Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bush's legacy

Currently, longtime Bush loyalists Karen Hughes and Karl Rove are heading up the Bush Legacy Project, doing their best to put a good face on a presidency that is being defined by catastrophes that occurred on his negligent watch. Bush has said in the past he doesn't really care what people think of how he did, because the final view of a president happens so far in the future that he and all his critics will be dead by then. That is a bad lie from a bad liar. It takes more cunning than Bush has to be a good liar. If lying only took practice to be skilled at it, Bush would be Paganini, but it takes some innate talent as well, and he was born with very little of it.

No one wants to live as a pariah for decades, and that is the life that George W. Bush now faces.

So much of the Bush legacy is him getting what he wanted, from Congresses run sometimes by the Republicans and sometimes by the Democrats, and what he wanted not working out very well. He started two wars we could not lose militarily. The Taliban scattered when our soldiers hit the ground in Afghanistan. The Iraqi army put up a fight for six weeks tops before it was no more. And yet, our military is still stuck in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the only hope that we will be able to leave, with or without meeting political objectives, is that a president has been elected who repudiates Bush on nearly every policy.

So much of Bush's legacy will be his disastrous successes, from the Patriot Act to No Child Left Behind to both wars to secret prisons and warrantless wiretapping and torture. Another large part of his legacy will be his disastrous inattentiveness, including the response to Katrina, his allowing Israel to so inflame Palestinian resentment that they elected Hamas and his Pollyanna-like faith that the economy was going so well, there was no need to re-regulate a financial system that continues to crumble before our eyes.

But let me add something people are likely to forget, his great defeat. After narrowly winning re-election in 2004, doing so with approval ratings well under 50%, the first sitting president to achieve that feat, Bush decided he had "political capital, and I'm going to spend it."

His great hope was Social Security reform. To be specific, he wanted to privatize Social Security.

He tried and tried. He gave speeches for months. A focus group late in the game found out that people didn't like the term "private accounts", but preferred "personal accounts", and an Orwellian attempt to use the new phrase came out of the Republican fog machine.

The thing is, for all the work and all the debate on TV and all the focus groups, this was the turd that refused to be polished.

You know how I love the numbers. Here is a number I recall very well. Back when his popularity was over 40%, the popularity of this idea was 25%. I figured that number was probably a good approximation of his core support. Now that his personal popularity is in the twenties with little chance of improving, let me celebrate slightly early with six weeks left in his horrible eight year rule and say I got that number right.

Thomas Merton, that oddest of odd ducks, a famous 20th Century monk, was asked the obvious question asked of the faithful in this horrible modern age. Where is God's mercy? How was it shown during the slaughter of the Holocaust? Merton's reply was that the Holocaust ended. Likewise, the Bush administration now ends, and the legacy polishers cannot change the public's perception for the foreseeable future. But let us recall another of God's mercies in our nation's terrible time, that one of Bush's worst ideas never saw the light of day.


CDP said...

Excellent post, and even better with Thomas Merton.

no_slappz said...

As people with a knowledge of financial markets understand, the privatization of Social Security would have vastly expanded the market for US Treasury Securities -- the safest securities of all.

If Americans were able to shift their Social Security accruals into Treasury Securities, we would have a lot less to worry about with respect to many financial and economic issues. Like China unloading its huge store of Treasury Securities.

ken said...

Errr, you mean the very same securities that the Social Security Trust Fund is invested in? Yeah, that would be much better.

FranIAm said...

What CDP said, exactly what CDP said!

no_slappz said...


Social Security funds are not invested in anything. All you have beside your name is an entry that informs you what your payment will be at retirement time.

Money sent to the government does not sit in a vault or earn interest like a savings account. Every dollar sent to the government is already spent, with a big chunk of it going right out the door to current Social Security recipients. Some goes for Medicare, Medicaid, social services, military and everything else in the federal budget.

But none of it sticks around. On the other hand, if you think managing the "float" is an investment in Treasury Securities, you are mistaken.

Ed said...

