Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Monday, August 04, 2003  

A reader alerted me to a pretty fascinating article in (please, stifle your chortles) Government Executive Magazine, comparing the President to (again, no chortling) FDR. Wait--unbunch your breeches, good friends. The comparison is apt (well, at least part of it): "By the time he was finished, FDR had greatly enlarged the federal government (from 3 percent of gross domestic product in 1930 to 10 percent in 1940), launched the welfare state, invented the modern regulatory state, and turned a provincial nation into a superpower."

There's a lot that I think is coincidental and essentially literary in the comparison, too. I'll ignore that. But in the most obvious way, the two do have a lot in common--they used the power of the Presidency to transform the role of the Federal government and the US's position in the world. (Their legacies will be opposites, however.)

The article is a catalogue of the President's accomplishments.

Taxes. Bush's tax cuts, as they emerged seriatim, proved to be aimed not just at reducing the government's revenue but also at changing the structure of the tax code to reduce personal rates and, especially, to reduce taxes on capital accumulation.

Spending. "He's the biggest-spending president we've had in a generation," says Stephen Moore, the president of the Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax group. Moore noted that Bush has increased federal spending more in his first three years than President Clinton did in eight. "We passed the biggest farm bill, the biggest education bill, and we're about to pass the biggest expansion in an entitlement since the Great Society," says Moore.

Federal activism. Bush jettisoned that tenet and made Washington a force in education as never before. Bush boasts of "record levels of expenditure for elementary and secondary education programs." His No Child Left Behind Act has increased the federal government's share of education spending and used those dollars to establish annual testing and achievement standards in all 50 states, with the states driving but Washington supervising. Meanwhile, with the establishment of a muscular new Homeland Security Department, Bush has embarked on the most sweeping and centralizing reform of the federal government since at least President Truman's day.

"Competitive sourcing." Commonly and undeservedly overlooked is the Bush administration's drive to open hundreds of thousands of federal jobs to private-sector competition.... A 1998 inventory conducted by the Clinton administration found 850,000 federal employees doing jobs deemed commercial in nature. The Bush administration intends to "compete" fully half of those jobs. This can be done administratively, without Congress's approval, and it's now well under way.

Health. The education and farm bills increased the federal government's power, but the effects of the new prescription drug benefit would overshadow them both.... "The biggest expansion of government health benefits since the Great Society," Nancy-Ann DeParle, President Clinton's Medicare administrator, called it in The Washington Post.

There are more extensive sections on foreign policy and strategy. In the foreign policy section, a lot is attributed to the President that probably comes from his neo-con advisors; the article is also quick to find a cohesive policy where I see only chaos.

Similarly, the article goes to pains to discover Bush's philosophic focus, concluding:

If one way to give people more choices is to shrink government, fine. But if another way is to reform government—also fine. And if he needs to expand government to deliver more choices—well, he can live with that. For Bush, individual responsibility and Big Government are not necessarily opposed to each other, any more than global stability and regime change are necessarily opposites. Moreover, small-government conservatism was root-canal politics, but the new approach is a political winner. If you spend more money, people like you. If you give them more choices, they like you. But if you spend more money giving them more choices, they really like you....

Besides, tax cuts dry up future Democratic spending initiatives; competitive sourcing weakens public employees unions; education reform weakens teachers unions; litigation reform weakens the trial lawyers; trade liberalization, another Bush priority, weakens private-sector unions.

(This also seems happenstance to a certain degree, with evidence of the political virtuosity of Karl Rove driving the balance.)

Whether or not you agree with the conclusions of the article or not, the facts that support it are real. It's one view on the President, and one I think the Democrats ignore at their peril. Bush may or may not be a bumpkin, a puppet for neocon advisors. To a very large extent, that doesn't matter; the White House has changed government profoundly. Dems sat by and watched it happen, and are only now rousinging themselves for the fight. They should look at the record and learn it well. It's a record few Republicans would be happy to stand on, so far does it deviate from traditional conservative views. Ignoring the President's successes, and ignoring the ammo he's provided will both make him a more dangerous and a less defeatable opponent.

posted by Jeff | 3:31 PM |
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