Saturday, January 3, 2009

An Open Letter to President George W. Bush

Dear Mr. President:

Shortly before Christmas, sixteen years ago, I wrote your father to thank him for his service to our nation as President. I thanked him for his leadership and, to this day, believe our country is better off because of it.

It is with a heavy heart that I cannot do the same today. While I realize that your administration was dealt a difficult hand (9-11, financial crisis, etc.), I am forced to conclude, as a majority of Americans have, that your administration has failed this nation and your leadership has been detrimental to it.

In my opinion, Mr. President, this is a direct result of being conservative in rhetoric only, rather than in policy. Yours has been the most left-leaning administration in decades, and certainly more leftist than your three predecessors. Other than tax cuts, which I do thank you for, your administration has not pursued any conservative policies. You have presided over the largest increases in domestic, non-defence, discretionary spending since LBJ’s great society. You had been in office for six years before you finally vetoed a spending bill. Your administration created a brand new healthcare entitlement (the Medicare prescription drug benefit). Industrial subsidies for agriculture, wool, sugar, and ethanol have increased on your watch. Both your father and President Reagan were committed to free trade with other nations. Although you have negotiated free trade agreements with our Latin American neighbours, you have also placed (at least temporarily) protective tariffs on European steel and engaged in trade disputes over the purchase of lumber from Canada. This free spending domestic policy has saddled us with debt, undoing the 104th Congress’ work in balancing the federal budget, and is a record Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton could have been proud of.

While President Reagan wanted to abolish the federal department of education, you expanded the role of federal government in education with the No Child Left Behind Act, which makes the federal department of education the watchdog of schools in every state. What policy could be more antithetical to the Reagan-Goldwater view of devolving power out of Washington? I am shocked that, as a former governor, your administration would make a mockery of state sovereignty. In addition to No Child Left Behind, your administration, under Attorney General Ashcroft, attempted to use the Controlled Substances Act to prosecute doctors in Oregon that assisted in suicide. While I am not an advocate of assisted suicide, I would defend to my last breath the right of the state of Oregon to decide what is acceptable medical practice in Oregon. Similarly, your administration has disrespected laws allowing medical use of marijuana in several states. Wading into the Terry Schiavo case was truly shameful. Clearly such end of life decisions belong to families and state laws should govern who is an appropriate decision maker. The federal government clearly has no role in such cases. Fortunately you chose not to pursue it in your second term, but your proposal for a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage is also a frontal assault on state sovereignty and states rights.

The intrusiveness of federal government under your administration does not stop with the trampling of states rights. Rights of individuals have also been threatened by illegal detentions, aggressive interrogation tactics, and illicit eavesdropping. I appreciate that stronger measures may be necessary in the post 9-11 world, and I am consoled by the fact that provisions of the USA PATRIOT act are subject periodic review and renewal by Congress. However, it is worth remembering that when similar anti-terrorism measures were proposed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing by President Clinton, it was Republicans that defeated those measures with concerns that they threatened civil liberties. I miss the days when Republicans concerned themselves with keeping the federal government off the back of the people… Your administration’s expansive view of executive authority is frightening. In a recent appearance on Fox News Sunday, Vice President Cheney argued that the War Powers Act was unconstitutional, not because it strips Congress of its constitutionally defined role to declare war, but because it allows Congress to interfere (after 90 days) with the President’s execution of his role as Commander-in-Chief! I can understand, in the 21st century, why a War Powers Act is necessary to allow a President to act in a time-sensitive manner while Congress convenes, debates, and votes. But, make no mistake sir, under our Constitution it is Congress alone that has the authority to decide when and if the United States goes to war.

