What Bush Did For The Conservative Movement

I want to address a separate claim from Kevin Drum's defense of Obama's effectiveness as a politician, specifically Drum's argument that "in two years Obama has done more to enact a liberal agenda than George Bush did for the conservative agenda in eight."

Again, I don't think Bush was particularly effective. Wringing 60 votes for the unpopular Affordable Care Act from skittish liberals and preening centrists is, on balance, a much more impressive example of legislative politicking than say, getting tax cuts passed through reconciliation. But after an exchange with Jamison Foser on Twitter this morning, this particular part of Drum's claim seemed even more suspect to me than before.

Drum writes the "story of the economy" this morning:

2001-2008: Republicans run economy into ditch.

2008: Obama elected.

2009-2011: Republicans respond by doing everything possible to prevent him from fixing things.

2012: Republicans use lousy economy as campaign cudgel against Obama.

2012: Republican candidate wins presidency (maybe).

This seems exactly right to me, except I'd have added Obama's shortsightedness on the economy to the list (which Drum adds in a caveat later). But Drum seems to be missing the point that this entire situation was set up by Bush tanking the economy and running up a deficit through two wars and massive tax cuts. The deficit, combined with the economic crisis, is the political context through which Republicans and their assault on the welfare state has gained so much traction.

Obviously, Bush didn't mean to tank the economy. I suspect he did mean to starve the beast. But the point is that both Bush's successes and failures have done an incredible favor for the conservative movement -- giving them the best possible chance of rolling back the social safety net that they've ever had. Conservatives have a natural advantage in that both success or failure bolsters their anti-government ideology -- if they govern well, they get to govern more, if they govern poorly, it discredits government and makes people skeptical of what liberals want to achieve. 

Purposeful or not however, Bush's presidency set the stage for the current ascendancy of the Republican Party. Given how fragile Obama's gains are, "in two years Obama has done more to enact a liberal agenda than George Bush did for the conservative agenda in eight," seems like a huge stretch to me. When asking what Bush "did" for the conservative movement, you can't just include his successes. The infuriating paradox is that his failures count too. 

You may also like