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Myths and Realities of the George Bush Presidency

By Arnold Kling - July 17, 2007 12:00 AM

"conservatives are unhappy because the president allied himself with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) over an immigration deal that leaned too far toward amnesty for illegal immigrants. They're unhappy because Bush has shown little interest in fiscal responsibility and limited government. And they're unhappy, above all, because he hasn't won the war in Iraq."
--Byron York

Near the end of his shows, humorist Mort Sahl used to ask, "Is there anyone I haven't offended yet?" These days, I find myself asking the same question about President Bush. Economic libertarians gripe about high government spending. The "base" was offended by his handling of the immigration issue. The left is offended by every step he takes and every move he makes.

As I listen to people discuss the Presidency of George Bush, I find myself hearing the same things over and over. He has been too ideological, too closed-minded, too partisan, and too incompetent, resulting in a disastrous Presidency. I am not sure that this analysis will survive a more sober, detached perspective. Later in this essay, I will spell out what I see as the myths embedded in the conventional wisdom.

George Bush and Me

I have never felt comfortable with George Bush. I voted for Al Gore--although I never felt comfortable with him, either. I felt even less comfortable with John Kerry, so that I voted for Bush in 2004.

Neoconservatism is not my ideology. As I pointed out four years ago, the economic ideology of neoconservatism is willing to accept a large and ever-growing government, whereas I am not. Neoconservatives are comfortable turning religious values into hot-button political causes, while I prefer to keep my conservative moral values in the background. Finally, neoconservatives are somewhat more grandiose and moralistic than I am on foreign policy.

I think that President Bush has got one thing very much right, which is that Arab-Islamic terrorism is a symptom that something is rotten in the Middle East. If anything, his failures in Iraq and Palestine are due to underestimating the degree of rot. For all the allegations of his lack of intellect, George Bush is a brainiac compared to people who want to see terrorism as a symptom of something rotten in the United States or Israel.

Myth 1: Bush lost in 2000

It is a myth that George Bush lost the election in 2000. He lost the popular vote, but that is not how elections are decided. Both George Bush and Al Gore based their electoral strategies on the rules in place at the time, which determines the winner on the basis of electoral votes. Saying after the fact that the Presidency should go to the winner of the popular vote is like saying that the 1964 World Series Championship belongs to the Yankees because they scored more total runs, although the Cardinals took four games out of seven.

It is a myth that George Bush stole the vote in Florida. Every recount has given the victory there to Bush. There is no doubt in my mind that the real villain of 2000 is Al Gore. His challenge of the electoral results was blatantly unfair (recall, he wanted to recount only in certain precincts where he hoped to gain votes) and served only to transform a close election into an illegitimate one. Instead of working to unite the country, Gore set an example of deep partisan bitterness that maximized the long-term damage of the 2000 election for American politics.

Myth 2: Bush economic policies were disastrous

It is a myth that the economy performed poorly under President Bush. In my view, Presidents have much less control than we think, President Bush's policies were mainstream given the economic conditions that he inherited, and the key economic indicator of productivity growth performed well.

Claims that ordinary workers fared poorly under President Bush are suspect. Data on the "distribution of income" are often abused by people making the claim that only the rich are getting ahead. Even the abusers, however, see the trends as pre-dating the Bush Administration. Moreover, I contend that the escalation of income is more meaningful than the distribution of income.

Myth 3: Bush was too right-wing

Another myth is that President Bush followed a partisan, right-wing agenda on education and entitlements. Instead, he attempted centrist reforms, and even on those he was often rebuffed.

On education, President Bush compromised in order to pass the No Child Left Behind act. In order to obtain Democratic support, he increased Federal spending. In order to claim a conservative victory, he established nationwide testing. In my view, this was lose-lose for believers in individual liberty and educational quality. As I wrote here, nationwide testing is a step backward, not a step forward.

On Social Security, President Bush took a very cautious approach to implementing personal retirement accounts. The Democrats refused to compromise, which means that we will have to bite our nails and hope that productivity growth is high enough to overcome the system's actuarial unsoundness.

On health care, President Bush added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, hastening the pace at which the growth government spending on health care exceeds growth in the economy. The drug benefit's mechanical operation was the sort of managed competition beloved by Democratic wonks. However, the Democrats still gripe because the drug industry was left standing.

President Bush has made proposals to decrease the tax advantage of super-generous health care plans that are more likely to be enjoyed by the well-off and to offer tax cuts for individuals to obtain health insurance. These sensible, progressive proposals were shot down, because the Democrats want to make sure that nothing good happens on President Bush's watch.

