Tag Archives: H.W. Bush

A Vicious Cycle?

Among the various articles I’ve been reading in the wake of the death of former President George H.W. Bush wasVox “explainer” that was provocative, to say the least.

The basic thrust of the article was that when H.W. broke his famous pledge (the oft-quoted one-liner at the 1988 Republican National Convention, “Read my lips. No new taxes.”), he turbocharged the GOP’s radical move to the fiscal right. That breach of promise quickly became the conventional explanation for his loss to Clinton, and explains (according to Vox) why virtually all GOP candidates for office subsequently abandoned pledges of prudence and fiscal sanity in favor of hysterical avoidance of anything resembling taxation.

Bush was a traditional “country club” Republican, whose relatively moderate economic and social beliefs contrasted with more right-wing conservatives who had supported Reagan. When Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, Reaganites abandoned a moderate, bipartisan approach to politics, and the Republican Party has moved further to the right ever since.

I tend to be dubious of simple explanations for complex phenomenons, including election losses, but I’m willing to believe that H.W.’s principled decision to raise taxes when the situation required such a move– even though he had pledged not to do so– contributed significantly to his loss. I’m also willing to believe that later Republican candidates for office–already philosophically opposed to taxes (at least  taxes levied on their base)–then focused on that single element of Bush’s losing campaign, and cited it to justify the party’s increasingly strident opposition to raising taxes.

Any taxes, for any reasons.

It became a Republican article of faith that failure to be rigidly anti-tax would lead to failure at the ballot box.

The question for 2020 is whether that trope has lost its power.

The one and only undeniable service Donald Trump has rendered to the United States is the massive increase in civic and political participation triggered by his election. People who had previously not paid much attention to the country’s legal and economic structure (people who–in Jon Stewart’s memorable description–“have other shit to do”) were understandably horrified. Those people have become politically relevant in ways they haven’t been for a very long time, and a significant number of them want a government that does more than “get out of the way” of well-connected fat cats and special interests.

They want a government that solves the problems that only government can solve, and (unless I am missing something) they seem to understand that a properly operating and competent government requires resources. That recognition has shifted the political debate from “No new taxes” to the far more reasonable “who should be taxed, for what, and why?”

The current iteration of the GOP, which has more in common with a cult than a traditional political party, faces massive crises. Demography will ultimately be destiny, despite the party’s undeniable skill in gerrymandering and vote suppression. Increased turnout by young people not in thrall to a “small government” mythology is a bad omen. The party’s base of White Christian (mostly) males is dwindling, and legions of moderate business Republicans–already repelled by the party’s culture war bigotries– know snake-oil when they see it, and are abandoning the Grand Old Party in droves.

“No new taxes”  won’t cut it anymore, if it ever did. That downward spiral has hit bottom.



After H.W., Bush League

George H.W. Bush died Friday, and watching the various valedictories and retrospectives of his life and Presidency has provided a jarring contrast between our 41st President and the embarrassing, ignorant buffoon who currently sits in the Oval Office.

H.W. was the last President to have served in the armed forces; he was a decorated Navy pilot, shot down in the Pacific in 1944. (I can just hear Trump proclaiming that he prefers people who weren’t shot down…)

Evidently, H.W. didn’t have bone spurs…

Our 41st President was a skilled bureaucrat and diplomat, credited with (as the NYTimes put it) “a nuanced handling of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe.”

I seriously doubt Trump could either spell or define “nuance,” and “skill” is a term that I’ve not ever seen applied to him (or for that matter, to anyone in his cabinet).

H.W. was far from a perfect President, but he was elected at a time when most Americans still valued relevant experience and admired, rather than disdained, knowledge and intellectual capacity. I met him once, during his Presidency, when he came to Indianapolis and met with then-Mayor Bill Hudnut and a small group of his advisors in the Mayor’s conference room.  Bush had no advance notice of the issues we would raise in our discussion, or the questions we would pose, but he fielded all of them with informed, thoughtful (and grammatical! and coherent!) answers. He was impressive–another word unlikely ever to be attached to Trump.

By far the greatest contrast, however– the greatest distance between the two–involves that ineffable quality we call “class.” H.W. was classy; Obama was classy. (Clinton was charismatic, and as often noted, George W. seemed like a guy some people –not I– would like to have a beer with, but neither displayed much class.)

Perhaps the best example of H.W.’s classiness and grace–and the most telling contrast between him and the petulant brat who currently holds office–was the letter he left for Bill Clinton, who had just defeated him, depriving him of a second term in a hard-fought political campaign.

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck—


The word “class” has fallen into disrepute, mostly because it has come to be connected only to class conflict, class warfare, and classism, but we would be well-advised to remember its other meaning, as a term denoting grace, maturity and human decency.

As I watched the various news shows discussing 41’s life and his Presidency, it was impossible to escape the contrast being drawn (in several cases, deliberately) between the good man we’d just lost and the pathetic, narcissistic wannabe who is defecating daily on our nation’s ideals.

Trump is bush league–but not remotely in H.W. Bush’s league.