Bruce Bartlett in effect says that conservatives who are angry at Barack Obama should look in the mirror: “Until conservatives once again hold Republicans to the same standard they hold Democrats, they will have no credibility and deserve no respect.” But even if he’s correct that conservative credibility has taken a well-deserved hit because the right was too enamored of George W. Bush — and I think he is — it doesn’t follow that conservatives are wrong to oppose a largely pointless stimulus bill, an increased federal role in the provision of health care that will cost even more than the Medicare prescription drug benefit, cap and trade, and other Obama policies.
To put it another way: Just because conservatives didn’t make enough noise as Bush was running up a $1.2 trillion deficit doesn’t mean they should shut up now that Obama is jacking it up to as much as $1.8 trillion. Obama supported Bush’s TARP bailout, as did more Democrats than Republicans in Congress. The Democrats also favored an even more robust Medicare prescription drug benefit than the one irresponsibly enacted by Bush and the Republican Congress. And which of the policies that lead to our current mess — artificially low interest rates, loose money, unfunded government spending, relaxed lending standards for politically favored groups — has Obama decisively broken with now, much less opposed at the time? The Democrats were a little better on the wars’ contribution to the health of the state, the Republican better on reining in Fannie and Freddie.
There are some gaps in Bartlett’s history. He ignores the role the Republican Congress played, alongside Bill Clinton, in reforming welfare and cutting federal spending during the 1990s. He acknowledges Ronald Reagan’s tax increases but neglects to mention that Reagan was a substantial net tax cutter, who brought the top marginal tax rate all the way down to 28 percent by the time he left office. Or as Bartlett — who, by the way, told us in 2003 that the Iraq war would be a bargain — put it in October 2003, “But at the end of the day, [Reagan] cut taxes more than he raised them. That is why conservatives forgave him and why they will probably forgive George W. Bush as well.”
There also some gaps in Bartlett’s version of current events. He describes conservative activists as “primarily Republican Party hacks trying to overturn the election results.” (Since when did opposing policies with which one disagrees amount to overturning election results?) But many of the new activists are as angry as Republicans as they are Democrats. Just ask John Cornyn and any number of other pro-bailout Republicans who have been booed off the stage at various tea parties.
If conservatives focus exclusively on trying to elect people with the letter “R” next to their name no matter what they stand for or what the consequences of their policies are, it will indeed be self-defeating. Almost as self-defeating as letting the Obama administration wreck the country now in order to spite the people who were wrecking it seven months ago.
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