Conservatives Aren’t Fond of Bush

As you may know, Bruce Bartlett has a new book out about the Bush presidency entitled “Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy” which is making quite a stir. If you don’t know who Bruce Bartlett is, let me excerpt this passage from The Economist‘s book review (which rather absurdly criticized his book for being really, really hard on Bush):

Bruce Bartlett is a card-carrying Reaganite libertarian. He truly believes in free markets, small government and low taxes. His 1981 book “Reaganomics” was a manifesto for its era. He worked in the Reagan White House and the Treasury Department of Mr Bush’s father. Until he was sacked last autumn (for writing this book), Mr Bartlett was attached to the National Centre for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think-tank which propounds free-market solutions for everything from health care to pension reform. His conservative credentials, in short, are beyond question.

I am not a conservative, and on most policy issues (though not all) Bruce and I are on opposite sides of the fence. Nevertheless, I find the book a refreshing helping of intellectual honesty and philosophical integrity.

In his book, Bartlett crystallizes an important point that is not as widely recognized as it should be: the Bush administration is indeed blindly ideological… just not to conservative ideology. Instead, the Bush administration requires strict adherence to the doctrinal theorem “it doesn’t matter what the policy is as long as it tightens our grip on power,” and the closely related lemma of “never, ever criticize us.” The details of what policies help them achieve these goals are irrelevant to the Bush administration.

At any rate, Bruce was at Cato yesterday (along with Andrew Sullivan), talking about the Bush administration. Dana Milbank does some amusing reporting from the forum:

“We did ask a few members of the Bush economic team to come,” explained David Boaz, [Cato’s] executive vice president, as he moderated a discussion between two prominent conservatives about President Bush. “We didn’t get that.”

Now why would the administration pass up such an invitation?

…[Bartlett] began by predicting a big tax increase “to finance the inevitable growth of government that is in the pipeline that President Bush is largely responsible for.” He also said many fellow conservatives don’t know about the “quite dreadful” traits of the administration, such as the absence of “anybody who does any serious analysis” on policy issues.

Boaz assured the audience that he told the White House that “if there’s a rebuttal to what Bruce has said, please come and provide it.”

…”If Bush were running today against Bill Clinton, I’d vote for Clinton,” Bartlett served.

“You have to understand the people in this administration have no principles,” [Andrew] Sullivan volleyed. “Any principles that get in the way of the electoral map have to be dispensed with.”

Boaz renewed his plea. “Any Bush economists hiding in the audience?”

…Bartlett argued that Richard Nixon “is the model for everything Bush is doing.”

Sullivan said Karl Rove’s political strategy is “pathetic.”

Bartlett said that “the administration lies about budget numbers.”

“He is not a responsible human being; he is a phenomenally reckless human being,” Sullivan proclaimed. “There is a level of recklessness involved that is beyond any ideology.”

“Gosh,” Boaz interjected. “I wish we had a senior White House aide up here.”

Long ago on this blog, AB made a pitch arguing that libertarians should vote Democratic rather than Republican. For different reasons, true conservatives may be forced to the same conclusion, at least when the Republican in question is George Bush.