Is President Bush a die-hard spendthrift in Republican's clothing? Would former President Reagan roll over in his grave if he knew how big government is getting under his vice president's son? Conservative Bruce Bartlett says, “Oh, yes,” to both questions.
Bartlett worked in the Reagan White House and advised this president early in his first term. He's now the author of “Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.” Bartlett joined Tucker on ‘Situation’ to asses the president’s spending habits.
To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, ‘SITUATION’: Bush is a liberal? I mean, this is going to come as a huge shock to the many obsessive Bush haters who think he's a right-wing maniac. Explain.
BRUCE BARTLETT, AUTHOR, “IMPOSTOR”: Well, I think there's a difference between saying somebody is not a conservative and saying they're a liberal. I believe it was Bill Buckley who said George Bush is conservative, but he is not a conservative. He's not one of us, basically.
His conservatism is the conservatism of the guy who says, you know, like Archie Bunker, the good old days and why is everything, you know, not working the way it used to? It's not borne out of thought or reason or analysis.
CARLSON: Now, you make the point, I think, very convincingly, in your book, that he is a big government conservative, or big government president anyway.
You're an economist familiar with numbers. Explain in a way that our viewers—many of them are not economists—can understand just how big a spender this president is.
BARTLETT: I did a calculation the other day based on officially—official Treasury Department data that showed that in the first four years of the Bush administration, our national debt, not just what we call the national debt, but all of the indebtedness—had increased by $20 trillion under this president.
Let me give you another figure. The Medicare drug benefit that he rammed through Congress a couple years ago has an unfunded liability of $18 trillion. The Social Security system, which he talked so much about fixing last year, has an unfunded liability of only $11 trillion. We could repeal the drug benefit, keep Social Security exactly as it is forever, and still cut $7 trillion off our national debt.
CARLSON: You can never repeal the drug benefit.
BARTLETT: I know.
CARLSON: I mean, as a political matter, that is going to be—our great-grandchildren will be weeping over it 75 years from now.
BARTLETT: I say in the book, and a lot of people criticized me for this, that because of that program and because of the utter unwillingness to deal with entitlements, we're looking at, really, a massive tax increase over the next generation that I think we're going to need a new source of revenue to pay for.
CARLSON: I just want to restate, so it's perfectly clear to those watching, you are not a liberal, you are, in Washington anyway, a very well known conservative. You are not attacking Bush from the left at all.
You say something interesting, and given that, this is a fascinating statement that you think the nation might actually be better off with a Democrat in the White House after this president.
BARTLETT: Well, I look at one of the most recent good old days we had, which was from 1994 to 2000, when we had gridlock. I think perhaps the optimum policy from the point of few of fiscal conservatives like me is a Democrat in the White House and Republican control of Congress. Because neither one can do anything, and we're on automatic pilot and we ended up with surpluses instead of deficits.
CARLSON: I think that's a very smart point. This government, of course, was designed to produce gridlock. And a Republican Congress and a Republican president turned out to be bad.
You said Bush has hurt his party by not designating a successor. What do you mean?
BARTLETT: Well, obviously, Dick Cheney is not going to be running to replace George Bush in 2008, and I think the Democrats are going to be united. I think they're going to have a stronger candidate than they've had recently.
And I think that the Republicans are going to be handicapped by the fact that they're going to have a wide open race, no frontrunner. And it's going to be very difficult.
And it would be a lot better if President Bush had had, as his vice president, somebody who was in a better position to replace him, which is normally what we do after two-term presidents.
CARLSON: Right. But presidents with fragile egos can't deal with the idea of a competitor in the same building. Is that the idea?
BARTLETT: That's right. But on the other hand, they also want their own success ratified, so they want their vice president to succeed them, because that is a way of the electorate saying that you did a good job.
CARLSON: Right. Well, a long-term thinker might perceive that. This president did not.