I would argue that, despite his low approval ratings, Bush has been an extremely successful president. At least, successful in achieving his goals. Two long, drawn out wars = huge profits for defense contractors = success for Bush. No Child Left Behind = huge profits for Bush family friends, the McGraws (of McGraw Hill fame) = success for Bush. Raped constitution = success for Bush. The current Democratic majority in congress did nothing to oppose anything Bush has wanted. The only thing he failed at during his term was privatizing Social Security. In all other areas he has succeeded in achieving his goals which were no less than eliminating constitutional freedoms and diverting tax dollars to his rich pals. One of the most successful presidents ever, if you look at it from that point of view. I still hate the bastard, but he has achieved a great deal (a great deal of evil) during his stint as "president". It will take years, if not decades, to undo the evil he has perpetrated, assuming it is ever undone.

Matty Boy said...

I agree to an extent, Ed. Bush got a lot of stuff done, which isn't so surprising given that we had one party rule for a large chunk of his administration, and a spineless Democratic majority under Pelosi and Reid. The Democratic collapse on the FISA bill, which sadly included Obama's vote earlier this year is just one sad example of Bush getting what he wanted when he had no bullets in his gun.

Besides his failure in privatizing Social Security, his attempts to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians will be counted against him as a failure as well.

no_slappz said...


If it were a president's objective to acquire wealth for himself and/or his pals through his ability to influence economic matters, fighting wars would never arise as a strategy. A list of dumbest ideas for making money is headed by "fighting wars."

A president out to make money from his office would back stem-cell research and let his buddies know which stockholder-owned companies are getting funding. A president with money on the brain would have no trouble enriching his buddies to levels that would draw Warren Buffett's envy and admiration.

No Child Left Behind is in another category. As someone with experience in the NY City public school system, I can tell you NCLB has been a boon for teachers, education consultants, administrators, bureaucrats and others, like tutors. In terms of dollars spent on NCLB initiatives, I'd say McGraw Hill got a small slice.

Things have not been going so well at McGraw over the last year. The stock is down 50%. Revenue and profits are both trending down compared with the preceding three years. But even during 2005, 2006 and 2007, things were unspectacular.

McGraw saw revenue rise from $6 billion in 2005 to $6.7 billion in 2007. Up 11%. Not bad. But not eye-catching either. Profits went from $850 million to $1 billion.

Thus, the net profit margin remained steady at about 14.5%. By the way, that's a much higher margin than Exxon and the other oil companies tallied over the same period. The oil companies generated net profits of 10%.

It looks like McGraw will see 2008 profits that look more like the profits of 2005, if they are lucky. Things could go way south in the fourth quarter.

McGraw owns Standard & Poor's, the financial rating agency, which is under fire these days. It also owns a lot of trade magazines that are losing subscribers every day.

Bottom line, a lot more people are going to lose their jobs, and the cause can be traced back to legislation that was driven by Democrats who wanted lenders to drop their standards for evaluating the creditworthiness of borrowers.

Today, GM, Ford and Chrysler are sweating it out. More than anything, they need lax lending rules that permit people with weak credit histories to buy cars.

As the CEOs of the Big Three have threatened, and as Ron Gettelfinger of the UAW has reiterated, if America refuses to give Detroit the money it is demanding, then the car companies will take the US economy down.

That's quite a threat. The Detroit car families want billions from taxpayers to build more cars than buyers seek, and the car companies also want buyers with lousy credit to get more credit.

The UAW worked hard for Obama. The members expect something for their votes. Obama has already talked about a Car Czar. Central Planning, anyone?

Maybe we'll soon see our tax bills inflated by the Auto Workers Tax.

Distributorcap said...

isnt it amazing how idiotic slappz is

Matty Boy said...

I don't think he's an idiot. He is doctrinaire and projects a doctrinaire mentality on anyone who disagrees with him. He is proud of being in the financial sector at a time when it's more respectable to be a whore with leprosy.

He gets a lot of stuff wrong, but of course, it's never his fault and he makes no attempt to modify his views as far as I can tell.

As much as possible, I would like my commenters not to feed the troll. He comes to my blog because I get more readers in a week than he gets in a year. He's starved for attention, and I wouldn't mind if he dies of starvation.

no_slappz said...

matty boy, you wrote:

"He gets a lot of stuff wrong..."

Like what? Since you are so sure, I'm betting you have a handy example.

Frankly, I think it's more a matter of me stating something with which you deeply disagree. Mathematics is one thing, but politics, economics, finance and any other activity that requires estimations and expectations is something else.