Myth 4: Bush was too partisan

Another myth is that President Bush was relentlessly partisan and never willing to compromise. Instead, he caved in on a number of occasions when I wish that he hadn't. One occasion was the post-Enron panic, when he signed into law the ill-considered Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This redistributed income to CP-Yays, but harmed economic growth at least a little and perhaps a lot (my money is on "a lot").

Another occasion was his creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The notion that the way to improve big, clumsy bureaucracies is to combine them into a bigger, clumsier bureaucracy is an idea that would only occur to someone as out of touch with reality as a U.S. Congressman. Anyone else would know better.

Myth 5: Iraq reflects Bush's personality

Another myth is that the reason we remain in Iraq is that President Bush is personally stubborn. In fact, as Bruce Bueno de Mesquita points out, leaders of democracies always have a hard time extricating themselves from wars. A dictator can afford to lose a war, but a democratic leader will be very unpopular if a war has a negative or ambiguous outcome. Therefore, democratic leaders will tend to fight to the bitter end.

It is reasonable to argue that a different political leader would not have gotten us in to the war in Iraq. But once we were in, no politician in his right mind would have been willing to exit under conditions that fall short of victory. Even the Democrats are wary of being labeled as the party of defeat, and so they are reluctant to cut funding for the war.

The Era of Bitterness

I think that many people are tired of the bitterness and partisanship of the Bush era. My main point, however, is that people over-estimate the extent to which this bitterness and partisanship is due to George Bush himself. My prediction is that we will see further bitterness in the years ahead, as the sore losers of 2000 and 2004 become the sore winners of 2008. In 2012, there will still be Islamic terrorism, millions of Americans will lack health insurance and America's health care bill will still be unusually high, the rich will still be getting richer (unless the economy tanks), and the trend will be for more people to join the Long Tail that identifies with neither political party. Which is why both parties are becoming more shrill every year.


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161 Comments

A Fair and Balanced Assessment
The increasingly shrill nature of the partisan "mudslinging" is very likely what is causing the growth of the "long tail".

Real, rational debate has about ceased in our political culture. Thoughtful debate in "sound bites" while the other debater, or the moderator, is interrupting is about impossible.

We were once a society of grownups. We have become a society of whining, needy children. I fear that, if we do not grow up again, we will become a society of crying babies waiting for our "nappies" to be changed.

I fear for the future of the republic!

I agree
It was a fair description of Bush -- the good and the bad. And it stayed clear of the cliches.

Fair and Balenced?
"Saying after the fact that the Presidency should go to the winner of the popular vote is like saying that the 1964 World Series Championship belongs to the Yankees because they scored more total runs, although the Cardinals took four games out of seven."

Apple and oranges. This is sports the other is politics. The electoral collage is a thing of the past and needs to be changed to a popular vote. Its embarrassing.

The Electoral College...
is a "thing" of the Constitution. The Constitution also establishes the method by which the it can be amended.

elections
given the amount of documented cheating in highly Democratic districts, even the claim that Gore won the popular vote is suspect.

electoral college
If we drop the electoral college, presidential candiates will spend all of their time in New York and California, and ignore everyone else.

"Savior of Gaia"...
is a much more important position anyway.

The Mountains of Wyoming
The electoral college is crucial to our federalist system.

I grew up in Wyoming, and my home state is just as sovereign as California or Texas. The electoral college (and the Senate) guarantee the rights of my state over the screaming multitudes on the coasts.

Democracy is more than the tyranny of the majority. Without the electoral college, candidates would be forced to ignore the concerns of citizens from sparsely populated areas, and government would be less varied and less representative.

Education, No Child Left Behind and Objective Testing
“The focus of school reform ought to be on stripping away the centralized power structures and re-empowering parents. Standardized testing feels to me more like part of the problem than part of the solution.”

I am skeptical of the value of the “No Child Left Behind” legislation and its subsequent implementation. However, I do believe in the value of objective testing. All 6th graders should be tested for basic skills…if they pass, they can go to middle school. If not, they must obtain remedial training until they pass. Similar tests should apply to entrance and graduation from high school.

The primary purpose of testing students is to determine what they know. Whether a child is home schooled, public schooled, private schooled or self schooled…the test results provide the best evidence of educational achievement.

In my state, over 50% of all local taxes support education. Yet there exists NO objective evidence that the taxpayers money is well spent. Uniform, objective testing is the best tool for assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of educational effort.

There are a lot of ways to learn calculus or CAD. Objective testing measures results, and leaves the learning method up to the applicant. This stimulates competition amongst learning methodologies. Federal micro-managing of education is not a solution. The Department of Education should set the appropriate benchmarks, and let students, parents and the market take it from there.

