Writes John Lewis in the The Objective Standard:

The administration of George W. Bush, for instance, greatly expanded government power. President Bush doubled the national budget, doubled the deficit, added a digit to the national debt, signed the largest entitlement bill since the 1960s, ordered his cabinet to cooperate in regulating carbon dioxide as a “pollutant,” signed Sarbanes-Oxley, distributed economic “stimulus” checks, asked for $700 billion as business handouts, and never vetoed a spending bill. […] Although no Republican in three generations has defended capitalism in a principled way, Republican rhetoric continues to use pro-capitalist language, mainly to oppose Democrats. Ronald Reagan’s assertion that “government is the problem” continues to resonate among supporters of the free market. However, few Republicans have been willing to face the inescapable fact that the federal budget and debt grew exponentially under both Reagan and his Republican successor, George H.W. Bush. Republican lip service to the free market has muddied the waters and continues to make it difficult for people to see that Republicans were, in fact, throttling freedom under a maze of growing federal controls. Hence there was no uprising against Republicans or their policies.

Following eight years of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush appeared to offer the best hope to regain that alleged free-market, low-tax legacy. Once again, most people did not see that the free-market image of this Republican was a mirage that bore no relation to his actions. This image gained power when Bush was touted as an alternative to his leftist Democratic challengers. This contrast of images obscured the fundamental differences between Bush’s policies and a truly pro-capitalist position. This obfuscation—instigated by the Republicans—deeply confused many honest Americans about the nature of his policies, and caused enormous harm to their understanding of both capitalism and conservatism. This split between appearance and reality—between the image of a pro-freedom Republican and the reality of a welfare-state Republican—made it difficult for people to recognize that no candidate in either party was willing to defend capitalism. As a result, any real discussion of capitalism—properly understood as a truly free market, in which individual rights are protected by the government—was obliterated from public discourse.

Bush fostered his undeserved free-market image with tax cuts that accompanied huge increases in spending and led to enormous deficits. He also appeared to oppose business regulations, even as he approved thousands of pages of new controls (e.g., Sarbanes-Oxley and the steel tariffs). His selective repeal of some rules (such as parts of the Glass-Steagall Act) contributed to the image of a free-market administration that had “deregulated” the economy. He promoted the expansion of huge federally-sponsored entities such as the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginny Mae), and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) because he wanted to appear compassionate to people who “needed” loans. When the market imploded, Bush proposed hundreds of billions in federal aid, saying “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free market system.”6

The visible result was an exploding welfare state in which capitalism was blamed for massive deficits, for rising health-care prices, for the collapse of Wall Street, for the cost of the Iraq war, and for every other bad consequence of Bush’s policies. The more fundamental, unseen result was a confused American public—a public confused about the very meaning of the free market, liberty, and individual rights, and about what a proper defense of those values would mean. “Capitalism has failed” became the mantra of the left: “We tried it under Bush, and look what happened.”

In his systematic treatment of the philosophy of Objectivism, Leonard Peikoff wrote that “[p]recisely because of their pretense,” conservatives “are the main source of political confusion in the public mind; they give people the illusion of an electoral alternative without the fact. Thus the statist drift proceeds unchecked and unchallenged.”7 George W. Bush is the quintessential example of this point.

Read the rest in The Objective Standard.

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