Welcome Julian Zelizer, Princeton University, and Host Matthew Lassiter, University of Michigan.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread.  - bev]

The Presidency of George W. Bush: A First Historical Assessment

“Big-Government Conservatism” by Matthew D. Lassiter (University of Michigan)

Midway through his presidency, when Bob Woodward asked him about how history would judge the War in Iraq, George W. Bush responded: “History. We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.” Instead, in a 2006 essay in Rolling Stone, the prominent historian Sean Wilentz argued that a substantial majority of U.S. historians already considered the Bush administration to be a “failure” (81% in a poll conducted by the History News Network). Wilentz predicted that Bush would “be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history.”

In April 2008, continuing this trend of assessing history as it unfolded, Princeton University hosted a “Conference on the Presidency of George W. Bush in Historical Perspective.” The organizer, Julian Zelizer, is a Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University and the author or coeditor of ten books about modern U.S. political history, covering topics such as the U.S. Congress, the national security state, and presidential politics (including studies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan). The conference featured a number of leading scholars in the field of American political history, and Zelizer compiled their essays in the anthology under discussion here to offer “a first historical assessment” of the Bush administration.

The contributors to The Presidency of George W. Bush emphasize “the central quandary of conservatism in the twenty-first century: what were the challenges conservatives faced, now that they had become the governing establishment?” They cover a wide range of topics, including foreign policy and the “war on terror,” the centralization of power in the executive branch, the coexistence of tax cuts and corporate deregulation with a huge increase in federal deficit spending, and other policies promoted by the Bush administration’s hybrid philosophy of big-government conservatism.

In the opening chapter, Zelizer portrays the George W. Bush era as the culmination of the second stage in the history of modern conservatism. During the first stage, from the insurgent Goldwater campaign of 1964 to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, conservatives organized as a political movement in opposition to the liberal establishment, the expansion of the federal government, and moderate forces within the GOP. Conservative activists mobilized in the Religious Right, while Republican strategists sought to tap into racial backlash and grassroots anger about taxes. Neoconservative intellectuals formulated policies designed to undo the Great Society and reassert American power around the globe, and corporate interests simultaneously funded the think tanks and political action committees that would ultimately cohere in a powerful conservative counter-establishment.

The transition to the second stage occurred as the conservative movement’s electoral victories brought the New Right to power in Washington, most notably through the two-term Reagan presidency, the Republican takeover of Congress in the 1994 midterms, and then single-party control following George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2001. According to Zelizer, this second stage in the history of modern conservatism lasted until 2008, when voters delivered a harsh verdict on conservative governance, and the Democratic party regained control of both the executive and legislative branches. The book focuses on the politics and policies of Bush’s two terms in office, and especially the administration’s highly ideological governing strategy that built on the conservative agenda of the Reagan era through the pursuit of several primary objectives.

In domestic policy, Bush sought to empower oil companies and other extractive energy interests based largely in the Sunbelt, part of the broader favoritism toward non-unionized firms in the high-tech sector and low-wage firms in the “Wal-Mart economy.” The administration also cut income taxes in order to redistribute government benefits to wealthy Americans and pushed for “deregulation” by stacking executive branch agencies with conservative ideologues who used federal programs to promote corporate interests.

In the area of national security, the administration systematically expanded the power of the executive branch to deploy military forces abroad and implement related programs such as domestic surveillance, part of a deliberate drive to recreate the pre-Watergate “imperial presidency” of the Nixon era. And in electoral politics, Bush and his adviser Karl Rove adopted the goal of assembling a permanent Republican majority that would equal the strength of the New Deal coalition energized by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s—based on an unstable approach that sometimes operated through “big-tent” tactics but more often reflected ideologically divisive appeals to the conservative base.

In the book’s second chapter, Zelizer demonstrates that, despite the antigovernment rhetoric of the conservative movement, the expansion and centralization of power in the executive branch is a major legacy of conservative governance from Nixon and Reagan through Bush. Key policymakers in the Bush administration, including Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, worked to restore presidential prerogatives that the Democratic Congress had weakened in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate. During the 1970s, Congress sought to restrict the autonomy of the White House through reforms such as the War Powers Act, the Church Committee’s exposure of the CIA’s extralegal activities, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (requiring warrants for domestic wiretaps), and the independent counsel statute.

