December 10, 2003

Avoiding Nixonian Taint

Bruce Bartlett writes:

Veteran Associated Press reporter Tom Raum wrote that Bush is "retracing the steps of Richard Nixon three decades ago" on Nov. 29. On Dec. 2, Wall Street Journal columnist Alan Murray said, "Presidents Nixon and Bush may turn out to be bookends to the conservative era, with their big-government drift." The former took office at the end of a liberal era when voters were not yet ready for conservative policies, while the latter took office at the end of a conservative era when they have grown tired of efforts to limit government expansion, Murray wrote.

Lastly, Newsweek reported in its Dec. 8 issue that it was now "conventional wisdom" that Bush is following the Nixon model: "Medicare bill passes, economy surges. Thanksgiving stunt a PR coup. Like Nixon in '72?"

This is very dangerous for President Bush. Nixon is one of the few presidents in history reviled almost equally by left and right. The former will never forgive him for Watergate and bringing down Alger Hiss. The latter remains disgusted by Nixon's wage and price controls, his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies, and his overtures to the Soviet Union and Red China.

There is still time for the Bush administration to demonstrate that it's concessions to higher spending were the tactical one step back by proving that there are two steps forward. Competition and accountability measures have to be more than just words in the legislative debate to get right wing votes in the Congress. They have to have real teeth and be rigorously applied. President Bush needs to go back to the Congress again and again to strengthen these measures where the first implementation was not strong enough. In this, things are no different than with his tax policy. Multiple tax cuts were enacted because an intervening election made the impossible, possible. 2005 will be a critical legacy year. If President Bush gets reelected and has a friendlier Congress to partner with, conservatives have the right to expect that the first timid steps made today on creating both choice and accountability will be revisited and improved. Anything less would be nixonian at its worst.

This does imply an obligation on President Bush's critics who sling the nixonian label around. The current vote balance in the Congress provides an all too plausible excuse for current action. It's not time yet to sit things out in the fight for more Republicans in Washington.

Posted by TMLutas at December 10, 2003 12:07 PM