February 4, 2010
How to Blame Bush: Lie
Has this happened to you? You start reading an article written by a Democrat, wondering if it is just possible that he has a legitimate point. But one or two paragraphs in, you find yourself so deep in outrageously false premises that you wonder if you share the same planet. How do they manage to pack so many falsehoods into so few words?
Case in point: James Carville. He wrote recently in the Financial Times.
Democrats would not be playing the blame game with one another for the [Massachusetts] loss or for the healthcare [sic] debacle if they had only pointed fingers at those (or in this case, the one) who put Americans (and most of the world) in the predicament we're in: George W. Bush.
OK so far. James is a political consultant, and Blame Bush is a political strategy. Who am I to second-guess Mr. Carville on a matter in which he is expert? He helped Bill Clinton win the presidency twice. And he helped Ehud Barak win in Israel. Can't say I like his picks, but his picks did win.
But James did not stop there. He went from advice mode to I-live-on-a-different-planet mode in one paragraph.
It is under his disastrous tenure in the White House that health insurance premiums nearly doubled for the average American family and the number of uninsured skyrocketed. It was under Mr Bush that the deficit spiralled out of control as we fought an unnecessary and endless $3,000bn war in Iraq and enacted the largest unfunded entitlement programme in history with the Medicare prescription drug benefit. It was Mr Bush's economic team that worshipped at the Church of Deregulation and was asleep at the wheel as banks and insurance companies became too big to fail.
Wow. Here is my tabulation of his claims regarding the Bush presidency.
- Private health insurance costs doubled, growing way too fast.
- The number of uninsured skyrocketed.
- Federal deficits spiraled out of control.
- The Iraq war was unnecessary.
- The Iraq war is endless.
- The Iraq war cost $3 trillion -- way too much.
- The Medicare prescription program was the largest unfunded entitlement in history.
- Bush deregulated like crazy.
- Bush was "asleep at the wheel" regarding financial system oversight.
By my count, that is nine falsifiable claims in three sentences. Time for some fact-checking.
Private health care spending grew an average of 6.3% per year from 2001 through 2008. That is an eight-year increase of 63%, not a doubling. More importantly, private health spending grew faster before Bush. In the last three years under Clinton, 1997-2000, it grew 7.9%, 7.1%, and 6.7%, respectively. In the 1980s, it grew 11.3% per year. In the '70s, 12.1%. (HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. See NHE tables, Table 1.) In short, growth in private health care spending did not "double" under Bush, and in fact, it was lower under him than previously.
How about those uninsured? We have the numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Do you see any "skyrocketing" in this graph? It looks to me like the number of uninsured has been about 15% of the population for the last twenty years. Inasmuch as the absolute numbers grew, it was because population grew. No skyrocketing at all -- just a flat percentage of the population both pre-Bush and post-Bush.
Did deficits spiral out of control? Here are the surpluses/deficits during the Bush presidency, as percentages of GDP (U.S. Statistical Abstract, Table 457):
- 2001: +1.3%
- 2002: -1.5%
- 2003: -3.5%
- 2004: -3.6%
- 2005: -2.6%
- 2006: -1.9%
- 2007: -1.2%
- 2008: -3.2%.
Do you see a spiral there? In fact, deficits declined from 2004 through 2007, the years most aligned with budgets passed by Republican Congresses. The average over all eight years was 2.0% of GDP. That is below the previous four-decade (1961-2000) average of 2.2% of GDP. (For comparison, the 2009 deficit was 9.9% of GDP.)
Was the Iraq war unnecessary? I cannot justify a war in a sentence or two. See my 2008 article, "Who Lied About Iraq?" In that article, I conclude, "The invasion of Iraq was arguably the most justified case of military action the US has ever taken in its history, based on national defense, validated intelligence and legal authority, not to mention morality."
As for the Iraq war being "endless," tell that to President Obama. Unlike Germany, Japan, Korea, and Kosovo, to name a few previous U.S. war zones, the Iraq war zone will be free of U.S. combat troops this year, and of all U.S. troops in 2011. The Marines are already out. Seven years is not "endless."
Did the war cost too much? And specifically, did it cost $3 trillion? Defense spending under George W. Bush as a fraction of GDP was lower than any year between 1941 and 1994. Bush's peak year was near Jimmy Carter's lowest year. Bush took defense spending from a historically low 3% of GDP in 2000 to a still historically low 4%.
The Iraq war's cost in absolute dollars is difficult to estimate; the government does not report war spending separately from all other defense spending. But all spending on national defense from 2003 through 2008 was $3.0 trillion (U.S. Statistical Abstract, Table 461). Even a generous accounting would attribute only about 25% of that spending to Iraq (that's 1% of GDP increase). Let's call it $0.75 trillion through 2008. Pad that already-padded number to take us through 2011, and you might get into the neighborhood of $1 trillion.
Deborah White, a self-described "journalist and writer specializing in liberal politics, and progressive issues," tried a bottom-up estimate for Iraq war costs and came up with $0.8 trillion "spent and approved" through mid-2009, or below my generous estimate of $1 trillion. In short, $3 trillion is not only made up; it is far-fetched.
Was George Bush the pope of the Church of Deregulation? Sarbanes-Oxley, about the most intrusive pile of corporate regulations since the New Deal, was signed into law by President Bush in 2002. It was enacted largely in response to the Enron affair, which occurred during Bill Clinton's presidency.
By the numbers, whether federal spending on banking regulation or pages in the federal register, President Bush added to the regulatory powers of the federal government. If you can find what was deregulated by him, specifically, please let me know.
Perhaps Mr. Carville mixed up Bush and Clinton. If he was thinking of the "repeal" of Glass Steagall, that happened in 1999 -- passed in the Senate by a vote of 90-8 and signed into law by President Clinton. Senators voting for that change included Chuck Schumer, John Kerry, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Dick Durbin, Tom Daschle, and Joe Biden.
As for being asleep at the wheel, let's see what the right-wing New York Times wrote in 2003, a good four to five years before the housing crisis and the Freddie and Fannie failure.
The Bush administration is rightly pushing for the Treasury Department to regulate the two giants, along with the network of federal home loan banks. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae provide financing to lenders by creating a secondary market for mortgages.
And who put a stop to that proposed regulation? Democrats like Barney Frank.
The only semi-truthful statement in James Carville's lie-loaded paragraph is that Bush enacted prescription coverage under Medicare. That is true. But let's be honest. The Democrats were against it not because it expanded entitlements. They were against it because it did not expand them enough. We see now what Democrats do with entitlements when they have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
Look again at Mr. Carville's phrase, "the largest unfunded entitlement programme in history." Note the word, "unfunded." Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were certainly larger entitlement programs. What really bothers James and the Democrats is that Bush did not raise taxes also.
Here is an example of how Democrats "fund" a new entitlement program: assume tax increases of $507 billion and Medicare cuts of $404 billion over ten years. On Mr. Carville's planet, assuming is the same as funding. Too bad that doesn't work out so well on our planet.
By my count, of nine claims in a single paragraph, James Carville told eight lies and dissembled once. That is the nub of the case. To blame Bush for everything that didn't go well in the last decade, you have to lie.
Question for Mr. Carville: You do know we have the internet now and can check this stuff out pretty quickly, don't you?
Randall Hoven can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his website, randallhoven.com.