During the Reagan administration, conservative intellectuals developed a theory of the “unitary executive” that radically increased presidential power, and Republicans reacted to the Iran-Contra scandal by defending White House authority to circumvent the law in its conduct of foreign policy. Republican (and Democratic) presidents have also asserted the right to send troops into combat without congressional authorization, an almost unlimited view of the constitutional power vested in the commander in chief. This climaxed following 9-11, when George W. Bush asserted vast and unilateral war-making authority as well as the right to ignore American laws banning torture and warrantless surveillance. “The war on terrorism,” Zelizer concludes, “has highlighted the reality that presidential power is integral, rather than aberrational, to modern conservatism.”

The other contributors to this volume converge in their assessments of the difficulty for conservatism in translating its political victories into an effective governing strategy, in foreign and domestic policy alike. Bush pushed through regressive tax cuts and sought to privatize many government functions while simultaneously increasing federal spending (in areas from national defense to Medicare), running up huge budget deficits, and presiding over the near-meltdown of the global financial system. Three areas in particular revealed the basic failure of conservative governance during the Bush era: the catastrophic aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, the incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and the (admittedly bipartisan) complicity in the collapse of the housing market and the deep economic recession that followed. Zelizer concludes that Bush left office “with conservatism in a state of political instability, raising serious questions about the future of the movement.”

111 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Julian Zelizer, The Presidency of George W. Bush: The First Historical Assessment”

BevW January 30th, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Julian, Welcome back to the Lake.

Matt, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Matthew Lassiter January 30th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Welcome to everyone. As host, I’ll start this off with a question to Julian Zelizer that picks up on a theme highlighted in my introductory post. Can you elaborate on the implications of your argument that conventional wisdom (and often academic scholars) tends to portray modern conservatism as a reaction against the social movements and Great Society programs of the 1960s, but instead your book suggests that conservatives in government have been even more focused on reversing liberal policies from the 1970s—especially congressional reforms to restrict the power of the so-called imperial presidency?

dakine01 January 30th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Julian and Michael and welcome to FDL this afternoon

Julian, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but do have a question and forgive me if these are addressed in the book.

How do you respond to the folks who now claim “Well Bush wasn’t a real conservative doncha know?”

PeasantParty January 30th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Welcome! Very excited to have you here.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

It is a pleasure to join everyone today. I would like to thank Matt for his thoughtful introduction. Editing this book was a real pleasure. Originally, the impetus for putting this together was a response to the traditional polls and ratings that come out, based on surveys with historians, as soon as presidents step down. I thought that it would be useful to bring together some of the brightest minds in the profession to analyze the major issues that shaped Bush’s years in office. Rather than focusing on whether Bush was good or bad, the aim was to try to place the presidency in historical context and gain a better sense of how his term fit in relationship to broader trends that defined this period.

The authors wrote a wonderful set of essays exploring a presidency that turned out to be quite consequential in foreign and domestic policy. Building on journalistic pieces and primary documents—many of which were released through investigations—the authors offered chapters on a number of important issues, ranging from the war on terrorism to economic policy. At the most basic level, the authors provide riveting narratives about what happened, when things happened, and why they happened. While these essays will inevitably be challenged, refined, and reexamined over time, the goal was to start the conversation as some of the early historians of the New Deal and Great Society had done.

The authors also make clear the enormous impact that this presidency had on national policy, domestic politics, and presidential leadership. What started as, what many experts perceived to be, an accidental presidency turned into something much bigger. Although it is too early to tell, the difficulty that the Obama administration has faced in overturning key pillars of the policies from the Bush years suggest that the influence of the administration will be far lasting.

Importantly, the authors all struggled to understand what the relationship was between the Bush presidency and the era of conservatism that began in the 1970s. I argued that Bush’s presidency came at a moment when conservatism had been firmly established in Washington and the right was confronting the challenges of governance. Some of the contradictions of conservatism, such as the embrace of big government for national security and other policies, were persistent challenges for the right. The authors also looked at the limits and failures of post-1960s conservatism given the persistence of liberal policies and institutions. While some authors believed that 2008 marked the end of the era of Reagan, others (including myself) were not so sure, suspecting that conservatism had entered into a period of political crisis that could be overcome. As the years progress, these discussions have only become more interesting and it will be useful to look at these essays through the lens of post-2010 rather than post-2008.

