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Betraying the Reagan Legacy

By Bruce Bartlett

Last week, I published a new book, "Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy." A lot of my friends are not happy with me for writing it, and I have been embraced by a number of people on the left whom I would ordinarily consider my political enemies. Both are mistaken about why I wrote the book and what I hope to accomplish with it.

Some of my former friends on the right have attacked me as an opportunist who sold out his party and his president to get a best-seller. They would not think so if they knew that I started this project knowing that I would probably lose my job with a think tank closely allied with the White House, which I did. My advance on the book was less than the salary I was making, so if I am an opportunist, I'm a pretty poor one.

My new friends on the left are, of course, delighted to find someone on the right who is articulating a critique of George W. Bush. But if they read the book, they will find that my criticism bears nothing in common with theirs. Just because I find fault with a president from my party doesn't mean I've switched sides. On the contrary, I wrote the book in order to help my side win.

My basic argument is that Bush has enacted policies contrary to conservative principles on too many occasions. Some of those that disturb me the most are these:

-- No Child Left Behind Act. Republicans used to campaign on the idea of abolishing the Department of Education. Bush greatly increased its budget, despite a paucity of evidence showing that educational outcomes are correlated with educational spending. No wonder Sen. Ted Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and Congress' leading liberal, loved it. The "reforms" Bush got in return were far too modest to justify his support for this legislation, and it hasn't even helped him politically. All we ever hear from the education lobby are demands for even more spending.

-- Campaign Finance Reform. I don't know a single conservative who doesn't think that this legislation is a fundamental violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution, the Supreme Court's ruling to the contrary notwithstanding. Personally, I consider Bush to have violated his oath to defend the Constitution by signing this monstrosity, especially since he said he would veto such a bill during the 2000 campaign.

-- Medicare Drug Benefit. This was really the final straw for me. The Medicare system was already $50 trillion in debt in 2003, and we should have been looking for ways to cut its spending, not increase it. The unfunded liability of just the drug benefit added another $18 trillion to that debt, an increase of nearly 40 percent. Sooner or later, this legislation is going to cause a massive tax increase, in my opinion and that of many budget experts.

The book details many other areas where I feel that Bush's policies are totally contrary to Ronald Reagan's. Readers can judge for themselves whether my indictment holds water. The reaction I have received thus far suggests that a lot of conservatives share my concerns and believe that Bush has done deep damage to the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

The last time a Republican president -- Richard Nixon -- sold out his party's core beliefs, it led to huge losses for his party in 1974 and 1976. I think Republicans are deluding themselves if they believe that gerrymandering in the House of Representatives and millions of lobbyist dollars will protect them from big losses this November. It's worth remembering that Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 not because more Republicans voted, but because fewer Democrats did. They, like many Republicans today, were dispirited by a president of their party who took their loyalty for granted.

I think Republicans are also wrong to assume that Democrats will always behave as stupidly as they have lately. One of these days, they are going to get their act together and stop nominating lousy candidates who run awful campaigns. Once Republicans lose the votes of those who are only voting against the Democrats, not for them, they will be in serious political trouble.

I wrote my book so that Republicans and conservatives can start a debate about the future of the party and the movement. If we wait until 2008, it will be much too late. It is important for potential Republican presidential nominees to start thinking about and articulating a vision for the future now. And Republican voters need to ask themselves whether they are satisfied with the direction George W. Bush has led them or whether they would really prefer to get back to the policies and philosophy of Ronald Reagan.

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate

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