When George W. Bush left office in January 2009 he did so with an approval rating of just over 30%, up a little over the low of 25% he reached in October of 2008 when the economy was collapsing and we weren’t sure whether or not it would ever recover. As financial titans fell like giant sequoias and stalwarts of American industry with names like General Motors and Chrysler lay gasping for air the American public grew alert, seized by panic. Americans learned quickly the impact that big finance had on everyday life as we lost our jobs and our homes in record number.
(Are we better off than we were four years ago? I guess I’ll answer that question with another question. Are you fucking kidding me?)
Initially, focus was on survival. But once the economy bottomed out, banks stopped collapsing, and the auto industry was saved, we were faced with a future that promised a long and rough road. This being the land of opportunity we wanted to know who to blame. Whether you accepted the Conservative story that government interference in the market by government sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were entirely to blame, or the truth, ultimately, culpability was laid at the feet of George W. Bush who could be held responsible for both scenarios. This, among other issues like unpopular and expensive wars, accounts for the abysmal approval rating.
In 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign portrayed John McCain as Bush II reincarnate. Milking the Bush approval rating for all it was worth Obama came into the White House with huge congressional majorities and began the task of rebuilding the economy.
Four years later Republicans have the audacity to ask whether or not we’re better off than we were four years ago. The question itself is an insult to the intelligence of the American people. For me the answer is easy. Four years ago I was laid off at the height of the crisis and today I have a good job. So, yeah. I’m way better off.
But we all remember what life was like in 2008. Does it feel like that today? Are banks collapsing? Is the auto industry? Is the stock market plummeting? No, no, no. Unemployment is down. Year over year debt has slowed to the lowest it’s been since Clinton. 4.5 million private sector jobs have been created in the last two years. We’re out of Iraq. DADT is dead and gone. Lily Ledbetter, on and on. Why they’re going all in on a question that it is very easy for Americans to answer is anyone’s guess.
The real question we face is whether or not we believe we’re better off moving forward with Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. And to answer that question we need to know what makes Mitt Romney different from George W. Bush.
During the postgame coverage of night one of the 2012 Democratic National Convention CNN’s Piers Morgan interviewed Romney Communications Director Gail Gitcho. Gitcho repeated the disingenuous meme that we’re not better off than we were four years ago. And in yet another indictment of the current state of our media, Morgan conceded her point by not disputing it and instead replied with a standard Liberal retort that the whole mess was inherited from the previous administration. Gitcho was ready for it;
GITCHO: Sure, you're going to see blaming, you're going to see scapegoats. This is not about running against President Bush. If they wanted to run against President Bush, then they are eight years too late. President Bush is not on the ballot. You will continue to hear these excuses, this blame-shifting, this scapegoating, because they have no record to run on and President Obama has no plans in the future to fix it.
Clearly it’s something the Romney camp doesn’t want to address, and for good reason. Unfortunately for them however, the fact that they’d rather not confront an issue does not mean that it will simply go away.
The policies of George W. Bush brought this nation to the brink of disaster. We are still dealing with the aftermath and will be for some time. Japan has been battling economic woes for twenty years now. If Romney wants to ascend to the most powerful office in the world than he had better explain how his economic philosophy differs from that of the man who fucked everything up in the first place.
Now what Republicans would like to do is continue the ideological lineage of Reagan. In part because it’s something they’ve married themselves to and in part because it’s a lucrative ideology for people who think the end all be all of existence is to make a shit load of money, and especially for those who already have a leg up on the competition. But the only way that they can do that is by casting Bush as a rogue actor. He has to be seen as a deviation from the gospel. He’s not of course. Tax cuts for the rich, an expansive and expensive foreign policy, and a regime committed to deregulation are pillars of the Reagan ideology. Bush was a good soldier. It was the ideology that fell flat and failed us.
But since Mitt is a continuation of that ideological legacy, Republicans cannot tie him to Reagan without disavowing Bush, which is why Gitcho was so well prepared to deflect and pivot—and why Bush wasn’t invited to the RNC.
And of course, the reason that they’re running from the Bush Question is because they don’t have a good answer. Conservatives know this, which is why the primaries were such a struggle for Romney. If they’re being honest they’ll admit he’s actually the closest thing to Bush that they have. So now that they're stuck with him they have to hope that a) we forget about Bush and b) we fail to see how similar he is to Romney.
Good luck with that!
Republicans are caught in an identity struggle between an unpopular Tea Party ideology and a failed Reagan ideology. Since they can’t quite decide, they’re trying to do both, which is why we get the old “you’ll see where we stand once we’re elected” bullshit and a Romney/Ryan ticket designed to placate both factions. They can’t tell you where they stand because if they take a hard stance they alienate a large segment of the coalition. He can’t tell you he’s not Bush because he’s not sure himself.
But by all indications he is. When measured against the pillars of Reaganology, those that were faithfully followed by Bush, Romney holds up very well.
David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize winning Reuters columnist and tax specialist, calls Romney’s tax plan, “George W. Bush on steroids.” Johnston says that while the Bush Tax Cuts gave 12% to the top .1% of the wealthiest Americans, the Romney plan gives 33% to the top .1%. The Tax Policy Center calls his budget “mathematically impossible.” How he plans to increase military spending and offer tax cuts while balancing the budget is just not possible. “By 2022, Romney would need to cut all non-defense, non-Social Security programs by 49 percent. That is not plausible, to say the least.”
He’s hired 43 of the Bush foreign policy specialists as advisors. So as far as foreign policy goes it’s safe to say we’ll get more of the same. This explains Mitt’s recent bluster at the RNC where he called out Iran, predictably, and in another transparent attempt to tie himself to Reagan looked to reignite the Cold War by calling out Russia.
Complicating his foreign policy position is the fact that wars are unpopular with the Libertarian strand of the Republican Party who are repelled by the economic impact of costly military incursions. The wars thus far are estimated to have added $1.4 trillion to the debt. Factor Mitt’s hawkish position in to his plans to balance the budget and see what happens to a plan that's already "mathematically impossible." Foreign policy and economics are inextricably linked. And following the Bush foreign policy model is not the road to economic prosperity.
Finally, there’s Mitt on deregulation. This one is predictably simple for a man who’s made his money in private equity. Romney has pledged to repeal Dodd-Frank in its entirety if elected. From his own webpage, “A Romney administration will act swiftly to tear down the vast edifice of regulations the Obama administration has imposed on the economy.” Easy-peasy.
And that’s it, the Bush trifecta. Tax cuts for the wealthy, an expansive interventionist foreign policy, and a commitment to deregulation—the exact same prescription that led us to 2008 in the first place.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says "Republicans have to do a better job explaining to swing voters how Romney's policies are different from Bush's."
I'm sure as soon as someone figures out how they're different they'll let us know.