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Romney and the GOP still toe the Bush line

Republican leaders are sick and tired of Democrats blaming all the nation’s problems on George W. Bush, and of being tarnished by the former president’s legacy. From walrus-mustached former U.N Ambassador John Bolton, to Bush’s brother Jeb, to Fox News host Sean Hannity (who seldom lets a guest criticize Bush without pointing out that President Obama has been running the country for years), to “tea party” activists who since the 2008 elections have been complaining that Bush’s failures could be blamed on the fact that he was not sufficiently conservative, the GOP would seem to wish Bush’s name could be erased from the history books.

And that would be fine, if Republicans also repudiated Bush’s policies. They haven’t. Not only do Mitt Romney’s ideas appear to gibe with Bush’s on almost every particular, the Republican Party platform reads as if it could have been written by the Bush administration. The extraordinary mistakes made during Bush’s eight-year presidency in the arenas of foreign policy, environmental protection and taxing and spending -- the ones that worsened relations between the U.S. and its allies and rivals around the world, caused the deficit to skyrocket and produced deadly environmental disasters -- almost certainly would be repeated by a Romney administration and/or a Republican Congress.

A few examples:

A bedrock GOP principle during the 2012 election campaign is the preservation of the Bush tax cuts, which were promoted and signed by Bush and approved by a majority Republican House and an evenly divided Senate. By now, the results are pretty clear. A Census Bureau report this week showed that the gap between rich and poor has hit a record, with households in the top 20% of income earners now accounting for an all-time high of 50% of the nation’s wealth. It would be simplistic to blame this gap solely on the Bush tax cuts, but there is also little question that they played a role. A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that Bush’s tax policies had conferred “the most benefits, by far, on the highest-income households,” a conclusion echoed by many of the nation’s top economists.

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Meanwhile, it doesn’t take an economist to figure out that waging two wars while doing nothing to raise revenue to pay for them -- while, in fact, cutting taxes -- will increase the federal deficit. It should surprise no one, then, that the deficit rose by $4 trillion under Bush. That’s not as much as the $5 trillion more it has risen under Obama, but that is in large part because the Bush tax cuts have remained in place and in larger part because of depressed federal revenue caused by the economic downturn (which began under Bush’s watch, as a result of a laissez-faire attitude toward regulating the financial industry) and increased stimulus spending aimed at preventing a second Depression. Meanwhile, if reducing taxes on the wealthy really spurs them to create jobs -- an article of faith among Republicans -- one wonders why they have failed so spectacularly to do so.

Another Republican campaign meme is the frequent criticism of Obama as the nation’s apologizer in chief, a president who leads from behind on foreign policy and fails to take a tough stand on international issues. Romney most recently raised this attack after the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, reacting to the gathering of an angry crowd, put out a release decrying the anti-Muslim video that had raised the mob’s ire; Romney responded that the Obama administration was issuing an “apology for America’s values.”

Eight years under Bush showed precisely where this kind of muscular -- some would call it arrogant -- approach to foreign policy leads. Bush alienated leaders across Europe, destroyed the U.S. reputation at the United Nations by appointing Bolton -- a man who seemed on a mission to destroy the institution -- as U.S. ambassador, needlessly antagonized Russia with his insistence on an unreliable missile defense shield (whose restoration is included as a priority in this year’s Republican Party platform), and failed to persuade even many of America’s top allies to join his “coalition of the willing” in the Iraq war. A superpower does not enhance its international influence by throwing its weight around; good manners and quiet diplomacy usually produce better results.

Another key GOP priority is to dismantle the regulatory authority of such agencies as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the Food and Drug Administration and (the party’s Public Enemy No. 1) the Environmental Protection Agency. This is a strategy straight out of Bush’s playbook. Under Bush, many regulatory agencies were placed under the leadership of former industry executives whose aim was to reduce government interference in business affairs. Under Bush’s watch, federal lands were opened to polluting extraction industries, the Clean Air Act was ignored, the EPA was prevented from taking action against greenhouse gases (until the Supreme Court authorized it to do so), environmentally ruinous mountaintop-removal coal mining was encouraged, and so on. Meanwhile, the years of delay in taking action against climate change will simply make it more expensive for future generations to combat the problem, and ensure that it lingers far longer.

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The Republican Party’s continuing allegiance to Bush policies doesn’t end there. The party platform calls for a host of things Bush tried but failed to achieve, such as an end to the estate tax, a guest-worker program for illegal immigrants, a cap on damages in medical malpractice suits, resumption of presidential “fast track” authority to negotiate trade pacts and a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Actually, in my scan of the platform, I couldn’t see a single item with which Bush would disagree, but I’d have to dial Dallas to be sure, and the former president is tough for reporters to reach these days.

In any event, it’s not surprising that GOP leaders get uncomfortable at the mention of the former president’s name; a recent Gallup poll showed that 68% of Americans blame Bush for the country’s current economic woes. That might suggest that electing a candidate whose policies are virtually identical isn’t the brightest idea.

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