In any case, I look forward to the conversation and hope that I can answer your questions.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:04 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

Most of the authors of the book do say Bush was a “real conservative.” In fact the book tries to unpack what that meant. By the 2001-2009 period, being a conservative meant embracing big government in certain cases, for national security and even for certain forms of domestic policy. Being a conservative also meant using government and government spending to advance the agenda of the GOP. So some of the “inconsistencies” that some point to really ignore what conservatism had become. Bush was very much a product of the conservative politics of the era.

Knut January 30th, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I have a question. Was George Bush effectuvekt the President? Or did Cheney call the shots?

Knut January 30th, 2011 at 2:06 pm

effectively. sorry about that

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Wilentz predicted that Bush would “be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history.”

Lost two wars, destroyed the economy, let New Orleans drown, lied about WMD, No funding for No Child Left behind etc etc.
A shorter question to ask did he do anything good?

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:06 pm

One of the major contradictions that many commentators pointed to with President Bush had to do with the embrace of big government–from expanding government in areas like health care and education to the use of a strong presidency for national security. I argue that this is really nothing new. The notion that conservatism was anti-government in practice died soon after World War II, when a new generation of conservative hawks pushed for an expansion of federal power. Ever since Richard Nixon, conservatives became very comfortable with strong presidential power as tool against liberals in Congress and the agencies, as well as for national security purposes. Bush very much reflected this defining aspect of the right.

Matthew Lassiter January 30th, 2011 at 2:06 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 6

This is an important part of the argument made by you and your contributors, right Julian? That we need to look beyond rhetoric that Republicans are the party of the “free market” and the party of “limited government” or “anti-government” and recognize that conservatism is just as willing to use the power of the federal government to advance its favored policies and interest groups as liberalism is.

PeasantParty January 30th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Julian, Do you agree with the thoughts that the Republicans are backed by Corporate entities while Democrats are backed by Wall Street?

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:09 pm
In response to Knut @ 7

I don’t think Cheney called the shots and the many of the authors in the book don’t reach that conclusion. To be sure, Cheney was an incredibly shrewd and skillful political player. Author Meg Jacobs shows that Cheney was part of a cohort of conservatives who had cut their teeth inside Washington since the 1970s, learning the ways and means of the city. They were incredibly effective when it came to policies such as energy. That said, Cheney worked under Bush and not vice versa. Bush and others on his team (such as Karl Rove) did not give power away easily. It is not clear, thus far, that there were huge conflicts between Bush and Cheney in terms of what to do. Cheney was thus a very effective operator who pushed for the president’s policies. Like everyone who works in the White House, he obviously pushed for his own ideas, sometimes winning but (as Tim Naftali argues in the War on Terrorism chapter and Fred Logevall in the chapter on Iraq) often losing in the second half of the presidency.

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Bush ran on bringing morality back to the WH but Condi called Bush her husband at a dinner with a New York Times reporter she did not get fired for being deluded so was Bush having an affair?
I ask because Bush himself talked about being more moral than Bill.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Yes I think it is a big contribution of the essays. We are certainly not the first to say that conservatives accepted big government. But rather than treating this as some kind of hypocrisy most of use argue this part of the conservative tradition. My essay on presidential power tries to show just how consistently conservatives (since the 1970s) pushed for strong executive power and argued that strong government was useful. The rhetoric we hear on the campaign trail has little to do with how conservatives governed. It is time for historians to move beyond the characterization of conservatives as anti-government, and examine the battles between Democrats and Republicans as a battle over priorities–where to use government and how.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

My colleague Sean Wilentz wrote a very provocative article (we co-taught a course on the Bush presidency last semester which was quite interesting). I pushed my authors not to approach the subject this way. Meaning, it is unclear to me how to answer a question like this. We really need to carefully define “best” and “worst” and some of the evaluation will change over time. Every president looks different in different periods. Look at someone such as Ronald Reagan or LBJ. Rather we wanted to place these presidents in context, a different type of challenge.

szielinski January 30th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Is American conservatism a unitary, univocal and internally consistent phenomenon?

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I would add that he is a president whose impact will be much greater than many thought. His national security and domestic policies (particularly the tax cuts) will be extremely hard to take a part. I think President Obama is living in the shadow of Bush and the continued impact of his policies becomes clearer every day.

