A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Tag: george w bush

We Told You So, Axis of Evil Edition

by evanmcmurry

Barkeep, two fingers of JW Blue, and put it on Bush’s tab:

George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” line may have destroyed nascent cooperation between the U.S. and Iran. Filkins writes that the two sides were cooperating after the initial stages of the Iraq war, but, “The good will didn’t last. In January, 2002, [Ambassador Ryan] Crocker, who was by then the deputy chief of the American Embassy in Kabul, was awakened one night by aides, who told him that President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union Address, had named Iran as part of an ‘Axis of Evil.’ Like many senior diplomats, Crocker was caught off guard. He saw the negotiator the next day at the U.N. compound in Kabul, and he was furious. ‘You completely damaged me,’ Crocker recalled him saying. ‘Suleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised.”

The negotiator told Crocker that, at great political risk, Suleimani had been contemplating a complete reëvaluation of the United States, saying, “Maybe it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Americans.’ The Axis of Evil speech brought the meetings to an end. Reformers inside the government, who had advocated a rapprochement with the United States, were put on the defensive. Recalling that time, Crocker shook his head. ‘We were just that close,” he said. “One word in one speech changed history.”


W Is Basically Voltaire (If You’re Peggy Noonan)

by evanmcmurry

Next up in the We Heart W/Short Term Memory Loss Tour 2013, and giving Jennifer Rubin a run for her money, is ye olde Peggy Noonan:

In all his recent interviews Mr. Bush has been modest, humorous, proud but unassuming, and essentially philosophical: History will decide. No finger-pointing or scoring points. If he feels rancor or resentment he didn’t show it. He didn’t attempt to manipulate. His sheer normality seemed like a relief, an echo of an older age.

[…] One thing Mr. Bush didn’t think he was was superior. He thought he was luckily born, quick but not deep, and he famously trusted his gut but also his heart. He always seemed moved and grateful to be in the White House. Someone who met with Mr. Obama during his first year in office, an old hand who’d worked with many presidents, came away worried and confounded. Mr. Obama, he said, was the only one who didn’t seem awed by his surroundings, or by the presidency itself.

Again, I could dine out on those paragraphs for weeks, but “quick but not deep” crosses the line. Voltaire’s, specifically, as it was his line to begin with: “I am like a mountain stream: I run fast and bright but not very deep.” Such a pithy diagnosis was gifted to the likes of Noonan because Voltaire had the self-awareness to make it. How was 43 on self awareness? Oh, that’s right.

Pierce with much, much more.

Please Please Please Please Let George Bush Have A Comeback

by evanmcmurry

Jamelle Bouie is making sense on W’s supposed “comeback,” based on a WaPo poll showing his approval at 45%, considerably higher than when he left office (not a tall hurdle, admittedly) and even nearing Obama’s. Bouie makes two good points:

1) This is a single poll. Bouie points to a WSJ poll conducted around the same time that found 43’s approval at 35%, much closer to the gutter in which he’s been dwelling the past four years, meaning WaPo‘s poll could be just a statistical blip. At this point, Bush is “having a comeback” in the same way he “won the 2000 election.”

2) The reemergence of Bush, even discursively, is a perfect chance to not only remember why he was the least popular president of the modern era, but to draw a line from his unpopularity to the current crop of Republicans. The GOP may have abandoned Bush the human, to the point of his conspicuous absence from the 2012 campaign trail and even the convention (contrast with the ubiquitous and triumphant Bill Clinton), but the party is still running entirely on Bush’s platform. They still want tax cuts for the wealthy, Bush’s chief economic grift mistake; many neocons want to bomb Iran, as if Iraq didn’t teach us some lessons about hastily attacking Middle Eastern countries; they still want to privatize entitlements, as Bush unsuccessfully attempted to do with Social Security; they even want to repeat the one noble thing he attempted, immigration reform, though they’re having to whip themselves to do it.

The specter of W reminds everybody of the consequences of these policies. It’s very difficult to continue to rail against Obama’s deficits when the man who created the deficit—out of a surplus!—is hanging around. It’s very difficult to blame Obama for the sluggish economy when the man who presided over its toppling is smirking into cameras all over again. Try making Obama out to be an out-of-control expander of government when the chode who invented the Department of Homeland Security is putzing about in a golf cap. To say nothing of trying to paint Obama as a bumbling incompetent when the man who fiddled while New Orleans drowned is making a comeback tour.

This is more than blaming Bush for Obama’s failures, as Republicans try to make it out to be. It wasn’t just Bush’s peculiar brand of inattentive governance that caused the deficits or the financial collapse—his policies of cutting revenue without cutting spending, and of deregulation, led directly to those results. These were replicable experiments, if anybody would care to repeat them.

The GOP is still running on these policies. If they want to take one poll as evidence that Bush is popular again, and use it to parade about everything that caused them to lose the 2006, 2008, and 2012 elections, nobody stand in their way.

