Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Mess That Was George Bush

Someone griped about the "lack of outrage" at how Bush, et al., have screwed up the country and our position in the world. My response is below.

I've been complaining about Bush for awhile now, and about the bailout since September/October because it was the wrong approach to take. It's a massive, unnecessary intrusion of government into an economic cycle, and I don't like it any better under Obama. I also didn't like his attempt to force amnesty down my throat. Or the No Child Left Behind Act he developed with Ted Kennedy. Or the Transportation Insecurity Agency. Or the prescription drug benefit expansion under Medicare. Or the insane increases in pork-barrel spending. Sorry if I haven't screamed loud enough, but there's plenty of outrage to go around. I blog and point out things I don't like, policy-wise.

As for our standing in the world, quite a few of the world leaders who didn't like Bush were totalitarians: Kim Jong Il, Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, Yassir Arafat, and Hu Jintao, to name some of the usual suspects. I would find it profoundly disturbing if anyone in that crowd actually approved of American policies (under Bush and sometimes Clinton), which have been pro-free market, pro-democracy, and anti-terrorism. If our "standing in the world" is based on getting nation-leading tyrants and corrupt, anti-U.S. bureaucrats in the UN to like us, I'll take a lower rating.

There are allies we haven't gotten along with as well as we'd like. Britain, France, and Germany come to mind, but they all continue to provide troops for Iraq and Afghanistan, as does Australia. (As an Aussie once put it, "Australia is the only ally south of the equator that you don't pay for.") They could just as easily refuse. They're not very happy with our financial system right now, because most of them were invested in it.

We could go back to the Community Reinvestment Act, which mandated that banks give mortgages to risky borrowers as a starting point for that. Now, the banks decided repackage those mortgages (polish the turds, if you will) as some sort of credit default swaps, which was legal under the law.

So what can Obama do to fix all this? A global New Deal is a nonstarter, in my opinion, because the original New Deal didn't work the first time. Quite frankly, I think much of the rest of the world wouldn't give a flip what Obama did if he'd just let America go back to making money, with a few extra rules added to the road. Government takeovers of businesses will not, Not, NOT make things better, and will in fact extend the depressed market.

I've been told that it's unfair to pick on Obama and "the mess he's inherited" less than 100 days after his election. Fine. But I'll ask again: when is he expected to be held accountable for results? If you're in a hole, you stop digging. Obama was dealt a bad hand. That doesn't mean you double down and make things worse. That's what his policies and budget are doing.

Another thing Obama could do is ease up on all the strings attached to bailouts. Governments do not know how to run businesses, as GM, AIG, etc., demonstrate. Suppose a company wants to fly the CEO down to a convention in Las Vegas in the corporate jet to announce a new product that will greatly improve the company's fortunes in the future? Well, right now, the jets are out, Vegas convention hotels are cutting staff, and the press will frown on any signs of public funds being invested in frivolities like food and beverage, which are a standard part of getting people to attend big publicity events. Some corporations would be better off just declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy until they can get their collective heads back together. That has to be less painful than knuckling under all the "necessary" government controls and strings that come with a bailout.

What drives me up the wall most about Bush is that most of the things that flopped were liberal (read: neocon) policies--Bush "reaching across the aisle" to work with Kennedy, et al.--and if they had been done by a Democrat, they would've been seen as great legislative achievements. So, once more this needs to be said: George W. Bush was not a conservative, except on cultural and (some) defense issues. Invading Iraq wasn't a conservative act. All the stuff I mentioned in the second paragraph was not conservative. It was big-government liberalism with a GOP/neocon sticker on it. Basic conservatism, for those who have forgotten, believes in a few basic principles and policies:

  • A common civil society, deriving its principles from Judeo-Christian, Greek, Roman, and Enlightenment notions of freedom of conscience, association and religion, individual liberty, private property, and personal responsibility.
  • Respect for individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • Limited government that provides law & order and basic infrastructure, alllowing individuals to prosper.
  • A strong national defense capable of protecting America's vital national interests.
  • Low taxes and a limited government sized to match limited means.

Bush did not favor limited government intrusion or spending, and neither did the GOP during most of this decade. Obama is increasing both. We are paying the price for that lack of vision now.

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