Why the Tea Party Should Despise George W. Bush

The Future of Freedom Foundation posted online today this article from the September issue of Freedom Daily – (also on Counterpunch)

Why the Tea Party Should Despise George W. Bush
by James Bovard

The Tea Party movement is challenging politicians and political establishments in many parts of this country. Many Tea Party supporters define themselves by their opposition to big government. However, according to an April CBS-New York Times poll, 57 percent of Tea Party supporters approve of George W. Bush.

It is not surprising that Obama’s abuses would cause some people to wish for his predecessor. However, prudent Americans will not forget George W. Bush’s damage to the Constitution, freedom, the economy, and the political system.

Political cosmetics pervaded many Bush policies. The No Child Left Behind Act was perhaps his biggest domestic fraud. The act was falsely sold as giving a wide ambit of authority to local school officials. In reality, it empowers the feds to effectively judge and punish local schools for not fulfilling arbitrary guidelines. Many states are “dumbing down” academic standards, using bureaucratic racketeering to avoid harsh federal sanctions. Though the No Child Left Behind Act promised to permit children to escape “persistently dangerous” schools, most states defined that term to claim that all their schools were safe. As long as people believed that Bush cared about children, it didn’t matter that his education policy was a charade.

Bush browbeat Congress into enacting the biggest expansion of the welfare state since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The White House blatantly deceived Congress about the cost of a new Medicare prescription drug entitlement, withholding key information that would have guaranteed the defeat of his giveaway. The administration launched a federally financed ad campaign showing a crowd cheering Bush as he signed the new law; federal auditors ruled that the ads were illegal propaganda.

Vote-buying was the prime motive of many Bush policies. Bush signed the most exorbitant farm bill in history in 2002, bilking taxpayers out of $180 billion to rain benefits on millionaire landowners and other deserving mendicants. Bush repeatedly bragged that his farm bill was “generous” — as if Washington politicians have carte blanche to redistribute Americans’ paychecks to any group they choose. Bush imposed high tariffs on steel imports, wantonly destroying thousands of American manufacturing jobs simply because he wanted to try to snare the endorsement of the United Steel Workers and to boost his reelection chances.

Some of Bush’s cherished reforms consisted of little more than finding new names for old boondoggles. He sharply boosted foreign aid and created a new program, the Millennium Challenge Account. He denounced traditional foreign aid for bank-rolling corruption. But his “bribes for honesty” program was a bust. The U.S. government continued giving handouts to some of the Third World’s most notorious politician-looters.

Compassionate conservatism

Bush’s compassionate conservatism schemes — such as the bloating AmeriCorps — were little more than velvet wrapping for the iron fist. Compassionate conservatism pretends the state does not raise its money by means of coercion and harsh threats against taxpayers. It presumes that since the government just happens to have so much cash in its coffers, why not do some good deeds with it? Handouts become symbols of generosity rather than acts of redistribution at gunpoint. Compassionate conservatism portrays government as a font of moral greatness, rather than a primary source of corruption, manipulation, and degradation.

Bush’s compassionate conservatism was little different than Bill Clinton’s perennial portrayals of government as an engine for uplift.Clinton and Bush both profited greatly from prattling about moral issues and making moral appeals, regardless of whether their own policies were responsible or honest. Unfortunately, bosh about virtue and compassion is often sufficient to persuade many voters that a politician is a good man.

Despite the pervasive “compassionate” pretensions, Bush’s drug policy relied on wrath and harsh punishment (except for special cases, such as his niece Noelle Bush and talk-show host Rush Limbaugh). John Walters, Bush’s drug czar, demonized drug users in federally funded TV ads, portraying people who buy drugs as terrorist financiers threatening America with complete destruction. Federal drug warriors arrested cancer patients who smoked marijuana to control their chemo-induced nausea, busted doctors who gave suffering patients more pain killers than the DEA approved, and carried out high-profile crackdowns on targets ranging from hemp food makers to comedian Tommy Chong (busted for bong trafficking).

Bush governed like an elective monarch, entitled to reverence and deference on all issues. Secret Service agents ensured that he rarely viewed opponents of his reign, carefully quarantining protesters in “free speech zones” far from public view.