Deptarment of Education should be eliminated
Among many other useless departments.

Trends
Arnold, you voted for Gore and then voted for Bush.

What made you belive Gore would promote your libertarian views?

I didn't vote in 2000 because I had to leave for a funeral, but I suggested people should vote for Gore in order to fire up conservatives.

If you are a libertarian, which party would be easier to persuade to follow the path of liberty, the raise taxes and spend party or the cut taxes and spend party?

Presidente Bush
God bless you Presidente Bush. You will be found in history to be correct and with the sound vision for a just future for the World. Those who would pull you down will be forgotten or remembered as devils for Evil.

Are You Kidding?
Do you have any idea of the horror you are suggesting? Instead of just one state being contested (as happened in Florida in 2000, and almost happened in Ohio in 2004) there would be challenges and recounts in every precinct in the country.

Besides that, the people in the small states would never see the Presidential candidates, and their concerns would never be addressed. We really would be a country governed by the coastal liberals at the expense of fly-over country.

The electoral college controls cheating
The way the system is right now, the most you can win in any state, is that states electoral votes.
Whether you win by 0.1% or 20%, you get the same number of votes.

The places where cheating is most likely to take place are those places where one party is way ahead. Hence the places where it is easiest to cheat are also the places where cheating will do you the least good. IE, places you would have won anyway.

Once you go to a national election, every extra vote counts. So the rewards for cheating increase dramatically.

If we eliminated the electoral college, vote cheating would go up exponentially.

1960
I wouldn’t conclude that so quickly.

It was the cheating in Chicago and Texas that gave JFK the election. With an electoral college you only have to cheat in the marginal states.

However, I still don’t think we should change the system. Let’s face it; a difference between the Electoral College and popular vote only happens when the election is a toss-up. In that case, the electorate is essentially divided and indifferent between the two leading candidates.

The Electoral College is a link to the original intent of the founders: a republic, not a democracy. Let’s restore the vision.

So far Divine Prividence has saved us from President Gore twice
I thought the Senate should have removed Bill Clinton from office, but that would have given us President Gore before the 2000 election. Then the incumbent President Gore would likely have been elected in 2000.

Then there was the 2000 election that he tried to steal.

Imagine how President Gore would have responded to 9/11.

Whining
There is a reason for the Electoral College and it has to do with making low population states matter as much as big population areas. To eliminate it is to make 85% of the population irrelevant. Is this your intent? Is it so important that liberals democrats win that we should overlook the insight of the founders?

I for one will fight this stupid populist notion fiercely. The idea is to spread accountability to the entire nation, thus I have a say in the presidential race.

Otherwise CA, NY and FL will elect every president forever. Since they lean Democrap is this your intent, tyranny?

You should fear
We are a nation of snivelers. It is embarrassing how weak people are.

Seattle is now forcing people to recycle food waste. Yuk, when are people going to say enough of the nanny state.

One man said no and all of Rome trembled.
-Spartacus-

Life is a Test Every Day - usually a "word problem"
Those who pass the tests every day succeed; those who don't pass don't advance, or fail. At each level of responsibility, the tests become tougher.

However, the reality is that some students could pass the tests timely if they were just given the text books and left alone; and, some would not pass the tests even with individual tutoring. We cannot make the slow and unmotivated into brilliant students; we dare not make brilliant students learn slowly and destroy their motivation in the interest of "fairness".

marginal states
It's only in the marginal states where cheating, if it can be done, can do you any good.

It's also in those marginal states, where the existence of a non comatose opposition party gives one the best chances of uncovering and punishing cheating when it does occur.

Actually you are wrong on that MarkTheGreat...
you wrote:
"If we drop the electoral college, presidential candiates will spend all of their time in New York and California, and ignore everyone else."

If we drop the electoral college, presidential candiates will benefit by spending more of thier time in high population densitiy areas like big cities. Rural people in places like New York and California will be more likely to be ignored and people in high density smaller states will get more attention.

What George Bush Presidency??? It's the Cheney see-through Presidency
And where are the achievements other than undermining the constitution?

Another liberal suffering BDS.

Gore lost his home state (Tenn.)
in 2000 which forced him to try to steal another state and he chose Florida because the Democratic controlled election system was so chaotic his "people" were sure they could "fix" it.
History will show President Bush's greatness. We are all "uncomfortable" with him because he does not court us as Clinton did. The press and the pols are uncomfortable with him because he does not party them up--oh well. He will protect us and settle problems in the Middle East and Korea precisely because he will not "court" them either.