Matthew Lassiter January 30th, 2011 at 2:17 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 15

Post #12 by PeasantParty brings up an important question about how we should understand modern American politics. This book primarily analyzes the Bush administration in the context of the rise of the conservative movement and the politics/policies of conservative governance. However, an alternative approach could emphasize the consequences of the broad shifts in American political economy from an industrial to a postindustrial era, as well as the bipartisan continuities in superpower exercise of foreign policy. For example, Carter and Clinton also pushed for economic deregulation and turned their backs on labor unions on many occasions (NAFTA, etc), the power shift to the Sunbelt has happened fairly seamlessly under both Democratic and Republican presidents, and progressives have criticized the Obama administration for its pro-corporate policies and for adopting many of the Bush administration’s expansive and controversial interpretations of executive power in foreign policy and war-making authority. How do some of these bipartisan continuities fit into your analysis?

masaccio January 30th, 2011 at 2:17 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 6

What I don’t get is how quickly “conservatism” morphs from anti-statism under Reagan to radical expansion of the state’s ability to intrude into every aspect of life under Bush and back to radical budget-cutting when the Democrats get some mild involvement in government under Obama.

Why don’t heads explode with the contradictions?

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to szielinski @ 17

No it is not. Michael Kazin has a very nice essay in the piece showing the various factions of conservatism that have always existed, certainly since the 1970s. For a time, politicians such as Reagan were able to hold the factions together and for a few years after 2001 it looked as if Bush would do the same. The factions started to become greater than what held the movement together by 2007 and 2008. The War in Iraq and the financial collapse really brought out the tensions.

I don’t think there is anything unusual about this. Political movements always have many factions and are never unitary. This was true of American liberalism after the 1930s. The real question is can political leaders and social movement actors figure out ways–as FDR did–to hold the factions together and use the divisions as source of energy.

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

The transition to the second stage occurred as the conservative movement’s electoral victories brought the New Right to power in Washington, most notably through the two-term Reagan presidency, the Republican takeover of Congress in the 1994 midterms, and then single-party control following George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2001. According to Zelizer, this second stage in the history of modern conservatism lasted until 2008, when voters delivered a harsh verdict on conservative governance

The GOP has not had any new ideas since Reagan is the second stage of conservatism marked by no new ideas?
Are the Tea Baggers a third stage of hate, racism and a doubling down on the failed economic polices of the Bush years lower taxes create jobs comes to mind, lower taxes will stimulate the economy comes to mind, only a fool raises taxes during a recession comes to mind.
Never mind FDR raised taxes on the rich and it worked.
The GOP seems to support what they want to hear rather than look at real world examples. Can you provide other examples of that kind of thinking assuming you agree with my point?

szielinski January 30th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 18

Is Obama living in Bush’s shadow or Clinton and Reagan’s shadows? What, in other words, was historically novel in the Bush administration that he but not his predecessors have overshadowed the Obama presidency?

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

That is a very good point. I don’t think these are mutually exclusive. Most of the essays are in agreement that Republican politics during Bush’s presidency did focus on supporting the shift of economic power to these regions (through tax policy, labor law and more). Logevall also writes about a general bipartisan consensus over foreign policy that shaped the GOP during these years. So I think both are at work in most of these essays. We do need to be careful though not to overlook divisions that existed between the parties. Sometimes the divisions centered on core policies, such as the tax cuts, while in other areas polarized parties fought over how to implement this consensus.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:24 pm
In response to masaccio @ 20

Conservatism was not really radical anti-statism under Reagan. On national security, Reagan was more than comfortable with expanding the federal government. The growth of the defense budget is a core feature of his presidency. Reagan also backed off many domestic spending cuts and learned to live with much of the New Deal/Great Society state. Of course Reagan did push to reduce funding for programs, staffed federal positions with people hostile to the programs they governed, and undercut the fiscal strength of the Treasury. But, we argue that the morphing happened as early as the 1940s.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:28 pm
In response to szielinski @ 23

Rarely does a president redefine the political agenda. Presidents inherit the ideas and policies of the past. But in some areas Bush pushed key policies in a rather bold direction. The transformation of national security policies, for example, including the use of torture, regime change wars, a new homeland security structure and more are rather significant. This is not simply about doing what Reagan did, but our national security program looks much much different than it did before 2001. Obama has essentially operated under the programs of his administration. Similarly, the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 (which historian James Patterson has a brilliant essay about) were obviously a continuation of the programs of conservatives since the 1970s and 1980s. But the depth of the cuts and the structure (which has forced their extension) will have a very serious impact on the fisc. Finally, every Republican president since Nixon has accepted strong presidential power. But I would argue that Bush probably strengthened the institution more than any of the post-1960s Republicans who came before him.

bgrothus January 30th, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I hated W’s smirking belligerence as much as anything, when he was confronted, on just about anything. One of the front-pagers here the other day pointed out that after the “drubbing” he got at one point in the election cycle, he refused to bow to “elections have consequences” and in his next State of the Union speech, plowed right ahead with whatever he wanted to continue to pursue.