Bush dropped an iron curtain around the federal government. His administration hollowed out the Freedom of Information Act, making it more difficult for citizens to find out about government actions and abuses. He invoked executive privilege to block a congressional investigation into the FBI’s role in mass murder in Boston and in framing innocent men for those murders. (Congressman Dan Burton was the point man in challenging Bush’s coverup of FBI abuses in the Whitey Bulger mafia case dating from 1965.) Federal courts acceded to Bush administration legal claims that authorized the feds to carry out mass secret arrests and suppress all information about the roundup (including the names of those detained, charges, and details on prison beatings).

Protecting America

After 9/11, Bush decided that privacy was a luxury Americans could no longer afford. His administration gave itself powers to sweep up people’s email with the FBI’s Carnivore system, unleash FBI agents to conduct surveillance almost anywhere, allow G-men to secretly search people’s homes, bankroll Pentagon research to create hundreds of millions of dossiers on Americans, expand the military’s role in domestic surveillance, and vacuum up personal data to create a federal “color code” for every air traveler. The Bush administration defined freedom down, pretending that protection from federal prying was no longer relevant to liberty.

Bush proudly declared in 2003, “No president has ever done more for human rights than I have.” In reality, he did more to formally subvert rights than any American president of the modern era. He claimed the right to label people as enemy combatants and thereby nullify all of their legal rights. Once detainees had no rights, there were no limits on how they could be abused — at least in the eyes of some Justice Department and Pentagon officials.

At times, Bush appeared determined to force Americans to pay almost any price so that he could be a world savior. He declared in December 2003, “I believe we have a responsibility to promote freedom [abroad] that is as solemn as the responsibility is to protecting [sic] the American people, because the two go hand in hand.” But the Constitution does not grant the president the prerogative to dispose of the lives of American soldiers any place in the world he longs to do a good deed.

Especially in foreign policy, Bush acted as if he had a mandate from God. He declared that at the time he launched the invasion of Iraq, “I was praying for strength to do the Lord’s will…. In my case, I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible.” Bush’s attitude brings to mind the old quip that “a fanatic is someone who does what God would do if God knew the facts of the matter.” Bush’s personal religious views may have fueled his intolerance and rejection of any evidence that did not support aggression.

The more arrogant and righteous Bush became about spreading democracy, the more the American republic became a parody of the vision of the Founding Fathers, who did not intend to permit presidents to “hock” American rights for foreign conquests.

The desirability of dictatorship

President Bush commented shortly before 9/11, “A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier; there’s no question about it.” He used the same phrase to tout dictatorships as paragons of efficiency a month before taking office. He always seemed oblivious to why dictatorships drag nations to ruin.

Bush declared in 2002, “I’m the commander — see, I don’t need to explain…. That’s the interesting thing about being president…. I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.” And his prerogative extended — at least in his own mind — to giving marching orders to hundreds of millions of Americans. In an October 29, 2003, speech, he declared, “A president must set great goals worthy of a great nation. We’re a great nation. Therefore, a president must set big goals.” But most Americans were not seeking someone to impose goals upon them.

More Americans recited the Pledge of Allegiance after Bush was elected — but fewer Americans seemed concerned about government’s trampling their rights. More Americans had U.S. flag decals on their autos — but fewer Americans supported the right of people to publicly oppose government policies. At least after 9/11, more Americans revered the president — but fewer Americans seemed to recall the Founding Fathers’ warnings about the corrupting nature of political power.

Perhaps Bush’s most important legacy is his embrace of torture. In a June 2010 speech in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he declared, “Yeah, we water-boarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I’d do it again to save lives.” There is no independent evidence that Bush-era torture saved any American lives.

The fact that a former president can stand up in public and admit that he ordered torture is a sea change for the American republic. (While he was president, Bush consistently denied that the U.S. government engaged in torture.) Torture is not a “bleeding heart” issue; instead, it is merely a question of whether a president will have absolute power. In reality, the Bush administration’s torture policies were simply the most vivid example of its belief that the president was entitled to do as he pleases. Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury declared in 2006, “Under the law of war, the president is always right.”

Bush and many of his supporters forgot that the Constitution was created by a generation of men who had fought a war against the most powerful government in the world. The Constitution was not made for sunny days and smooth sailing. Instead, it was crafted for hard times, with many provisions for dealing with deadly threats to the nation’s survival. For a president such as Bush to act as if he could no longer be bound by the Constitution is an insult to the Founding Fathers, who survived far harsher tests in their time than America did on and after 9/11.