Your foreign policy has been no less leftist. In your second inaugural address, you set as a goal of U.S. foreign policy, the elimination of tyranny in our world. This is certainly a noble ideal, but not a suitable guiding principle for the foreign policy of any nation. Foreign policy must always be based on national interest. Aiding freedom fighters to prevent communist hegemony may have met that goal, but toppling all dictators in every corner of the globe does not. Your policies resemble the nation-building zeal of the Clinton administration (Haiti, Bosnia, Somalia), the, “make the world safe for democracy,” philosophy of President Wilson, and the human rights agenda of President Carter more than the, “humble foreign policy,” that you promised in your 2000 presidential campaign. I would agree that things have changed because of 9-11, but we knew before invading that Iraq had no role in 9-11. We also knew Saddam was not anywhere near the largest state sponsor of terrorism (Iran has been a much bigger sponsor of terrorists), his military had been cut down in size by Desert Storm, his country was under tough economic sanctions, a third of his country was under a no-fly zone, and Iraq had not threatened another country outside its own borders in over a decade. Even assuming the accuracy of intelligence reports of WMD (which I did at the time), it is clear from these facts that there was no justification for invading Iraq. Possession of WMD is not enough. That would be justification for invading dozens of countries (including the U.S.). Only intelligence of an imminent attack with those weapons could justify pre-emptive military action. As a Christian, I cannot believe you asked, “What would Jesus do?” and concluded that He would invade Iraq. The consequences have been staggering. Not only have lives, American and Iraqi, been needlessly lost, but this unnecessary, unjustifiable war has cost billions of dollars, alienated our allies and strengthened the hand of Iran, a country that actually does sponsor terrorists and has an active nuclear program. In this, too, your administration’s policies have been contrary to the principles of previous Republican administrations. Your father explained why military occupation of Iraq was a bad idea:

Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in, “mission creep,” and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs…. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would have instantly collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, there was no viable, “exit strategy,” we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus exceeding the United Nations mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different - and perhaps barren – outcome.

George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft
A World Transformed, p.489 (1998)

Finally, I would like to say a few words about the financial crisis. The most basic conservative principle is the limitation of government’s influence in the market place. Conservatives believe that this not only encourages economic growth, but also establishes an important economic component of individual liberty. We all know that the financial crisis, while global, began with the collapse of a real estate bubble in the United States. What is often not discussed is that the real estate bubble was created by the type of government intervention in the market places that all conservatives should eschew. As you know, the Community Reinvestment Act indirectly encourages subprime lending by mandating home loans to low-income families. A revision of the act on your watch in 2005 made it easier for lenders to participate in the program by allowing smaller banks to participate solely as lenders, with less oversight. In addition, in 2004, your administration increased the affordable housing goals of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and allowed them to include securitized subprime loans toward their affordable housing goals. The goal was to increase home ownership and in your 2004 State of the Union address, you boasted about the success of these policies, noting that new home construction was the highest in twenty years and home ownership was at an all-time high in the U.S. But, these policies ignore the fundamental conservative principle that government intervention in the market place has unintended consequences. Add to these policies a Federal Reserve that kept interest rates artificially low and you have an artificial market that encourages exuberant lending. Furthermore, the Feds policies devalued the dollar, which raised the price of fuel and food, and made it more difficult for those with subprime mortgages to make their payments. Your administration’s manipulation of the marketplace for a public policy goal of affordable housing helped create this financial crisis. Such policies are anathema to conservatives who believe in free market principles. Your administration’s response to the crisis has been even more shocking. Bailouts of industries, government ownership of financial institutions, and a, “car czar,” to direct business decisions of the automakers that take government money. In short, the response to a crisis created by ignoring free market principles and has been socialism – government purchase and ownership of private industry. These policies can in no way be seen as anything other than leftist.

In summary, the policies of your administration have abandoned almost every conservative principle: free trade and laissez-faire economic policies, strict interpretation of and adherence to the Constitution, limited government intrusiveness and the protection of individual liberty and states’ rights, fiscal discipline, and non-interventionist foreign policy. Your administration has systematically undone and reversed the policies of previous Republican Presidents and Congresses. The result has been an unpopular war, disaffected conservative voters, the decimation our political party and policies that lay the groundwork for President-elect Obama to establish a new American socialism. This is not what we conservatives thought we were voting for in 2000.

Mr. President, it is not my goal to be disrespectful. I understand that you had to make difficult decisions in real time, and it is easy for me, or anyone else, to play, “Monday morning quarterback.” However, I felt compelled to explain to you why so many of us conservatives feel let down by your administration. On January 20, 2001, I stood in the cold, pouring rain, on the Mall in front of the Capitol while you took the oath of office. I was excited about your election and hopeful and optimistic about where you would lead this country. As I have watched your administration do nothing but expand the scope of federal government for eight years, I feel betrayed. I think you need to understand that a number of conservatives feel this way and I hope you will reflect on what I have said.

Let me close, Mr. President, by wishing you, Laura, the twins, your folks, and all of your family a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year. Regardless of our differences, I wish you the best and hope you enjoy some much deserved time off.

1 comment:

David A. said...

Congratulations, Jim, on an excellent summary of President Bush's time in office. I agree with nearly everything in this letter and I learned a lot too. It is depressing to think that these errors resulting from a lack of principle and a lack of deep thinking will be wholly embraced on principle by the next administration.