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This got me thinking, what would the 2012 GOP debates look like if the Twenty-Second Amendment was repealed and former President Bush left the Bush Center and his Dallas home to hit the hustings for a third term?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