December 10, 2010


No Deficit of Courage (JON MEACHAM, 12/08/10, NY Times)

While Mr. Obama’s immediate concern is stimulus and Mr. Bush’s was deficit-reduction, both gave way on issues critical to the true believers within their parties. For Mr. Bush, it was political death. He had never been fully trusted by a Reaganite Republican base. Like Mr. Obama — who is unhappy with his “sanctimonious” left wing — Mr. Bush was no ideologue.

“I’m not going to be held up by campaign rhetoric,” he wrote in his diary early in his term. “If the facts change, I hope I’m smart enough to change, too.” Mr. Bush privately said that he had no intention of being “off in some ideological corner falling on my sword and keeping the country from moving forward.”

He knew that doing what he believed was in the country’s best interest could cost him his job in 1992. “Nobody is particularly happy with me,” he said during the 1990 negotiations. “The budget is a loser.”

But in real time, aware of the consequences, he made the best of the world as he found it. After his election loss to Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush wrote to Nicholas Brady, his Treasury secretary, that the budget deal would have helped him if the economy had strongly recovered. “It didn’t,” Mr. Bush added, “and I was the ‘read my lips’ liar — over and over and over again. I heard it — it killed us.” With the base angry and so many others believing the economy was not getting better, Mr. Bush faced a primary challenge from the right by Patrick Buchanan and ultimately could not prevail against the combination of Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.

If you play out the 1990 analogy, Mr. Obama, like Mr. Bush, may be a one-term president.

GHWB failed to grasp that the Peace Dividend was going to be so huge that the budget deal didn't matter economically, only politically.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 10, 2010 5:55 AM
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