to brief Bush and reported back: "He's one of us. Republicans were desperate to retake the White House, conservatives were desperate to get the Clinton liberals out and there was no direct heir to Reagan running for president. So most conservatives supported Bush as the strongest candidate — some enthusiastically and some, like me, reluctantly. After the disastrous presidency of his father, our support for the son was a triumph of hope over experience. Once he took office, conservatives were willing to grant this Bush a honeymoon. … Then came the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and conservatives came to see support for the president as an act of patriotism.

Conservatives tolerated the No Child Left Behind Act, an extensive intrusion into state and local education, and the budget-busting Medicare prescription drug benefit. They tolerated the greatest increase in spending since Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society. They tolerated Bush's failure to veto a single bill, and his refusal to enforce immigration laws. They even tolerated his signing of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance overhaul, even though Bush's opposition to that measure was a key reason they backed him over Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in the 2000 primaries.

In 2004, Republican leaders pleaded with conservatives … to register people to vote and help them turn out on Election Day. Those efforts strengthened Republicans in Congress and probably saved the Bush presidency. We were told: Just wait till the second term. Then, the president, freed of concern over reelection and backed by a Republican Congress, would take off the gloves and fight for the conservative agenda. Just wait.

We're still waiting.

Sixty-five months into Bush's presidency, conservatives feel betrayed. …

If onservatives accept the idea that we must support Republicans no matter what they do, we give up our bargaining position and any chance at getting things done … Sometimes it is better to stand on principle and suffer a temporary defeat." (Hele essayet "Bush's base betrayal" er her.)

  • Peggy Noonan, taleskriver for Reagan og Bush den Ældre (og, som læserne vil vide, en af mine favoritskribenter), opfordrede i sin Wall Street Journal-klumme i forrige uge ligeledes til den konklusion, at et nederlag for Republikanerne ved det kommende midtvejsvalg kan være det bedste for sagen på længere sigt: 

"Power is distancing.

When you've been in Congress for a while, or the White House for a while, you both forget too many things and learn too many things.

You forget why they sent you. You forget it's not that you're charming and wonderful. You forget it's not you. You become immersed in a Washington conversation, a political conversation, that is, by definition, unlike the normal human conversation back home. To survive and thrive, national politicians have to speak two languages, Here and Home. Actually it's more than two languages, it's two cultures. It's hard to straddle cultures.

But even as you forget a lot, you learn a lot. You get crammed into your head the political realities on the ground around you–how big the minority Democratic bloc in the House really is, how many votes the other team has in what committee, where to go for legal money, how the press will react to any given decision or statement.

In time you know a lot of things the people who sent you to Washington don't know. And you come to forget what they do know. It used to be easy for you to remember that, because it's what you knew too. …

[The] administration and the Congress are losing their base, and it isn't because of the media. Republicans on the ground love to defy the MSM. When the media dislike their guy, they take it as proof their guy is good.

Of all the bad poll numbers for the Republicans, I think the worst is the right track/wrong track numbers, which continue to trend downward. A majority of the American people think we're on the wrong track. How can this be when the American economy is in a boom? When the Dow Jones Industrial Average is approaching its all-time high, when annual growth is almost 5%, when unemployment is low, and so is inflation? (People don't talk much about inflation anymore, but in the 1970s and early '80s it was the thief in the night that kept America sleepless. They could almost feel the worth of their savings going down with each tick of the clock. It was more disruptive, more damaging to a sense of security, than street crime. It is an unnoticed achievement that it has been so low so long.)

There are many reasons for the current unease. Not everything comes down to politics, not by a long shot. But part of it is politics.

It has long been the American way to believe political problems can be solved or eased through political action. Were tax rates in certain areas of the economy too high from 1940 to 1980, and were they injurious to our economy and to individuals? Yes. So Americans pushed back, pamphleteered and backed leaders who promised to lower them. In time the taxes came down.

Name the political problem, we could answer it, or work toward answering it, with political solutions.

But faith in political action has been damaged the past few years, not by outside forces but by the two major political parties themselves.

If you are a normal person with the normal amount of political awareness, you might see it this way:

Th

e Republicans talk about cutting spending, but they increase it–a lot. They stand for making government smaller, but they keep making it bigger. They say they're concerned about our borders, but they're not securing them. And they seem to think we're slobs for worrying. Republicans used to be sober and tough about foreign policy, but now they're sort of romantic and full of emotionalism. They talk about cutting taxes, and they have, but the cuts are provisional, temporary. Beyond that, there's something creepy about increasing spending so much and not paying the price right away but instead rolling it over and on to our kids, and their kids.

So, the normal voter might think, maybe the Democrats. But Democrats are big spenders, Democrats are big government, Democrats will roll the cost onto our kids, and on foreign affairs they're–what? Cynical? Confused? In a constant daily cringe about how their own base will portray them? All of the above. …

Congressional Republicans right now seem just like the liberal Republicans of the great Losing Era of Republican history, circa 1960-80. All the Republican congressmen in those days had good beliefs, and shared them at the Rotary luncheon back home. The government was getting too big and taxes were too high. Then they'd go back to Washington and vote for higher spending and higher taxes. But not as high as the Democrats, they'd point out. Their job was to stand athwart history and cry, "Please slow down just a little bit!"

Republicans on the ground back home got mad. Eventually they threw the old guys out and sent to Washington in 1980 a guy who meant it when he said he'd cut and contain. …

Party leaders are showing a belief in process as opposed to a belief in, say, belief. But belief drives politics. It certainly drives each party's base.

One gets the impression party leaders, deep in their hearts, believe the base is . . . base. Unsophisticated. Primitive. Obsessed with its little issues. They're trying to educate the base. But if history is a guide, the base is about to teach them a lesson instead."

"George W. Bush was never a small government conservative, but we were willing to put up with the bad because it was outweighed by the good he was doing against terrorists. Our habit of cutting Mr. Bush a lot of slack was eroding under the burdens of hundreds of billions in pork and the lack of productive congressional action. It ended abruptly with his announcement of the Harriett Miers nomination to the Supreme Court. It took us less time to figure out why Miers was awful than it did the bloggers to determine that Dan Rather's Texas Air National Guard documents were forgeries."

Og dét var så, hvad vennerne sagde …

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