Press hates Bush because he VACATIONS in TX
Since Clinton was living in public housing, he had no other home and would vaction in swanky places provided by FOBs.
The press corps would rather hang out at Matha's Vinyad than Crawford, TX.

Matha's Vinyad
Never seen anyone "capture" the accent in print. Brilliant!

Another liberal suffering BDS.
Or, possibly, CDS? Derangement, regardless.

Bush is an odd one in that he made lemonade with lemon policies.
Bush is funny because he has made lemonade out of the HIS lemon policies. He has a worse record than Carter and Nixon and maybe even LBJ on spending. He has piled up more debt than all the previous administrations combined. He has crushed liberty at every turn:
1. SOX.
2. No Child Left Behind
3. Campaign Finance Reform.
4. PATROIT ACT
5. He has expanded EVERY agency of the Federal Government.
AND
He has us locked in a war we can not win.

I would say that it looks bleak for Bush and his party next election but the really amazing part is:

The Democrats are almost indistinguishable from the Republicans and Bush.

Lemuel
Why do you find it so difficult to disagree without being disagreeable?

HOUSTON CITY HALL PROSTITUTES
Another f.ucking hypocritical political prostitute who belongs to the GOP(Grande Ole Pigs) The time has come to galvanize and throw the corrupt hypocritical political prostitutes in Washington and the White House out of office in 2007, 2008 and also here locally at Houston City Council.
I just got back from Houston City Council's Tuesday Public Speakers Session. The Political Prostitutes and Pieces of Sh.it were late again!!!! Does that surprise anyone? They don't give a f.uck! They have no respect! And Mayor White has the nerve to comment to one public speaker that all the City of Houston wants is for residents to have some respect for their properties and their neighbours. What a f.ucking hypocrite Mayor White is!!! I wish he would take his corrupt old ass back to where he came from (San Antonio) and while he is at it he can take that old ugy carpetbagger d.yke Sue Lovell with him!!! Sue Lovell and Melissa Noriega are the two city council members that I believe are the most vunerable this November 2007. With the right candidates in the right races we can take back controll of our city govt. I can't run against all of them, but all of them need an opponent this November 2007. I say Sue Lovell and Melissa Noriega are the most vunerable because Noriega just won her seat temporarily to replace Shelly Sekula-Gibbs who needs to be sued for the expense that we taxpayers had to pay for a new election to fill her seat just because she broke her contract and deciding to take a chance and win a seat in Washington. She lost! We taxpayers wound up paying a million dollars. Shelly Sekula-Gibbs needs to be sued on behalf of the citizens of Houston for this expense. She needs to reimburse the citizens fo Houston for not fulfilling her contract.
Sue Lovell barely won her seat back in 2005. If she can get two or three opponents, the vote can be split and there is a good chance that we can get that carpetbagger **** out of office and send her back to where the f.uck she came from as well.
Finally, I am supporting and voting for Gore/Obama for President in 2008. Anyone but another Clinton or Bush in 2008. Hillary Clinton cannot be trusted. The Clintons are liars and crooks just like the Bushes! I will vote 3rd party again in 2008 if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Candidate for President in 2008. I voted for Nader/Camejo in 2004. I voted for Rep. Dennis Kucinich in our Texas Primaries in March 2004.
Please everyone out there reading this, PLEASE CONSIDER BEING A CANDIDATE FOR HOUSTON CITY COUNCIL TO TAKE BACK OUR GOVT. FROM THESE CORRUPT POLITICAL PROSTITUTES AT HOUSTON CITY HALL. DO IT FOR YOUR CITY! TOGETHER WE CAN WIN!!! WE CAN GALVANIZE AND CREATE A PEOPLE'S TICKET AND HELP EACHOTHER. LET'S NOT WASTE OUR TIME AND ENERGY AND ALLOW SOME HOUSTON CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS TO GO UNOPPOSED. WE HAVE TO MAKE SURE THAT EVERY ONE OF THEM HAS AT LEAST ONE OPPONENT. THERE WILL BE MANY CANDIDATES FOR THE SEATS ARE WILL BE VACANT BECAUSE OF TERM LIMITS. I SAY, PLEASE CONSIDER PICKING ONE THAT OTHERS WANT TO PASS BY SO THAT WE CAN SPREAD OURSELVES OUT IN ALL RACES. I WILL PICK ONE TO RUN AGAINST. IF SOMEONE GIVES ME $1,250 DOLLARS(THE FILING FEE TO RUN FOR MAYOR OF HOUSTON) I WILL PUT MY NAME DOWN TO RUN AGAINST THIS CORRUPT CARPETBAGGER MAYOR WHITE. HE NEEDS AT LEAST ONE OPPONENT HIMSELF. I TOLD COUNCILMEMBER BERRY THAT HE SHOULD RUN FOR MAYOR THIS YEAR SINCE HE IS TERM-LIMITED.
REMEMBER THE STRAIGHT SLATE BACK IN THE 1980'S? WE CAN HAVE THE PEOPLES SLATE AND WE CAN ALL SHARE OUR TIME AND ENERGY TO HELP EACHOTHER. PLEASE CONTACT ME AT (713)528-2607 OR E=MAIL ME AT MAYORGALVAN@YAHOO.COM
I AM REDOING MY WEBSITE WWW.GALVAN.ORG
JAMES PARTSCH-GALVAN, CANDIDATE FOR HOUSTON CITY COUNCIL NOV. 6, 2007