The West Wing Was A Work Of Fiction, Part the Infinity

by evanmcmurry

In a week in which we already got a heavy reminder that Life Is Not Like The West Wing (Or Any Other Aaron Sorkin Production) comes Dana Perino’s fondest memories of George W. Bush, including

that time they were on Marine One together and “he insisted on sharing his peanut butter and honey sandwiches with me and the chief-of-staff, Andy Card.”

Not exactly Jed Bartlett affably and extemporaneously riffing on the history of New Hampshire agriculture, is it?

Obama And Bush Pretty Much Same Person Now

by evanmcmurry

The Gray Lady has a piece up about Obama’s competitiveness, which many are claiming—are you sitting down?—sometimes leads to cockiness. Fine. Here’s where it gets good:

But even those loyal to Mr. Obama say that his quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness and that he tends to overestimate his capabilities. The cloistered nature of the White House amplifies those tendencies, said Matthew Dowd, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, adding that the same thing happened to his former boss. ‘There’s a reinforcing quality,’ he said, a tendency for presidents to think, I’m the best at this.

Thanks, former Bush advisor, for taking the initiative to project your boss’ faults onto his successor, but perhaps George W. Bush, the modern embodiment of hubris, is not the best control group to test the effects of the presidency on cockiness? At the very least we can (and should) distinguish between Bush’s cockiness—which was maintained even in the face of an increasingly disastrous presidency, and allowed him to be unaware of having so much as erred despite of a litany of failures—and Obama’s, which is bolstered with universal health care reform and Osama bin Laden’s scalp.

That’s giving Dowd the benefit of the doubt, in that he spoke honestly, and just mistook his boss’ arrogance as endemic to the job rather than the man. The less charitable reading is that this is of a piece with Republican efforts to blur the lines between the disaster of Bush and the clean-up job of Obama. They’ve already assigned Obama full blame for the deficit Bush created and the unemployment rate he left. And now, famously though not famously enough, Paul Ryan is attacking Obama for closing a auto plant that shut down under Bush’s watch. In this context, it seems a little odd that Matthew Dodd would be so helpful in carrying over the less pleasant aspects of George W Bush’s personality and making them Obama’s. By the time this process is over, Obama will have been the mid-90s owner of the Texas Rangers.

Romney’s magical jobs forecast

by pdxblake

Mitt Romney has a curious grasp on the facts, depending on what will help his chances more of being elected.  So it was not too surprising that his initial forecast for employment growth was a laughably implausible 500,000 per month.

He has since ditched this estimate for a slightly less (but still) laughable estimate of 250,000 jobs per month (ht Menzie Chinn).  This estimate is just that, an estimate, and it appears to have been pulled out of thin air based only on extrapolations from previous recession recoveries.

Source: EconBrowser

As Menzie Chinn helpfully reminds, it is higher than the average job creation over the last two presidential administrations (Clinton 196,700 per month, Bush 91,700 per month).  Without an underlying economic model to back up Romney’s figures, there is no reason why it should even be taken seriously since there are few reasons why Romney’s policies would help the economy.  Romney’s policies may even lead to another recession, which would reverse the progress made in the last 3 years.

If the last four years have shown anything, the debate on economics has moved far away from the knowledge gained over the past century and the same old debates come around over and over.  With Romney’s employment projections and debates over his budget’s impossibility for deficit reduction and tax reductions, it seems that we have returned to debating the failed economic policies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Romney’s failure to offer credible policy ideas will lead to more #RomneyShambles

by pdxblake

There are so many ways to make fun of Romney now, it has even started a cottage industry of #RomneyShambles, #Mitthitsthefan, and my favorite, #AmericanBorat tweets (perhaps Romney can help the economy after all, at the expense of his political future).  It appears that, despite being a politician since at least 2002 (when he became governor of Massachusetts) and a presidential candidate in 1946 2006, Romney has absolutely no intuition on when he should lie to spare a country’s feelings (not just lie to try and make an opponent look bad).

However, the policy Romney is not much different than the travelling Romney: they are both unwilling to realize that things have changed and he needs to change with them.  With his gaffe-tastic Day 1 outside of the US, he missed that he should speak about the Olympics and the English differently than he would when appearing on Fox News.  In a similar way, Ezra Klein describes how Romney has refused to modify any of the Bush Administration’s standard policy responses, despite the huge financial crash and recession that Bush left flaming on Obama’s doorstep that would for most people lead to a re-think of policy.

Lower taxes, fewer regulations, more domestic energy production, promises of deficit reduction that are quickly overwhelmed by increased defense spending and reduced tax revenues, and glossy rhetoric about economic freedom pretty much defined the Bush administration’s economic policy. And how did that economic policy work out?

It was a disaster.

The best chart (of the many good ones) in the post is from the Center for American Progress (full report here (PDF)) below.  It shows average monthly job growth by year for the last 3 economic cycles (1974 – 2007), not including the steep fall that followed the financial crisis in his final year in office.  Under Bush’s policies, which are incredibly similar to what Romney is advocating for, job growth was anemic compared to previous years when the economy was growing.  Romney is campaigning on the basis of his experience as an outsourcing pioneer job creator from when he was at Bain, yet says he will bring back the policies of George W. Bush, who has one of the worst track records in terms of job creation while he was in office.

