The Willful Blindness of Bush Loyalists
Walter Russell Mead says something sensible:
The bungling of the Bush years damaged public confidence in the competence of Republican foreign policy conduct, and the party needs to find ways to regain the trust that was lost.
Mead’s overall assessment of Bush-era foreign policy is still too generous, and his criticism of Bush is mostly driven by his desire to protect “a strong national security policy and a globally engaged foreign policy” from the damage of the Bush years. In spite of that, he makes some fair points about the folly of Republican support for Bush’s democracy promotion agenda, and his call for “a rich discourse among competing schools of thought and visions” inside the GOP makes sense. So it was entirely predictable that the response from Republican hawks would amount to little more than knee-jerk Bush loyalism. Wehner’s defense of Bush’s domestic record is little more than an echo of the interview that Bush recently gave to The Dallas Morning News. All the usual spin is there, including very strained attempts to defend NCLB and Medicare Part D. The latter added trillions to the government’s unfunded liabilities and represented the largest expansion of the welfare state since Johnson. It was a monument to the Bush administration’s complete lack of fiscal responsibility, which was on display for all eight years of Bush’s tenure. If I were a Bush loyalist, this is one of the last things I would want people to remember.
Inboden spends a lot of his time complaining that Mead has mostly ignored Bush’s foreign policy successes. Readers can judge whether his account of these successes is persuasive, but he misses Mead’s point entirely. Mead isn’t likely to talk about Bush’s successes in an article focused on urging Republicans to come to grips with Bush-era disasters. Even when Bush’s genuine successes are taken into account, such as the significantly improved relations with India that he oversaw, his foreign policy is still overwhelmingly one of failure. That is true whether the record is judged on Bush’s terms or not. It’s not a close call, and pretending that it is doesn’t make anyone more likely to believe the Bush loyalist’s arguments. Even if the overall Bush record weren’t so poor, one of the GOP’s problems is that no one outside their party perceives it that way. However, the main problem is that the record really was that poor and many Republicans refuse to accept that. After all, admitting that Bush’s presidency was a disastrous one is to admit that they supported the disaster, and that’s not something that anyone likes admitting. I believe Mead’s point is that Republicans don’t have the luxury of not making that admission.
As Inboden and Wehner prove once again, Republicans are very good at embellishing or inventing Bush’s successes, and they need no encouragement in this regard. What they plainly refuse to do is to acknowledge Bush-era disasters for what they are, accept that the public holds their party responsible for those disasters, and try to find some way to correct the errors made. One problem is that Inboden and Wehner don’t believe that any of Bush’s policies were fundamentally wrong or misguided. The most they can admit is that there were some mistakes in implementation, and even then they feel the need to justify and make excuses for those mistakes. Bush may be impressed by the devotion that so many partisans still show to his failed tenure, but no one else is, and it undermines the credibility of everything that Bush’s loyalists have to say. The fact that these loyalists refuse to take friendly and constructive criticism from someone who is mostly sympathetic to Bush just makes Mead’s point for him.