Thursday, March 9, 2006

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March's Books of the Month

The theme of this month's books is that they're both about how the policy hangover left by the Bush administration.

The international relations book is Francis Fukuyama's America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. This short book provides a nice summary of Fukuyama's take on neoconservatism, why he parted ways with other neocons on the war with Iraq, and where to go from here. I've only gotten through the first chapter so far, but the book does an excellent job of providing an intellectual history of neoconservative thought. Like Matt Yglesias, I'm not exactly sure how Fukuyama's "realistic Wilsonianism" is different from "just regular old liberal internationalism," but I haven't finished the book yet, so give me time. UPDATE: Well, now I've finished it, and it turns out Fukuyama thinks the same thing on p. 215: "What I have labeled realistic Wilsonianism could be alternatively described as a hard-headed liberal internationalism."

The general interest book for this month is Bruce Bartlett's Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. Publisher's Weekly has a concise symmary:

Bartlett's attack boils down to one key premise: Bush is a shallow opportunist who has cast aside the principles of the "Reagan Revolution" for short-term political gains that may wind up hurting the American economy as badly as, if not worse than, Nixon's did. As part of a simple, point-by-point critique of Bush's "finger-in-the-wind" approach to economic leadership, Bartlett singles out the Medicare prescription drug bill of 2003— "the worst piece of legislation ever enacted"—as a particularly egregious example of the increases in government spending that will, he says, make tax hikes inevitable. Bush has further weakened the Republican Party by failing to establish a successor who can run in the next election, Bartlett says. If the Reaganites want to restore the party's tradition of fiscal conservatism and small government, he worries, let alone keep the Democrats out of the White House, they will have their work cut out for them.
How damning is the book? The Bush administration could not send anyone rebut Bartlett at a Cato forum on Bartlett's thesis.

Impostor really should be read with Hacker and Pierson's Off Center, because the two make for a very interesting comparison. Hacker and Pierson don't like Bush because they think he and his Congressional allies have shifted policy in a dramatically rightward direction. Bartlett doesn't like Bush because he thinks Bush and his allies have shifted policy in a dramatically Nixonian direction. The chapters in both books on Bush and regulation make for very interesting reading. [SIDE NOTE: Hacker and Pierson have written a response to my Forum book review. University types can access it here. I may respond to their response if I find the time.]

Go check them out!!

posted by Dan on 03.09.06 at 09:40 PM


I've posted so often about my views of President Bush that if Dan's readers aren't tired of reading them, they should be. Here I'll just say that describing Bush's economic policies as Nixonian is rather hard on Nixon, who unlike Bush always faced massive Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and also had to cope with the less developed understanding of markets prevalent throughout American politics at the time.

posted by: Zathras on 03.09.06 at 09:40 PM [permalink]

This may be good news discussing Bush...

">,2933,187307,00.html/"> Dubai Company to Give Up Stake in U.S. Ports Deal

posted by: lk on 03.09.06 at 09:40 PM [permalink]

One thing I can't figure out about Bartlett's book: why is Bush an imposter? His campaign of compassionate conservatism and the general stance on the role of government in such a philosophy should have been a bright neon light that spending would increase. If you thought spending and the role of government would decrease, you're stupid, Bush isn't an imposter. With themes of fraud and betrayal, Bartlett sounds like a jilted lover. Conservatives may not like it, but stop pretending that Bush is something he never was.

posted by: Norman Pfyster on 03.09.06 at 09:40 PM [permalink]

I'm not sure the excerpt you quote reflects very well on Bartlett. The "finger in the wind" charge is preposterous - look at his poll numbers (OK, there were the steel tariffs, but look at his dogged defense of the ports deal). And how could the creation of the Medicare drug benefit be worse than the creation of Medicare itself? And within the logic of Medicare's existence (I'm no fan of the program, but if we're going to have it, and we are...) it makes no sense to cover things like hospitalization but not cover things that, in a lot of cases, can prevent hospitalization and are much, much cheaper. And failing to establish a successor? McCain would probably win in '08, Rice would in a blowout. Does Bush have to overtly groom somebody for them to be competitive?

As to how damning the book is, there's a difference between didn't and couldn't. Given Cato's attitude about Iraq, to name one issue, the White House was probably as likely to send a representative to a Democratic Underground convention to "rebut" things. There's little point in arguing with a choir that wants to be preached to. To piggyback on Norman's comment, is it possible to betray a legacy you never had allegiance to?

posted by: J on 03.09.06 at 09:40 PM [permalink]

Well, there is that point. Frankly, one might well have made the same argument about the first President Bush, with his instinct for passivity and reaction and his strong sense of personal entitlement, not being a worthy heir to President Reagan either.

As a matter of fact, I did make that argument; it's why I supported Senator Dole in 1988, and one of several reasons why I supported John McCain in 2000. I'd express my reasons in other language than Bartlett uses, since the worst things about both Bushes in my view are precisely that sense of entitlement and the absolute priority they assign to the mechanics of campaign politics when the going gets tough (and, in the case of the younger Bush, even when it doesn't).

I can't read Bartlett's mind (and haven't read his book), but I'm guessing that he thinks Reagan's legacy -- or at least the principles he espoused and promoted, at least some of the time -- still has a following among Republicans. He may think that once they can get past their instinctive reverence for any Republican President who appears as a strong leader and stands up to liberals and the media, they may take the GOP back in Reagan's direction. I'd like to think he's right about that.

posted by: Zathras on 03.09.06 at 09:40 PM [permalink]

> but I'm guessing that he thinks Reagan's
> legacy -- or at least the principles he
> espoused and promoted, at least some of
> the time -- still has a following among
> Republicans.

Ah, the Grown-Up Republican(tm) theory. I would be inclined to take it a bit more seriously if those who espose it showed any signs of acknowledging that there is another possibility: that they are being used as useful idiots by the Radicals. I am not asking that you agree with or accept this possibility - just acknowledge that it is a reasonable hypothesis which does fit the observed facts of the W Bush Administration.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 03.09.06 at 09:40 PM [permalink]

Finger in the lobbyist winds then.

An administration that doesn't care about policy. Right or left? Doesn't matter.

Whoever/whatever props up the leader and his powerbase wins. Policy coherence and consequences to the country are simply not important.

posted by: Babar on 03.09.06 at 09:40 PM [permalink]

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