I believe that history will regard George W. Bush as one of the worst – if not the worst – Presidents in American history. When Bush took office in 2001, he inherited a projected 10 year budget surplus of $5.5 trillion from President Clinton. By the time he left office, the annual deficit was $1.3 trillion and 9.8% of GDP. As Republican Presidential hopeful and Ohio Governor John Kasich said about Bush and the then GOP controlled Congress: “They blew a $5 trillion surplus. The projected annual surpluses were quickly spent, unfortunately by Republicans.”
Bush’s economic legacy was equally disastrous. Once again, President Clinton left Bush with an excellent situation. During the Clinton Administration, the economy created 22 million jobs, the rate of poverty declined and middle class incomes grew for the first time since the late 1970s. When Obama took office on January 20, 2009, the economy was in a state of collapse and was shedding 800,000 jobs per month. It was the gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression during the 1930s.
The Bush-Cheney Administration’s mismanagement of national security affairs was every bit as reckless and incompetent as their handling of the federal budget and the economy. This failed Administration got the U.S. involved in ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that resulted in the loss of over 4,400 American lives and according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, those wars will ultimately cost the U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion.
One of the most troubling aspect of George W. Bush’s legacy is that the Republican Party appeared to learn nothing from his myriad failures. In the 2016 election cycle, we have an entire field of GOP candidates who would bring back Bush’s failed policies and in some cases even double down on them. Apparently, the GOP is counting on mass amnesia from the voters if they are to win the 2016 election.
Just about every Republican candidate is promising to bring back tax cuts for the wealthy – which was the keystone of Bush’s economic strategy. For example, Marco Rubio – who was labeled the “savior” of the Republican Party by Time magazine – has proposed to abolish all taxes on estates, capital gains and dividends. He has also promised – like Bush did – to throw in a few tax cuts for the middle class to provide political cover for this massive giveaway to the wealthy. Rubio’s proposal would add $2.4 trillion to the deficit and essentially exempt Wall Street and the super wealthy from all federal taxation.
The GOP Presidential hopefuls don’t just support Bush’s failed economic policies – they also want to bring back his Social Security privatization scheme. Back in 2005, the newly re-elected President made turning Social Security over to Wall Street his number one priority after he was inaugurated. Fortunately, this ill considered proposal was soundly rejected that year by the Congress. Just imagine the investment losses that our senior citizens would have suffered in 2008-09 if this extreme Social Security proposal had become law in 2005? And yet today’s GOP Presidential hopefuls have revived this proposal despite the recent volatility in the stock market.
The Republicans don’t only want to privatize Social Security, they would also like to do the same to Medicare. Bush tried (and failed) to privatize Medicare when the deficit financed Medicare Part D program was passed in 2003. Today’s GOP Presidential candidates (and members of Congress) have come out for ending Medicare as we know it and turning it into a voucher program. Turning Medicare over to the private health insurance industry would cost senior citizens thousands of dollars in additional out of pocket medical expenses and bring back the hated pre-existing condition clauses that were banned by the Affordable Care Act.
The Republicans have not only failed to heed the Bush Administration’s failures in economic and national security policy, they have also learned nothing from the history of the deregulation of the financial services industry. History teaches us that if you deregulate the banks, it is just a matter of time until they wreck the economy in an orgy of speculation, greed and incompetence. That’s what brought about the collapse of the savings and loan industry during the Reagan Administration and the collapse of the banking system in 2008.
In response to the financial crisis of 2008-09, the Obama Administration and the then Democratic controlled Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010. Since the passage of this Wall Street reform law, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has returned nearly $11 billion to more than 26 million consumers who’ve been cheated and has authorized a crackdown on payday lenders who prey on our military servicemen and women. As President Obama recently said: “Wall Street Reform now allows us to crack down on some of the worst types of recklessness that brought our economy to its knees, from big banks making huge, risky bets using borrowed money, to paying executives in a way that rewarded irresponsible behavior.”
Despite this progress, just about every Republican Presidential candidate and member of Congress wants to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act and return us to the time when the big banks or bad actors were allowed to write their own rules. If the Dodd-Frank Act isn’t working well, why is Wall Street furiously lobbying to repeal it and providing huge amounts of campaign cash to Republican candidates for President and Congress?
The Republicans’ ignorance of recent history extends to the Bush Administration’s failed war in Iraq. Leading GOP Presidential contenders such as Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and John Kasich support the return of U.S. ground troops to Iraq. Bush even supports sending U.S. troops to Syria to overthrow Assad and to establish and prop up a new government in that country. Moreover, many leading Republicans in the Congress such as John Boehner and John McCain support another Iraq War for the U.S. What that means is that if a Republican President is elected along with a GOP controlled Congress, we can count on another ground war in Iraq – and maybe even in Syria!
The Republicans can only win next year’s elections if voters forget about the last time the GOP controlled the White House and the Congress. As Democrats, we must constantly remind the voters about the failures of the last Republican President and how today’s GOP would bring back – and expand on – those very same failed policies. The propaganda of the GOP depends upon the voters having bad memories. We as Democrats must constantly refresh those memories. We can’t count on the mainstream media to do it for us. If we don’t do it – nobody else will.
The Republicans’ ignorance of the failures of the Bush Administration does create a great opportunity for us as Democrats. I’m confident that once the voters are reminded of Bush’s failures, they won’t hand over the country once again to the same people who destroyed the economy in 2008-09. Instead, they will return the Democrats to power who have turned around our economy and provided health insurance to 16 million Americans. Now let’s get to work and get that message out!