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Bush The New Dealer

David Kusnet writes about the many, many, many ways in which Bush now speaks like a liberal, regarding not only foreign policy, but domestic policy as well. Especially on the domestic front, I think this is an important clue that liberalism is actually in much better shape than it often seems. If you look at the way Ronald Reagan talked about domestic issues it was very, very different. While his actual governing record was rather more moderate (in large part due to the need to deal with Tip O'Neil) than his speeches suggested, Reagan's discourse was full of hard-edged libertarian talk about getting the government off our backs, bureacrat-bashing, etc., etc., etc. In other words, while Reagan had to make some practical concessions to liberals and liberalism, at the political level he thought that positioning himself foursquare against liberalism was winning politics. And, in light of his record of winning elections, he evidently new what he was talking about.

Bush is more-or-less the reverse, a faux liberal. If you listen to his speeches, you would believe that his agenda consists of making the tax code fairer to people of modest means, improving the environment, expanding access to affordable health care, strenghtening New Deal/Great Society entitlement programs, and ending poverty. The fact that he isn't doing those things does, of course, matter. But the fact that he feels a need to pretend to be doing those things also matters. It shows that, roughly speaking, Bill Clinton succeeded in rehabilitating liberalism, even if he left office with the Democratic Party 100 percent out of power. The GOP has only been able to succeed by consistently adopting a pose of liberalism. This is a significant achievement, in and of itself, even if it would also be nice to win elections.

January 21, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

All far right wing elements need to be rooted in some sort of faux populism for them to work. You have to convince the people that you are doing the best to serve them so that they'll line up and let you send them to war or take away everything they'll ever have for the betterment of the nation.

The other terrible thing with this is it was so easy to run against. So many ads could have been made with "A New Day, A New Lie" or rhetoric matching up with numbers/policy. It was so simple, yet Kerry couldn't do it. And now we're even deeper in this mess.

Posted by: dstein | Jan 21, 2005 11:51:33 AM

Two parts Wilsonian foreign policy, mix with LBJ fiscal restraint and Reaganomics supply side tax cuts, one part James Dobson social policy, and viola! You've got George W. Bush.

It's not a pretty sight...

Posted by: Brad Reed | Jan 21, 2005 11:58:25 AM

Talk like a liberal, pose as a conservative, and act like a radical.

Posted by: Bragan | Jan 21, 2005 12:04:54 PM

Luckily for Cheney and Rove, you can fool 51% of the people 100% of the time (roughly speaking).

Posted by: MattB | Jan 21, 2005 12:13:04 PM

But what if it's just the opposite? What if sentiments of the majority, or a significant minority, in that big red world out there that's so cut off from DC have become so conservative that Bush's policies really do pass for liberal there? I don't think this is an inconceivable idea--when I was in college in the South I thought I was more liberal than liberal, but when I moved to DC I realized I was more conservative than 90% of the Democrats I knew. There are plenty of people who really think that Bush's policies have been moderate and too liberal in some areas (particularly gay and abortion rights and education). Much of the country has become more conservative, especially in thinking about social justice and the role of government in the last few decades. I hope you're right that it's just an issue of Bush selling the public a misrepresentation of his policies. But if that's not true, and Bush's policies really pass for liberal to a significant portion of the country, isn't that a sign our brand of liberalism has lost ground?

Posted by: flip | Jan 21, 2005 12:34:14 PM

All politicians mold the truth to fit there vision. They present their side of the story or their wolrdview. Bush's key to success is that he says exactly the opposite of the truth, and I my opinion, preys upon people's better graces. They can't beleive that the "Tax Fairness Act" is unfair, that the "Health Forest Initiative" is a wish list of timber company demands, ect. His talk of "saving" social security by proposing a plan that can only lead to its elimination is just the lastest use of this technique. The guy is a master politician, lying to everyone about everything but never alarming his base, who have been reassured behind closed doors that everything is under control.

Posted by: PHG | Jan 21, 2005 12:35:54 PM

Bush is more-or-less the reverse, a faux liberal.

And Clinton was a faux conservative.

Everyone talks in a more or less centrist manner. Big deal.

Posted by: Al | Jan 21, 2005 12:36:48 PM

"Everyone talks in a more or less centrist manner. Big deal."

Of course most people talk in a more or less centrist manner. The point is that if the center had really shifted as far to the right as some people seem to think, Bush's rhetoric would reflect that as well.

Posted by: MattT | Jan 21, 2005 12:49:08 PM

Great points!

