And here’s what else Mead fails to mention: In the aftermath of the March 2001 recession, America experienced six years of uninterrupted economic growth and a record 52 straight months of job creation that produced more than 8 million new jobs. During the Bush presidency, the unemployment rate averaged 5.3 percent. We saw labor-productivity gains that exceeded the averages of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Real after-tax income per capita increased by more than 11 percent. And from 2000 to 2007, real GDP grew by more than 17 percent, a gain of nearly $2.1 trillion. […]Mr. Mead mentions none of this, perhaps because they pose inconvenient facts to his thesis. In any event, it’s hardly a record of failure.
Oh come on, Mrs. Lincoln, we can hear Wehner saying, pull yourself together. Other than that one little incident at the end it was an excellent play! The Bush economy was glorious, a triumph… except for that tiny little depression in the last act.Wehner, who by all accounts is a thoughtful and sensible person with a lot to contribute to the national debate, is so caught up with angry defenses of the brilliance of policy making during the Bush era that he misses our point entirely. We weren’t making a claim about whether the Bush presidency was an overall success or failure. That’s a question for future historians and we are happy to leave that question to their care. Far more important is the fact that except for a minority of true believers, the American public largely believes that Bush failed, and no matter how many blog posts ex-Bush officials write, that isn’t going to change anytime soon.There are lots of intelligent people out there who think this is a gross injustice, and want the national conversation to focus on setting the record straight. For its own sake the Republican Party has to deafen itself to their piteous pleas; they are sirens luring the sailors to their destruction on the rocks. This will sound harsh and unfair to some, but it is true and it is real.Mr. Wehner’s touching, honorable but politically toxic Bush loyalty is the kind of gift left-leaning Dems pray for night and day. Liberals want the Republican Party to spend the next four years defending the Bush record as strongly as possible. They want potential conservative presidential candidates to say as many things as possible that will tie them to Bush in the mind of the public. They want Mr. Wehner’s approach to be mandatory for the next generation of Republican candidates; they want loyalty to the Bush legacy to be a litmus test for decades to come. They want to use President Bush the way their grandfathers used Herbert Hoover, and if Mr. Wehner has his way, they will.Nothing would make Democratic political operatives happier than to watch future GOP presidential candidates or their advisors give on the record speeches about how brilliant Bush’s economic policies were or how cleverly he managed the aftermath of Katrina. It is attack ad manna from Heaven. People on the Republican side of the aisle who hope to play an important role in national policymaking in the future need to take thought about how their reflections on the past might help or hurt those with whom they hope to work.As long as Republicans maintain that the Bush presidency was a triumph, a sterling example of greatness, of competent benevolence mixed with wisdom almost divine, and that the American people are a bunch of ungrateful boobs for failing to recognize this, then life at the DNC will be pretty darn easy. Nothing will make caricaturing the GOP while avoiding substantive policy arguments easier for the Democrats than if GOP discourse is dominated by people trying to change the public perception of President Bush’s two terms.Many Bush-era Republicans are rightfully worried about the ground in their party being lost to the neo-isolationists, about the globaloney internationalism of some Democrats, and about the current administration’s blue model policy template. One of the reasons VM wrote the essay we did was to encourage Republicans to start thinking of ways they can address these concerns successfully.We don’t think this means that everyone who worked in the Bush administration needs to repent in sackcloth and ashes. It certainly doesn’t mean abandoning core beliefs. We don’t even think it rules out a run by Jeb Bush… if he can persuade voters that he is his own man with a distinct vision of where he wants to take the country. But voters want to know what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, and why you think another round of conservative policy will leave a sweeter taste on the public tongue.One of the surest ways not to do this is to insist that the responsibility lies not with Republicans to regain the trust lost, but with the poor misinformed voters too stupid to understand that Bush’s deficits were triumphs of wisdom and forethought, too distracted to remember the joy parade that was pre-Obama Iraq, too undiscerning to give the Bush folks all credit for the good times while blaming the Clinton legacy for the crash. If there is a planet in this solar system on which this is going to be a winning political strategy, we have yet to visit it here at VM.Whatever historians finally decide about the Bush administration is irrelevant to the politics of today. The Democratic goal from 2008 onward has been to tie the GOP to a defense of the Bush administration. GOPers who can’t take their eyes off the rear-view mirror will not help their party regain public trust.[George W. Bush image courtesy of Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com]