George W. Bush: Just Another RINO

September 15th, 2011 at 12:01 pm | 47 Comments |

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It’s well established that the Republican Party of 2011 is a far cry from the party of the George W. Bush years. Nowhere is this clearer than the fact that the conservative choice of 2008, Mitt Romney, is now widely perceived as a moderate.

This got me thinking, what would the 2012 GOP debates look like if the Twenty-Second Amendment was repealed and former President Bush left the Bush Center and his Dallas home to hit the hustings for a third term?

Obviously, I’m not privy to the former President’s thoughts on the issues (I’ve never met the man, and I was only a very low-ranking member of the administration), so what follows is just conjecture.

When I use direct quotes from Bush, I link to the source wherever possible. In any event, take your grain of salt and throw it back.

Done? Good.

With two Republican debates behind us since the entrance of Governor Rick Perry, the Teastablishment candidate, and former President George W. Bush into the race, now’s the time to take stock of where things are.

As a supporter of the Bush restoration, I’d like to lead off with what I believe was the former President’s finest moment. After some members of the Tampa Tea Party audience cheered their approval for the death of a young coma victim without health insurance, the former President raised his hand and asked Wolf Blitzer if he could interject:

“If I may, Wolf. Now, I understand moral hazard, but let’s not cheer the death of an innocent. When people are hurting, the government’s gotta move.”

The former chief executive then segued (in a clunky way, granted) to a stirring defense of the PEPFAR program, which has saved millions of lives in Africa. PEPFAR is a great Republican achievement, and I’m surprised it’s not celebrated as a great example of ‘soft power’, especially since Bush’s approval numbers in Africa are around the 80’s and 90’s.

The former President was also asked his role in leading the government’s response to the 2008 financial crisis, a crisis most Americans believe his policies precipitated. “If anyone thinks I really loved TARP,” Bush said, “You’re wrong. But the whole economy [was] on the line. I wished there was some way to hold individual firms to account while sparing the rest of the country. But every economist I trusted told me that was impossible. The well-being of Main Street was directly linked to the fate of Wall Street.”

It was a strong reminder of the responsibility of governing, and served as a strong rebuke to Congresswoman Bachmann’s reckless opposition to raising the debt ceiling and the Wall Street rescue.

He also could have pointed out that we the people even made a profit off of TARP. It worked!

The Tampa audience also wasn’t very fond of Bush’s answer on immigration. Weighing in after Governor Perry’s tepid response supporting Texas’ pseudo-Dream Act, the former President first gave a small elbow to Obama, who voted in favor of a poison pill amendment to the 2007 go-around on comprehensive immigration reform. The crowd (oddly) applauded that, but boos were all around after the former President continued:

“I believe it’s in our interest when we find a system that is broken to fix it. And the immigration system today is broken.

I’ve laid out a five-point plan to reform the immigration system. The first component is a major new investment in border security. The second part is the temporary worker program, which would include a tamper-proof identification card. The third is stricter enforcement at businesses, which [will] reduce exploitation and help slow demand for illegal workers. Fourth, is to promote assimilation by requiring immigrants to learn English. Finally, the thorniest question: What to do with the approximately eleven million illegal immigrants in the country?

Those who have worked in America for many years and put down roots as responsible members of the community. I propose that they be allowed to apply for citizenship after meeting a stringent set of criteria, including paying a fine, making good on back taxes, learning English, and waiting in line behind those who follow the law.”

And of course, right after this, Governor Romney took a big swing at both Bush and Perry…

The other thing that was fairly surprising was to see only Bush and Santorum really defending the Freedom Agenda. When John Harris of Politico asked Bachmann “To be clear, are you advocating a shift away from the George W. Bush freedom agenda with its emphasis on removing dictators from power and promoting human rights?”, the Congresswoman diverted into an attack on President Obama, but didn’t answer the question.

Bush pounced:

After 9/11, I developed a strategy to protect the country that came to be known as the Bush Doctrine. Part of that strategy means we should advance liberty and hope as an alternative to the enemy’s ideology of repression and fear. In some places, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, we had a unique opportunity to give the people we liberated a chance to build free societies. But these examples [are] the exception not the rule.

We also advance freedom by supporting fledgling democracies and by encouraging dissidents and democratic reformers suffering under repressive regimes in Iran, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela. And we can advocate for freedom while maintaining strategic relationships with nations like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China.”

The entire time, of course, Governor Huntsman was shaking his head…

Bush’s answer to a question on balancing state’s rights with No Child Left Behind was his constant refrain that “No Child Left Behind is a piece of civil rights legislation.” (Perry looked pretty hurt.) He also defended (alone), his appointment of Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Fed.