Posted by: Deborah White | Jan 21, 2005 12:49:08 PM

"Everyone talks in a more or less centrist manner. Big deal."

Of course most people talk in a more or less centrist manner. The point is that if the center had really shifted as far to the right as some people seem to think, Bush's rhetoric would reflect that as well.

Posted by: MattT | Jan 21, 2005 12:49:48 PM

Al,
I think the point was that Reagan did not talk in a more or less centrist manner.

Posted by: theCoach | Jan 21, 2005 12:50:03 PM

"Bill Clinton succeeded in rehabilitating liberalism, even if he left office with the Democratic Party 100 percent out of power."

Forgive me, but no, no, a thousand times no.

Clinton in the first two years attempted to repackage the Dems. strategically but largely failed. Remember, the economic package was largely an Eisenhower-conservative package, not a "liberal" response. Health care, his attempt to repackage the Dem. party on strategic terms, failed.

Clinton in his last six years was, quite rightly, not interested in strengthening liberalism in strategic terms, but defeating conservativism on tactical terms for his own benefit (the first two years for his re-election, the last term taken up largely by impeachment).

When he left, there was nothing left to defend. No strength in the executive or legislative branch and no feeling what the party was about, exactly (which is why so many Dems voted for tax cuts, etc...).

If you disagree, what was the lasting liberal legacy of the Clinton era? Electability? No fool who has looked at election returns since 2002 can argue that. What was the legacy, then?

Posted by: Chris Rasmussen | Jan 21, 2005 12:51:29 PM

What was the legacy, then?

Politicians now have to appear on TV and play the sax or some other stupid human trick.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Jan 21, 2005 12:54:55 PM

However, the Clinton legacy could have been a diminishing national debt. Oh well. I think I'm all finished Kubler-Rossing on this one. I accept that any hope of getting the deficit under control is dead for the forseeable future.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Jan 21, 2005 12:58:14 PM

I guess this is my point:

a legacy is something that cannot be taken away, save political difficulty.

FDR left us Social Security, the SEC, the FDIC, etc., etc...

Truman left us the policy of containment and, despite Dulles' objections, we largely retained that policy for fourty years.

LBJ left us Medicare and the Voting Rights Act.

What did Clinton leave us?

Posted by: Chris Rasmussen | Jan 21, 2005 1:11:49 PM

What did Clinton leave us?

DNA on a dress?

Posted by: Achillea | Jan 21, 2005 1:21:29 PM

Either Gore or Kerrey could have won if they had adopted the mantle Clinton's rehetoric and policy record. But instead they allowed themselves to protrayed as cariacatures of liberalism. Ironically, it's Bush who sounds more like Clinton. Karl Rove learned more from Clinton than Bob Shrum did, apparently.


Posted by: RC | Jan 21, 2005 1:21:36 PM

I agree that there is no Clinton legacy. But I think this is in part due to a conscious effort by Republicans that there wouldn't be one: i.e., anything good that came from the Clinton years had to be destroyed first and declared a failure before attempting to build it up again. It's basically a boot-camp approach to shaping American ideology.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Jan 21, 2005 1:22:58 PM

"The man talks about 'character' all the time, Maude, he wouldn't lie to our faces."

In an evenly divided electorate, you only need to fool 1% all the time.

Posted by: yesh | Jan 21, 2005 1:29:45 PM

"The man talks about 'character' all the time, Maude, he wouldn't lie to our faces."

In an evenly divided electorate, you only need to fool 1% all the time.

Posted by: yesh | Jan 21, 2005 1:29:46 PM

I only hit the 'post' button once, and my above comment got a double slot.

Posted by: yesh | Jan 21, 2005 1:32:31 PM

"What did Clinton leave us?"

Clinton actually left a lot of important precidents in his wake. Unfortunately, they mostly have to do with what sorts of crimes and misdeeds a President is allowed to get away with committing. Or did you think the public would go back to demanding exceptional morality of Presidents after he left office?

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Jan 21, 2005 2:17:22 PM

Well, that was only fair after the ridiculous witch-hunt against me, don't you think Brett?

Posted by: Richard Nixon | Jan 21, 2005 2:24:27 PM

Did people demand exceptional morality from the President back in my time?

I don't recall.

Posted by: Ronald Reagan | Jan 21, 2005 2:33:45 PM

Bill Clinton fostered and left a superbly working economy. I only wish we still had him in the White House.

Posted by: Jennifer | Jan 21, 2005 2:36:45 PM

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