Bush On the Ballot–Now More Than Ever

It’s probably safe to say no publication has more consistently promoted the idea that “George W. Bush is on the ballot” in 2012 than the Washington Monthly. And that goes beyond the usual issue of the Bush administration’s responsibility for the Great Recession. We’ve argued that the 2012 campaign closely resembles the 2000 precedent in the specific policies and agendas of the GOP nominees, and the likely trajectory of the country if Romney wins. That’s why we’ve published and promoted the e-book, Elephant in the Room: Washington in the Bush Years. We’ve been here before.

But as election day approaches, there’s a final parallel that’s worth underlining: Romney is emulating Bush’s mendacious claim to be a “uniter not a divider,” and far more moderate than his party. As Paul Glastris reminds readers in the Editor’s Note in the upcoming November/December issue of the magazine (a sneak preview is available here), W. relied a lot on misleading voters about his relationship with his party:

One early summer day in 2000 I was summoned to the Oval Office along with several other White House staffers to get instructions from President Bill Clinton on what he wanted to say in his upcoming speech at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, a speech I was assigned to cowrite. But the president was in political strategist mode that day, and in the midst of downloading his thoughts on the speech he launched into a long soliloquy about the dynamics of the presidential contest and the nature of the man Al Gore was up against, Texas Governor George W. Bush. “Let me tell you something,” he said at one point. “Bush is a lot more conservative than people realize.”

The Big Dog certainly got that right, and the scary but unmistakable thing is that the Republican Party which Mitt Romney is trying to distance himself from at the last minute (rhetorically, though not substantively in any major way) is if anything considerably more conservative than it was in 2000. And if there’s any actual split between Romney and his party, it will only produce incompetent and dystfunctional government, as it often did when W. tried to exhibit “compassion” in order to appeal to swing constituencies:

The ideological contradictions unleashed within the GOP during those years have only grown. We see it in the increasingly stormy and dysfunctional relationship between the corporate and Tea Party wings of the party, in the freak show that was the 2012 GOP primary, and in the bottomless, robotic mendacity of the Mitt Romney campaign.

Yep, we’ve heard it all before. And as someone who was on to Bush’s game in 2000, and thinks he won (or to put it more accurately, succeeded in being inaugurated) because Democrats let him become the candidate of “safe change,” the possibility that Romney will succeed in the exact same scam is maddening.

Every voter should think about ol’ W. when they go to vote this year, and ask themselves: “Do we want to go back down that road again?”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.