Bush exit from office long overdue

Freedom New Mexico

In what is likely to be his last news conference and in a series of media interviews, President George W. Bush is understandably trying to put a positive spin on his eight years in the Oval Office.

Unfortunately, his next action demonstrated why so many observers — though willing to wait awhile longer for more informed perspective — found his presidency so unsatisfactory.

Remember the $350 billion still in the pipeline from the $700-billion-plus financial bailout passed by Congress in a moment of institutional panic in October? The money that was supposedly to be spent buying troubled financial assets (though nobody knew how to do it effectively) but which was then used to invest directly in troubled financial institutions — i.e., partly nationalize them? The money that from all reports (though we remain hopeful) has done little or nothing to get the credit markets anything close to normalized?

Well, $350 billion of that mythical paper money has already been spent, for various purposes not specified in the original legislation, but Congress requires a request from the president to get access to the other $350 billion.

Bush said Monday he had no intention of making the request unless President-elect Barack Obama asked him to. Upon receiving the request, he complied.

That pretty much completed the process of George W. Bush bailing out on what he claimed were firm convictions about free markets in favor of a regime of heavy government intervention in the marketplace. But this was hardly the first instance.

Under this president, domestic discretionary spending — not military or intelligence spending but domestic spending not mandated by previous law — rose faster than at any time since Lyndon Johnson’s misbegotten “Great Society” days. Federal intervention into what had traditionally been the local responsibility of providing government education was increased with the “No Child Left Behind” law. In a period when federal entitlements threaten to overwhelm the national budget, Bush added a new one, a prescription drug benefit under Medicare.

All the time he was increasing federal spending and federal intervention into the economy, President Bush declared he was a devoted advocate of free markets and deregulation (though he actually increased regulation, including financial regulation). As his presidency implodes in a financial crisis that leaves him discredited, the danger is that his practice of touting the benefits of free markets and smaller government while intervening in markets and expanding government will discredit the philosophy of smaller government and reliance on the discipline of the marketplace rather than the arbitrary whims of Congress.

And we haven’t even mentioned two unnecessary wars, unwarranted wiretapping of ordinary Americans, authorizing at the highest levels enhanced interrogation tactics tantamount to torture and spending American blood and treasure on nation-building in parts of the world that don’t especially want Western-style nations built.

This president has a great deal to answer for. We wish him a quiet retirement and time to contemplate the implications of his actions. As uneasy as we might feel about the incoming president, we won’t be sorry to see this one go.