Bruce Bartlett on being kicked out of conservatism

In an article for The American Conservative, Bruce Bartlett, a lifelong conservative with impressive credentials (GOP congressional staffer, Heritage Foundation, Cato, positions in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, conservative writer and newspaper columnist), recounts how he came to be a minor pariah on the right mainly for his strong criticism of George W. Bush.

Bartlett attacked Bush from the right, as the title of his book Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy (2006), makes pretty clear. It still got him fired from his job at a conservative think tank, and allegedly Fox News didn't just ban his further appearances on the network, it adopted a rule that his book was not even to be mentioned even negatively lest that help sales.

More recently Bartlett has taken on supply-side economics, something of which he'd previously been a strong supporter, even writing a laudatory book about it, Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action (2001). But in researching a new book on Thomas-Kuhn-style paradigm shifts in economics,

... I came to the annoying conclusion that Keynes had been 100 percent right in the 1930s. Previously, I had thought the opposite. But facts were facts and there was no denying my conclusion. It didn’t affect the argument in my book, which was only about the rise and fall of ideas. The fact that Keynesian ideas were correct as well as popular simply made my thesis stronger.

I finished the book just as the economy was collapsing in the fall of 2008. This created another intellectual crisis for me. Having just finished a careful study of the 1930s, it was immediately obvious to me that the economy was suffering from the very same problem, a lack of aggregate demand. We needed Keynesian policies again, which completely ruined my nice rise-and-fall thesis. Keynesian ideas had arisen from the intellectual grave.

He decided that he needed to do a major rewrite of his book, but deadline pressure made that impossible and he admits the result was a mess that sold poorly.

On the plus side, I think I had a very clear understanding of the economic crisis from day one. I even wrote another op-ed for the New York Times in December 2008 advocating a Keynesian cure that holds up very well in light of history. Annoyingly, however, I found myself joined at the hip to Paul Krugman, whose analysis was identical to my own. I had previously viewed Krugman as an intellectual enemy and attacked him rather colorfully in an old column that he still remembers.

For the record, no one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman. The blind hatred for him on the right simply pushed me further away from my old allies and comrades.

And then came the last straw, Bartlett's refusal to accept ridiculous rightwing caricatures of Obama as a "socialist":

The final line for me to cross in complete alienation from the right was my recognition that Obama is not a leftist. In fact, he’s barely a liberal -- and only because the political spectrum has moved so far to the right that moderate Republicans from the past are now considered hardcore leftists by right-wing standards today. Viewed in historical context, I see Obama as actually being on the center-right.

He concludes,

I am disinclined to think that Republicans are yet ready for a serious questioning of their philosophy or strategy. They comfort themselves with the fact that they held the House (due to gerrymandering) and think that just improving their get-out-the-vote system and throwing a few bones to the Latino community will fix their problem. There appears to be no recognition that their defects are far, far deeper and will require serious introspection and rethinking of how Republicans can win going forward. The alternative is permanent loss of the White House and probably the Senate as well, which means they can only temporarily block Democratic initiatives and never advance their own.

I’ve paid a heavy price, both personal and financial, for my evolution from comfortably within the Republican Party and conservative movement to a less than comfortable position somewhere on the center-left. Honest to God, I am not a liberal or a Democrat. But these days, they are the only people who will listen to me. When Republicans and conservatives once again start asking my opinion, I will know they are on the road to recovery.

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