With a track record like that for the specific policies that Romney supports, it’s no wonder Romney has to resort to just attacking Obama for things he never did or said.  His worst nightmare is that America might for a change have a serious discussion about the policies that led us into financial crisis like financial deregulation and realize that returning to those same old policies is a recipe for another crisis down the road, with little if any short term benefits.

The Right And Welfare Reform: Or, The Problem With Work Requirements When There Are No Jobs

by evanmcmurry

The right wing blogotwittersphere is agog at a Health and Human Services directive released late Thursday that grants states greater leeway in apportioning welfare payments with regard to an individual’s ability to work. Specifically, they’re up in arms over the directive’s elimination of the reporting mandate for welfare’s work requirement—the part of the 1996 welfare reform package necessitating welfare recipients participate in the labor force as a condition of aid.

What’s the big deal about a reporting requirement? Conservatives see it as an end route to eliminating the work requirement itself (if you don’t have to report it, you don’t have to do it), allowing bums to lie around on the government’s dime without so much as glancing at the want ads. Via Mickey Kaus, from the Daily Caller‘s Day Center For Cranky Bloggers:

Rector and Bradley of Heritage (among the first to attack Obama’s action) make the case that the law’s work requirements were specifically designed to not be waivable, and that Obama is using HHS’s authority to waive state reporting requirements as a tricky way of voiding the underlying substantive requirements that are to be reported about.

Or, if you’re the National Review: “Obama Ends Welfare Reform As We Know It.”

Welfare reform replaced the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children with a new program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The underlying concept of welfare reform was that able-bodied adults should be required to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving welfare aid.

The welfare reform law was very successful. In the four decades prior to welfare reform, the welfare caseload never experienced a significant decline. But, in the four years after welfare reform, the caseload dropped by nearly half. Employment surged and child poverty among blacks and single mothers plummeted to historic lows. What was the catalyst for these improvements? Rigorous new federal work requirements contained in TANF.

This is proof to the right of their strange and consistent belief that Obama is creating an entitlement society not for any policy-based long-term societal improvement, but simply as an end in and of itself, as if he needs something for show and tell at the Democratic National Convention.

Or something else is up—like unemployment. The 1996 Welfare Reform Act no doubt helped a lot of people off the dole and into the workforce, but it was only able to do so because there was a workforce with room for them. The last 90s were an excellent time to be wanting a job in the United States:

Employment Growth 1960-2000

(via BLS)

When there’s a rapidly growing labor market, it’s easy to chide able-bodied people on welfare; in 1998, you could get a job hanging Help Wanted signs.

Since then:

Employment growth, 2000-2010

(via The Big Picture)

Even at its bubbly peak, the labor market vastly underperformed during Bush’s administration, to say nothing of the financial collapse he left on our doorstep that shed more than 3,000,000 jobs in six months. This not only ballooned the number of people in need of government assistance, but drastically shrunk the labor market they were supposed to joining as a condition for that assistance. In 2008, you couldn’t get a job taking down Help Wanted signs.

Conservatives don’t want to bring up contextual economic factors in the viability of work requirements because it troubles their ideological cleaving of the world into Producers and Takers; there’s simply no ability for the rigid Randian worldview to accommodate people who want to work, can’t find a job, and need assistance.

But there’s also no eliding that the 1996 work requirement was designed with the late-90s booming labor market in mind. A weak economy turns this policy reform into a contradiction: how do you maintain a work requirement for people who can’t find work in order to get the subsidy they need precisely because they can’t find work?

Kaus knows this, though he buries it in his unusually wordy-for-him post:

Thanks to the prolonged recession, there aren’t enough jobs for welfare recipients to take. Even if there is a job shortage, the answer isn’t to get rid of the work requirements but to provide useful, public jobs (that recipients would then be required to perform, on pain of losing their checks, just like regular workers). You could call such jobs “workfare,” but in effect they would be something like a backdoor WPA.

Well, what a great idea. Federal stimulus in the form of employment? Obama should immediately propose that nine months ago. By the by, what do you figure the odds are of a massive WPA-style public employment program passing through the House of Representatives right now?

I’m with Kaus when he criticizes the directive for being open-ended. Obama loses nothing by giving the waiver a duration of, say, twelve months, with option of being renewed for another year. If nothing, it would paint the effort more as the stopgap that it actually is; and I generally agree with Reagan’s quip that a government program created can never be destroyed.

But this isn’t the end of welfare reform as we know it; it’s an acknowledgement that welfare reform assumed a robust economy, and the absence of that strength created a contradiction that left the very people who needed assistance without it. This directive should provide some of that assistance. The free market will survive; and so, hopefully, will the families suffering under it.

Economics, by Mitt Romney

by evanmcmurry

So we’re clear: bailouts are just fine when initiated by Republican presidents, on days when that President’s brother endorses you. That’s called economics.