We are told the GOP is having a bunch of meetings to help them figure out what went wrong. Among GOPers, there seem to be two views. The first is that the whole matter needs to be studied to figure it out. The second is that what went wrong is that they failed to stick to the program. Let me suggest a third view. What went wrong is they did stick to the program.
The great communicator, whose strength, the ability to put things simply, was symptomatic of his greatest weakness, the inability to think complex thoughts… outlined the program. The problem is the government, he said, and the program was to get rid of government. So they did. Early in the Raygun years, the deregulation of things started (not to put too fine a point on it, but Carter deregulated the transportation industry. I still think that was a good idea, and could be distinguished away here.) In particular, they started taking shots at bank and securities regulation. Revising history, selling the notion that regulation was quaint theory born of bad economic times and imperfect understanding of free markets. Regulation, they maintained, was invented by socialists, and it was per se wrong. (When he was VP, GHW Busch got his ticket punched with the financial community by heading a blue-ribbon panel on deregulation and its many benefits.) By the time Bill Clinton came into office, the steam roller was moving.
We do have to explain Clinton’s role. He did not exactly put up a fight, in fact he declared that “the era of Big Government is over.” But Clinton’s primary de-regulatory targets were programs that had long since proven ineffective. Welfare as we knew it, for example, which Clinton replaced with job training and Earned Income Tax Credits. But there was deregulation on his watch, particularly the Gramm Leach Bliley Act, which eliminated the Depression Era separation between securities firms and commercial banks. The culmination of the GOP dream. Robert Rubin, steeped in the new thinking, was for it. Clinton was laissez faire on Wall Street issues. He was not, however, an indolent regulator. He appointed highly competent people to key regulatory positions. He was tough on environmental issues, civil rights, labor and security. Clinton appointees had substantial respect for the regulatory process, and generally exercised the power of the government in ways intended.
It is too much to say that George W. Busch had a plan to destroy the government by making it incompetent. That would imply that he is smart enough to have a plan, and I seriously doubt it. I think he actually is an idiot put in place by Dik Chaney’s boys. Cheney called the important shots and the rest was left to Busch, who would accomplish the aims of his handlers by shear incompetence.
There was incompetence in spades, traceable to Busch’s lack of discernment and his government’s total lack of respect for … government. Start with the failure to heed warnings about plans to hijack airplanes and drive them into the World Trade Center, go to the appointment of the manager of a third rate trade association to head FEMA (a job that Clinton took special care with because he knew its importance politically, if for no other reason. By contrast the GOPers called FEMA an “overblown entitlement program.”), look at the choice of Bob Jones University law school as a key recruiting ground for highly placed attorneys, consider the Secretary of Defense going into an optional war with “the army you got” not the army you could have had if you had delayed a few months (a decision that cost many lives and many more severe injuries for lack of body armor or properly armored vehicles). Think about what it means when your president has so little respect for, or understanding of the legal process that he overthrows centuries of precedent on the treatment of prisoners and turns his Justice Department into a tool of his political advisors. Think of the money we spent on valuable scientific research at the EPA only to have it edited and overruled by industry lobbiests who are now on the government payroll.
I could go on about Busch, but its not just Busch. GOPers in Congress should be accountable for the damage they have done the Republic since they took power in 1994. It was a struggle for political power, not patriotic fervor that caused Newty Gringo and his boys to waste hours and hours of public discourse, and millions and millions in public money, in pursuit of phantom scandals in the Clinton Administration… Whitewater, a fake investment scandal based on nothing, ultimately resulted in nothing. And how much time and money was wasted on Bill Clinton’s blow job? And more recently, the Terri Schaivo extravaganza?
The GOP went wrong because the GOP was wrong. Simple as that. The GOP needs an overhaul, a return to the days when it believed in good government, in the power of public policy to effect positive public good. A return to the days of Teddy Roosevelt, who believed there was value in federal regulation of corporate greed. To the days of Richard Nixon, who for all his faults, established the EPA, boosted agricultural production to the point where food got cheap, declared war on cancer and supported methadone clinics instead of prison for junkies.
We have a lot of work to do now. The GOP has left us with a nightmare run amok. Let me suggest that for now they sit on their hands and behave themselves while the rest of us get on with cleaning up their mess.