It’s certainly going to be an interesting campaign season!

The truth is that the Republican Party has not had a conversation about the Bush years and what they mean in 2012.

Like it or not: our party was once led by a self-styled compassionate conservative who spent federal dollars to save people with HIV/AIDS in Africa, bailed out Wall Street, assailed nativism, protectionism, and isolationism, and rightfully said after Saddam Hussein was overthrown “everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear.”

So I propose this question for the next Republican debate: “Candidates, what do you think is the legacy of the last Republican to work in the Oval Office, George W. Bush?”

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47 Comments so far ↓

  • balconesfault

    So I propose this question for the next Republican debate: “Candidates, what do you think is the legacy of the last Republican to work in the Oval Office, George W. Bush?”

    I’d love that. I’d also add “in what substantive way do the economic policies you’re proposing differ from the economic policies that brought us the 2008 meltdown?”

  • sweatyb

    If George Bush could run again, he’d run as Rick Perry.

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    Yep, Bush is, by current standards, a RINO.

    He’s also a socialist. Just ask Rick Perry: “Look, when all the answers emanate from Washington D.C., one size fits all, whether it’s education policy or whether it’s healthcare policy, that is, on its face, socialism.”

    Bush was, of course, beloved by the Tea Party (which is the GOP base wearing silly hats) right up to the very end:

    Republicans’ approval of him rose from 67% in mid-December to 75% in the current poll — their highest rating of Bush in nearly a year. By contrast, approval of Bush remains extremely scarce among Democrats, and continues to fall under 30% among independents.

    Just ask Bruce Bartlett what happened to people who called Bush out back when it mattered– Bartlett was excommunicated from the GOP and its affiliated PR firms like the Heritage Foundation.

    We know from the experience of the past decade that Republicans don’t have views about policy, they just have a favorite team. In this clip of Eagles fans booing the selection of Donovan McNabb, we can see same the love of playing dress-up and screaming real loud that forms the basis of affinity for the Tea Party:

  • Frumplestiltskin

    balcone nailed the salient question.

    “Fourth, is to promote assimilation by requiring immigrants to learn English.” Um…don’t people realize that Puerto Rico is part of America? What if an immigrant moved to Puerto Rico, USA? Why would they have to learn English on a Spanish speaking island?

    I am happy to give Bush credit for those areas that frankly should not need credit, like not being a nativist, not declaring war on Islam, etc. but considering how nuts the Republicans have gotten, I suppose I must give him that credit, but the sad fact is he was a pretty damn incompetent President. Being a well meaning schmuck is not a virtue.

  • Watusie

    “Candidates, what do you think is the legacy of the last Republican to work in the Oval Office, George W. Bush?”

    Obviously, they will all say “Who? Never heard of him.” Followed by noun, verb, Reagan.

    The ONLY time Republicans are willing to acknowledge the existence of the Shrub is when they find it necessary to give somebody credit for another one of Obama’s foreign policy successes.

    Other than that, it is as if those eight years never existed. Therefore, it can be morning again in America, and we can once again go back to believing in fantasies, like the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves.

  • mlindroo

    Like it or not: our party was once led by a self-styled compassionate conservative who spent federal dollars to save people with HIV/AIDS in Africa, bailed out Wall Street, assailed nativism, protectionism, and isolationism, and rightfully said after Saddam Hussein was overthrown “everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear.”

    I am not sure if the break with “Shrub” is so dramatic, after all … the current GOP standard-bearers (Romney and Perry) tend to favor business interests too. The “rabble rousers” are more visible now since the GOP is out of power but I am not sure if the new leaders will be Tea Partiers in the end.

    If anything, it’s a bit disappointing to me that so many Republicans think the only major mistake made in 2000-06 was too much government spending. E.g. the scepticism about the limits of military power is surprisingly muted considering the huge expensive mess Bush’s policies caused in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the most part, the GOP still clings to the same old beliefs regarding tax cuts etc..


  • Graychin

    Good article.

    I’d like to see the next one be about that other notorious RINO, Ronald Reagan.

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  • Saladdin

    If Bush was a RINO, then that may be why the current GOP is against nominating another RINO.

