Bruce Bartlett writes:
The Daily Dish: Over at the Washington Monthly blog, Kevin Drum discusses my previous post about not believing what Bush said in 2000. In a comment, Al Gore's college roommate Bob Somerby asks what I said about George W. Bush contemporaneously. This is a reasonable question, so I went back and looked at every column I wrote in 2000.
I see that I very seldom mentioned the campaign one way or another. The vast bulk of my writings dealt with current policy issues--the Federal Reserve, estate taxes, the state of the economy and so on. I wrote a couple of columns critical of Gore, but I could only find one largely devoted to Bush. I see in that column I was hopeful that the high quality of Bush's advisers indicated good judgment on his part. I knew most of his economic advisers personally and had a high opinion of all of them. On foreign policy, I mentioned Colin Powell's likely appointment as secretary of state as indicating a steady, moderate approach by Bush in this area.
I found a column I wrote for the Los Angeles Times on September 20 about Bush's tax plan that was decidedly lukewarm. I held out hope that once in office he would take the opportunity to fine-tune his campaign tax plan, about which I was unenthusiastic.
What comes across to me in rereading what I wrote is that Bush was simply the lesser of two evils. He might not have been very good, but at the time I thought he was better than Gore. I still don't think Gore would have been a good president. But I sure wish the Republicans had nominated someone else.
The question left hanging is why an economic policy team that looked very good at the time to Bruce (and that looked good at the time to me) turned out to do so badly--and why the foreign-policy team turned out to do much, much worse.
There's more from Bruce:
The Daily Dish: [I]t was pretty clear [in 2000] that Bush was no Reaganite, small-government kind of guy. He gave plenty of speeches on the need to expand government for all kinds of things. My friend Ed Crane of the Cato Institute is always reminding me that he wrote an article in the New York Times back in 1999 that fingered Bush's big government proclivities pretty accurately. It was also pretty clear that he was a foreign policy neocon. In short, it was all there for those who knew what to look for.
My own excuse for not predicting the disaster that Bush's presidency has been is that I simply didn't believe a word he said during the 2000 campaign. I assumed that every word out of his mouth had been put there by Karl Rove and it was all based on polling and focus groups. I knew that Bush is a bit of a dim bulb, so it never occurred to me that he actually had any ideas of his own. I just assumed that he would be a rerun of his father. I was never a big fan of George H.W., even though I worked for him at the Treasury Department, but looking back I can appreciate that he had his virtues. Bush 41 was at least a serious, responsible person--exactly the opposite of his oldest son.
My point is that it is very easy to get cynical about politics and think it is all a game. That was the mistake I made in 2000, along with lots of other people. If we don't want to make the same mistake again, all of us who comment on politics need to pay closer attention to what these guys are saying and make some allowance for the possibility that they actually believe it.
Remember that Reagan was no small-government Reaganite either: he shied at the jump when Stockman presented him with serious domestic spending cut options, and I've never figured out why anybody in the early 1980s thought we needed to spend so much more money on the navy.