If Tea Party activists are truly devoted to freedom, they must recognize the crimes and abuses of both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. A little history could do wonders to enlighten the partisanship.
James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy [2006] as well as The Bush Betrayal [2004], Lost Rights [1994] and Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil (Palgrave-Macmillan, September 2003) and serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation


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13 Responses to Why the Tea Party Should Despise George W. Bush

  1. Lawrence January 5, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    Great article, Jim. If you made one of those Venn diagrams of the Tea Party, you might start with one circle representing the Ron Paul movement before Ron allowed his centralized team of promoters to ruin his campaign with John-McCain-style advertisements. Then the T-Pers saw these horrible ads (which actually appeared to be pro-war), and after the election, they abandoned the rotting body of McCain and started their TP business, which RP mistakenly thought he had inspired (libertarians are always trying to see some impact and relevance, even when it’s thin enough to read a newspaper through). So you add a second Venn circle that has a tiny overlap with the RP movement. Sadly, as you pointed out, most of the members of the TP circle are Bush supporters who are still pro war. Those who are not pro war in this group are only that way because there was no distinguishable official victory for them to celebrate in between their hunts for illegal aliens and mass inhalation of Wonder Bread. I think that the only liberty-minded folk who came into the anarcho-movement were those relatively few who used RP as a gateway drug and advanced from that starting point. The late-comers (i.e., the Tea Party crowd) were more of a post-RP movement, and they have never lost the rule-rob-and-rampage bug. So within that RP circle, you might create a fly speck circle of anarcho libertarians. I don’t think I’ve yet met a pure TPer (without prior RP ivolvement) that has made his/her way to liberty. Very nice piece of writing, Jim.

  2. Neil Freuen January 5, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    As the Philosoher Robbie Blevins said,” The difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties is the spelling.”

  3. Tom Blanton January 6, 2011 at 12:28 am #

    The perfect day for this article to get put out – the day when a new group of crazies gets to run the House insane asylum.

    Already I can taste the bile as it rises during the local media coverage of Boy Wonder Eric Cantor’s rants on fiscal responsibility. Of course it is never mentioned that Cantor rallied the troops as the GOP Chief Deputy Whip to vote for the Bush Leviathan.

    Too bad it will take the tea partiers a decade to figure out how this little twerp screwed them while they gobbled up his tea party talking points like a gang of maggots on rotting roadkill. Cantor isn’t about to stop being a big government statist.

  4. Jim January 6, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    Lawrence, I guess the big question is how big of an overlap there is between those two Venn diagram circles.

    Maybe the RP element will expand…

  5. Jim January 6, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    Tom, I thought the first day of a new Congress was supposed to be the triumph of hope over experience.

  6. Dirk Sabin January 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Watching Congress read the U.S. Constitution is like watching the Bulgarian National Shot-put Team stage the Nutcracker Ballet. Or in a pinch, witnessing the Boarhawging of a wheelchair-bound octogenarian at Gate 17 by a TSA inspector wearing a turban.

  7. Brian Wilson January 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    JB STrikes Again!
    Will give you a call set up a timely on-air yap fest with you on this. Lots of starry-eyed TPers need a head thump like this.
    Of course, I won’t be able to get you any more of those lucretive speaking engagments here when we’re done….

  8. Jim January 6, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    Thanks, Brian! Being on your show trumps!

  9. Jim January 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    Dirk, if the TSA dudes start wearing turbans, can we still assume that they are Sentinels of Freedom?

  10. Tory II January 6, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    George (the butcher) Bush

  11. Tom Blanton January 7, 2011 at 12:18 am #

    Jim, I still have high hopes, but if I said what I’m hoping for, it might trigger investigations.

    I hope Dirk didn’t watch the entire reading of the constitution – I could have told him how it turns out.

    I’m wondering if the GOP, after symbolically repealing Obamacare, will symbolically repeal some other laws they claim are unconstitutional. They could even symbolically slash the budget in half. Somebody should bring a case of LSD sugar cubes to the next tea party and put 3 in every cup. They might enjoy the symbolic hallucinations as much as those occurring in the House.

  12. Jim January 7, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    Tom, if I’d heard incisive comments like yours on NPR this morning, it might have restored my faith in public broadcasting.

    I guess I won’t be hearing any such comments since I don’t listen to NPR.


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