  • jjack

    None of this really matters. When the Palin/Perry ticket finally emerges, Frum will be on board despite the clear choice between a moderate, centrist, milquetoast black Reagan (with his own failings but not literally crazy) and a radical, rabid, know-nothing populist. I’m not saying Frum and his cohort of the “sane” cocktail Republicans should endorse Obama. But at the end of the day none of this will matter much. Frum will be on the crazy train to nowhere with the rest of the barking clowns. Yes, maybe hiding in the back, but he’ll be on that train.

  • Watusie

    Wow – let the record show that an hour or so ago WillyP made a pointless and rude reply to Frumple’s comment, and that the moderators came in and scrubbed it away!

    Could this be the dawn of a new day here at FF?

    • balconesfault

      huh – I’d welcome that.

      It certainly doesn’t do this board any good if visitors see childish name calling and blatant and vile racism interspersed with some of the excellent comments.

      If it takes moderators scrubbing some of the more egregious attacks from time to time, that’s a plus.

      • Watusie

        30 seconds of “research” also suggests that Smarg has been silenced….

        • PracticalGirl

          Interesting. A few days ago, I saw that a comment was posted, then scrubbed, on Frum’s recent post remembering his mother. Poster (one of the more liberal on the site) referenced the quote attributed to his mom, then asked bluntly why, then, would Frum allow contributors who lied to write for the site-paraphrasing, but that was the gist. And within a couple of minutes, it was gone. I wondered if the poster himself had retracted, but now I wonder if it was a moderator/editor decision.

          Sure, this is somebody else’s pop stand, but where’s the line?

    • WillyP

      yeah, you’re right, i was scrubbed. think they’ll be kind enough to scrub the rest of my posts? they can go right ahead.

      however my post was not pointless and rude. it had meaning and soul and truth, and for its absence we’re a poorer community of half wits.

      • Watusie

        Willy, you are such a liar. Your post consisted of a single sentence, accusing Frumple of being an “ill-intentioned schmuck”, as I recall.

        • WillyP

          “Your post consisted of a single sentence, accusing Frumple of being an “ill-intentioned schmuck”, as I recall.”

          Like I said – it had meaning, truth, and soul. Why am I a liar?

        • Watusie

          I’m sure it is due to some garden-variety personality defect, rooted in your insecurities.

  • Houndentenor

    Because it is now common for critics to use the posts on these sorts of forums to slam the owner of the site, I don’t blame people for deleting some of the responses. It’s their site, and they have a right (and in some cases a responsibility) to manage the content. If you want to post something they don’t like, get your own site and post it there.

  • Oldskool

    I see my post was deleted. Oh well. At least I can say I never voted for Shrub or had the shame of helping him ruin this country.

  • Houndentenor

    “No true Scotsman…”

  • jakester

    So if Bush is a rhino, that would explain the big horn growing out of his forehead

  • Russnet

    Salient point, good piece. Take it from someone who’s been called a RINO a few times (as a McCainiac), these are wretched years. Obama’s failures are our failures, my failures.

    In the ‘good man’ category – and I should add in fairness my mother is from west Texas – at the end of the day, say what you will about war in the middle east, George W. Bush succeeded.* Strangely, the warmonger also held important moderate views. Unfortunately he got somewhat swept along with historical events and became reviled much as Obama has merely for his position at the helm when things got ugly. When historians look back, they’ll see that Dubya at least had a more experienced network of advisers supporting and driving his administration and policies (read: execution), much of it courtesy of his father.

    Obama’s political advisers have failed him in basic governance IMO, and his Chicago pals and labor support have proven tough-talking but toothless in this debt-languished economy. His veep, a few cabinet members and a strong Pentagon and intelligence community are the only thing keeping Barry and his administration from completely flying off the rails, again IMO. Thank God for separation of powers.

    My man RINO McCain didn’t capture the GOP nomination in 2000 partly because the far-right were too incensed at Clinton’s juvenile antic(s) (it became ‘restoring honor’ to the White House – which couldn’t have been delivered by a moderate!), and he didn’t capture the general in 2008 because. . . hell, I still haven’t been able to complete that autopsy. But as before, I smell a rat on the far right. Let’s just say combo financial crisis+media bias+Palin. But the RINO factor contributed to seeeerious schisms between the McCain campaign and various unnamed state GOP orgs.

    Nor should we forget that a good chunk of swivelhead independents are just semi-stupid people who lack core principles along with basic knowledge of civics and history, and thus vote with the media-driven herd. Obama-the-idea as much as Obama-the-man barely-qualified-to-be-president rode that herd in 2008. As shocking as this sounds about a pure Texan, I somehow doubt Rick Perry can corral the 2012 general electoral herd with his Texas employment-miracle BS, reverend collar and King of Texas ring, though he may win the GOP nomination. For those of us in the center-right that pay attention. . . pass the pepto-bismol. This partisan roller coaster is starting to really suck.

