Former President George W. Bush, after keeping a mostly low-profile since leaving office, “is about to step into the public arena again” ahead of the release of his memoir, which is scheduled to be published the week after the November midterm elections. The book will reportedly include discussions of Bush’s economic decision-making, including his views on the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts that bear his name and the 2008 bailout of the financial system.
Bush pushed back the publication of the memoir, so that it wouldn’t impair the GOP’s performance in the midterm elections. But lately, some Republicans have been looking back on the Bush years with some nostalgia. “I think a lot of people are looking back with a little more — with more fondness on President Bush’s administration,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).
And according to one of Bush’s cabinet secretaries, the memoir will give the public a chance for “serious debate” over whether Bush’s economic policies helped push the country into an economic meltdown:
Former Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, a close family friend, said the publicity would give the public a chance to reassess Mr. Bush’s record. “Did we head into a tough period in the last six months in office? Sure,” Mr. Evans said. “Was it a result of policies in his administration? I think there will be serious debate about that. We’ll be debating about it a long time.”
Calling it a “tough period” is underselling how bad the Great Recession was (and still is) for millions of Americans. And Bush’s policies most certainly contributed to the collapse.
Remember, it was the Bush administration that ignored “remarkably prescient warnings” regarding problems in the housing market, while actively pulling strings out of the regulatory framework and appointing regulators fundamentally disinterested in reining in Wall Street. The Bush administration actually “backed off proposed crackdowns on no-money-down, interest-only mortgages,” even though consumer advocates were ringing alarm bells.
Financial firms thus ran wild, buildings up a huge amount of systemic risk that eventually toppled the system, putting more than 8 million Americans out of work.
But even before the financial crisis, the economy under Bush wasn’t doing well. Bush’s policies “fostered the weakest jobs and income growth in more than six decades,” along with “sluggish business investment and weak gross domestic product growth.” Poverty (including child poverty) increased under his watch, erasing some of the significant gains made by the Clinton administration, and of course, Bush turned record surpluses into record deficits.
Bush’s tax cuts also exacerbated already high income inequality, and there is new research showing that such inequality can actually increase the likelihood of a financial meltdown. So while there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to culpability for the economic freefall, “serious debate” can’t erase the role that Bush and his economic team played.