recycle food waste...
It doesn't take my dogs long to recycle food waste without any forcing from me. How does Seattle 'force people to recycle food waste'? Do they send the garbage police after anybody who hasn't been recycling their food waste?

TCS, please bar this person from posting again
This rant is typical of all the liberal blogs and comments. Full of expletives and irrationality.

another state-worshipping phony libertarian
anything he doesn't like is "socialism,' the government in your mail and bedroom things he worships are 'patriotism.''

And the Easter Bunny will bring us all good things
And all the bad things are because of Clinton. If there's a problem in Iraq it's because of Clinton. You may believe this stuff, but people out in the country don't; they've been burnt too many times.

So you have no argument at all, just initials?
Here are 2 to describe your thought process here: BS.

Please excuse George.
,from takung any responsibilty for anythink like the war or the defecit. He is used to making a mess and having people clean things up for him. Lets remember. Blame Clinton, Blame Gore, Blame the liberal media, we are the party of personal responsibilty and grown ups.

Firevoice
Disagreable??? I simply noted that Cheney had been calling the shots in the "Bush' admiistration, working with Karl Rove. You may find this 'disagreable," but it is well documented. Deal with the issue instead of talking about me.

Both Wrong
Candidates will spend their time in precincts where electoral fraud (you know, where people believe in voting early and often) is the most likely to succeed. The genius of the EC is that it reduces the value of fraud. If say, there's a "machine" that knows how really turnout the indigent, stupid or dead, the most that fraud can garner is one state.

Its exactly why certain candidates that tend to rely on voters who trade votes for smokes or precincts that strongly believe in alien or decedent suffrage wants to dispose of it.


Gory 9/11
Gore would likely have declared a state of emergency, disbanded congress, and declared himself president for life (though probably not openly, there would just be elections without opposing candidates every few years, like they have in Zimbadwe).

Except when he vacations at his exclusive family compound in Maine
He's fifth generation rich but rubes are sure he's a cowboy.

Another phony libertarian state-worshpper putting forth unsupported BS
And teally shamelessly

Confirmed, BDR.
Liberal logic (yes, an oxymoron):

Bush is so dumb there is no way he could be in charge. Therefore, it is evil Cheney and Rove who are pulling Bush's strings.

Constitution
What? How about the booming economy? How about the lack of a single attack on the US since 9-11?

As to undermining the constitution, how about Waco?

I am no huge Bush fan but this is a feckless media rant.

Remeber something about the electorial collage..
It is designed to represent the size of population. with the exception of a static minimum. So candidates already spend the majority of their time in high populations states.

I worked the polls in Ohio. It was near Columbus. Very odd things DID happen in my precinct. We where off in the count of ballets as compared to actual counted votes in the machines. I never heard how it was resolved.

Concerns of the citizens
Seems to me that candidates (and especially the "ins") already ignore the concerns of the citizens. Otherwise, why would congress have such a dismal approval rating?

Confirmed Cheney presidency.
It's only partly that he's dumb, though that's definitely part of it. It's also because he's incurious and easily intimidated and insecure. The bottom line is Cheney leads him around like a poodle. The Washington Post recently ran a long, very detailed, very well-sourced series about how this works. Not surprised a state-worshipping pseudo-libertarian like yourself didn't read it.

The Post once ran a story about a 8 year old crack addict.
It was totally bogus.

The Post also once ran a series about Watergate
Maybe you think they made that one up.

But judge for yourself, not that you've ever been able to judge anything except on the scale Democrats = Socialism = Evil.

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/cheney/chapters/pushing_the_envelope_on_presi/

Of course you made it up.
You never source your assertions.

From your source
"But officials who see them together often, not all of them admirers of the vice president, detect a strong sense of mutual confidence that Cheney is serving Bush's aims."

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