    After the last three presidents, I want a boring president. I want a realistic president, a smart president, a moral president, a modest president. I want a conservative president, but not a president that is so conservative (or perceived to be) that it adds up to bullshit. I believe Romney fairly fits the bill. I first saw something in him that I liked, as a matter of fact, when he bowed out of the GOP primary contest after losing Florida to McCain in early ’08. Strong evidence of loyalty, patriotism, and above all intelligence on display there. Just hope Mitt has the guts and the wisdom to make the right calls when they really count. We live in an incredibly large and complex universe.

    * please allow me to exclude the enigmatic, unsolved financial crisis and subsequent economic malaise from that statement.

    • Oldskool

      So you think Shrub was a success, except for the mideast and the financial crisis. What does that leave exactly.

      By most every metric, he ran the country into a sinkhole that was very clear to a lot of people. If he backed up he may have succeeded, but instead, he smirked and hit the gas.

    • Watusie

      say what you will about war in the middle east, George W. Bush succeeded.

      Please define “succeeded”. Did it result in the death or capture of any of the men who were responsible for 9/11? No. It did allow Bush to one-up his dad by toppling Saddam, but that “success” is merely a personal one for him, not one for the nation.

      Simply put: in what way or ways did the Iraq War serve our national interests?

    • balconesfault

      * please allow me to exclude the enigmatic, unsolved financial crisis and subsequent economic malaise from that statement.

      Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?

      • Russnet

        Are you just a wise ass or can you back it up?

        • Russnet

          Dummy, you can’t pin collateralized mortgage-backed securities on 43. Barney Frank and Chuck Schumer, maybe. Wall St blames DC for lax regs, DC blames Wall St for greed. It’s the same old story. So your metaphor is repugnant, smart-alecky and off-base. The president is confined by the constitution. Liberals want the president to be completely responsible, but it’ll never happen. Liberals brains are too big by half.

        • balconesfault

          What I can pin on 43 is tax cuts that still are having devastating impacts on our budget process, pushing through an increase on Medicare benefits without any revenue increases to pay for it, pushing the US into a war in Iraq that cost over a trillion dollars without any revenue increases to pay for it, and staffing his regulatory agencies with Heritage Foundation hacks who believed that there was no problem that could ever be solved by enforcing or increasing regulations.

        • Watusie

          “Dummy, you can’t pin collateralized mortgage-backed securities on 43.”

          Untrue. The White House did not nothing to regulate banks and mortgage brokers until April 2008, by which time the shit had already well and truly hit the fan. Bush WANTED the housing bubble to inflate, to disguise how little was going on elsewhere in the economy (outside of the defense industry and his ever-expanding federal payroll). In fact, in 2004 his administration went to court to prevent the states from imposing the regulations on mortgage lenders that they themselves would not impose.

          The housing crisis should have been prevented, and would have been if there had been a competent administration in the WH.

  • think4yourself

    I always thought there were two Bush’s, 2000 – ’06 and ’06 – ’08. The first Bush let Cheney, Rove and the Neocons hold sway both foriegn and domestic. The second Bush went from cowboy diplomacy to participative, No Child Left Behind, Immigration reform, etc. The second Bush was clearly a RINO. The first Bush was simply absent and let Cheney, et al run the show.

    • Saladdin

      Think, I believe there were 3 dubyas. The first was from 2000-9/10/2001, the 2nd from 9/11/2001-2006, and the final one from 2006-08.

      Bush 1 was the compassionate conservative, working with Ted Kennedy to pass NCLB
      Bush 2 was the myopic leader who saw everything through the lens of terrorism
      Bush 3 was the moderated leader who tried to mitigate Bush 2.

      • balconesfault

        I see it a bit differently.

        Bush 1 was the political creature who chased the Presidency because he liked winning, and let Karl Rove and the Machiavelli Mayberries set policy as much as possible while he enjoyed the percs of the job.

        Bush 2 was scared crazy by 9/11, and proceeded to hand the reins of much of the government over to Dick Cheney so he wouldn’t get blamed for anything.

        Bush 3 … ok, I’ll go with that. In fact he didn’t let Cheney bomb the Syrian reactor, or attack Iran. The extent of the mess that he left for Obama actually could have been a quantum level worse.

      • rockstar

        Change your name if you want anyone to take you seriously.

        • balconesfault

          From a person who’s name here is “rockstar”, that’s pretty amusing.

  • rockstar

    Balcones, you are so going to hell when you die.

    • TerryF98

      What an utterly stupid comment. Please go away.

    • balconesfault

      Heh … given that I don’t believe that a loving, omnipotent, omniscent Deity would create human beings knowing that He’d be sending them at the end of their short lives to burn in eternal flames, your comment is wholly irrelevant to me, except perhaps as a badge of either cynicism or superstition on your part.

  • jsquared91

    As an American undergrad studying in South Africa right now, I can see the positive work that the “soft power” of PEPFAR to help people and improve the image of the USA around. PEPFAR is seen as an American achievement and is the first thing that many people here think of when Bush is brought up.

  • Marioth

    If RINO means “war criminal,” spot-on. He admitted on national television he gave the order to torture. Whatever else he is, this failure of command and dereliction of duty trumps all other concerns. Upon this order, this stopped being a political argument, and became a legal one.

    To any gifted U.S. attorney with time to kill, Vermont, a United State, has done significant leg-work in the area, and I invite you to seat grand juries TODAY.

  • valkayec

    Whoo. This post, Mr. Frum, has certainly brought out the emotions of the people posting comments. Nevertheless, the President Bush you describe in your post is not the President who resided in the Oval Office. At least not the one I remember or have read about.

    The Bush you describe is the president you wish in your heart of heart had existed and to some extent did. His aid to Africa should be praised. His immigration policy was right and fair. TARP, regardless of how badly it’s been slandered and how badly it was designed, was necessary and right. Aid to the auto manufacturers again was not pleasing but it saved the entire auto supply chain and millions of jobs and thousands of companies.

    However, those policies are a drop in the bucket compared to his aggressive failures in foreign policy that incensed the Middle and Far East; his failure to hire people in various critical departments who had a moral and ethical commitment to protect Americans and America from harm or corporate greed; his energy policy created behind closed doors with legacy industry execs, regardless of the need to seek new energy sources to protect the American economy and the nation’s security; his belief that deregulation of every industry, including the financial industry, would create wealth, health, and income security for all Americans against all evidence to the contrary; his belief that all trade agreements made during his Admin. were good for American jobs, rather than just good for American multinationals; his belief that off-shoring jobs and manufacturing was good for the American economy which to any rational thinker defies logic especially for the millions who lost their jobs as a result and had no where else to turn for new jobs; his belief, even in the face of adverse arguments by his financial advisers, that low taxes on the uber wealthy would cause a trickle down effect on jobs and wealth for everyone else as well as increasing federal revenues, and his blind belief in his own knowledge, judgement and ideas, regardless of facts and data presented to him. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes which is why we, and especially Presidents, need impartial, independent – even adversarial – advisers to refine our thinking. From what I’ve gleaned, President Bush had no one around him who disagreed. He fired those who did, and so had no one challenged his thinking or caused him to refine his thinking or understanding.

    Regardless of how you feel about the current GOP presidential candidates, the Bush you admire did not exist except in your imagination and dreams. He is the man whom you want him to have been, not the man who was President. Letting go of the infallibility of the men and women we admire to admit their faults is extremely difficult, even when faced with their fallacies and faults. But sometimes it is necessary to grow and achieve wisdom.

    Even though you never met President Bush, you still envision him to be the man and President you wanted him to be, not the man or President he actually was. As long as you hang onto that rose colored vision you will be unable to see the present GOP candidates for who they really are…or to make worthy judgements of their capabilities.

    None will ever be the President Bush you admired or the ideal you wanted to admire because the GOP of your younger years fails to exist. You know that fact, as your post obliquely admits. It no longer holds onto reasoned statements of facts or data, and unfortunately President Bush, unwittingly perhaps, assisted that movement against rational facts.

    I get the sense that you are sincere in wanting the best for this nation and all of her people, that you are not a blind party follower or an intellectual robot. But until you see Bush as the rest of us in middle America saw him, you are not capable of intellectual honesty toward the candidates as they exist…nor will you be capable of truly turning on them as Bruce Bartlett and others have or rejecting their extremes as did Buckley.

  • ceruleanbill

    You know what kills me? We worry more about whether a given thought is liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican, than we worry about whether it’s promoting the right thing to do. My approach isn’t perfect, and it’s clearly biased by those secondary considerations, but its the only way I can see the ‘rightness’ of some thoughts that otherwise, as a liberal Democrat, I’d feel compelled to reject.

    Bush DID have good ideas, and he DID do good things.

    And I’ll stop right there.

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