I now wish Obama would do some of the same. You say Obama is unable to dismantle much of what W left behind. How much of this is Obama’s inability to fight and how much is really entrenched?

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:30 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 12

I think there is some truth to this. However, I think both parties receive a significant amount of funds from both sources. This is one of those areas that Matt talked about–where the shifts in the political process since the 1960s are as significant to understanding President Bush as the right/left divide.

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Karl Rove adopted the goal of assembling a permanent Republican majority that would equal the strength of the New Deal coalition energized by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s—based on an unstable approach that sometimes operated through “big-tent” tactics but more often reflected ideologically divisive appeals to the conservative base.

ideologically divisive more like racially divisive, anti Gay, anti Woman etc etc Rove talked about getting Hispanic voters but the GOP went all anti Immigrant on us before the economy went bad. Lou Dobbs was laying the groundwork for immigrant hate daily on CNN almost like he was told a scapegoat for the bad economy would be needed.
Thanks to Lou we now have a Tea Party and Hispanics are the new Jews being blamed for the economy. It would not be out of Rove’s character to create a political scape goat ahead of an economic crash.

RevBev January 30th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

On the national security aspects such as torture and the wars, do the writers get to an explanation of why he was so free to get away with those steps….ex. 9/11, etc. or something about Bush?

szielinski January 30th, 2011 at 2:31 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 21

As of today, it sure seems like the Tea Party movement will continue to threaten the GOP elite either by running candidates that the (conservative!) party elite do not want or by engulfing it by pushing out that party elite and becoming the party per se. Like the New Deal Democrats, the GOP elite seem to be leading a coalition that’s untenable.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 27

I don’t think we can say this is just about Obama being unwilling or unable to fight. First, it is pretty common if you read U.S. political history to see that presidents rarely are successful at remaking the policy landscape. It is much harder to dismantle policies that to create them. This was true for Democrats and Republicans. There is a great book by Paul Pierson about Reagan and many of the failures to eliminate domestic programs in the 1980s. Second, the essays this book (particularly Naftali, Patterson, and Logevall) show that the shifts in policies that do take place are rather significant. It was a high expectation to think that Obama could really transform what had taken place given the scale and scope of the changes.

One of the big questions is the Bush tax cuts. His acceptance of extending them was a major concession. Patterson really shows the impact that those cuts had in the short-term and long term. Public opinion was not on the side of extending these for the wealthy yet Obama did. This is one of the cases where there was probably more political space than the president said.

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

In domestic policy, Bush sought to empower oil companies and other extractive energy interests based largely in the Sunbelt, part of the broader favoritism toward non-unionized firms in the high-tech sector and low-wage firms in the “Wal-Mart economy.” The administration also cut income taxes in order to redistribute government benefits to wealthy Americans and pushed for “deregulation” by stacking executive branch agencies with conservative ideologues who used federal programs to promote corporate interests.

Gulf oil spill, coal mines collapsing, food poisoning recalls whats next?

wavpeac January 30th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

One issue that has never been resolved for me, is Bush’s pretzel incident and bike accident both resulting in facial injuries. The only people I know to have fallen on their faces (hands not protecting them) were alcoholics. (seriously) Was Bush drinking while in office…was there any factual evidence?

Matthew Lassiter January 30th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Julian, you don’t have to respond to this unless you want to, but I’d like to point out one thing to readers who are critical of Bush (as am I) but haven’t read the book. One of the most fascinating chapters is the one by Gary Gerstle, “Minorities, Multiculturalism, and the Presidency of George W. Bush.” Gerstle explains that while Bush opposed affirmative action and welfare–standard conservative positions–he also was genuinely committed to multiculturalism and racial/religious pluralism and performed an important function by marginalizing the hard-line culture warriors in his party, appointing African-Americans and other minorities to important government posts, supporting immigration reform that many in his own party opposed, not to mention funding for AIDS in Africa and other policies that were atypical for a conservative Republican. Of course Bush and Rove exploited the backlash against gay marriage in the 2004 election, and Gerstle ends up judging much of the multiculturalist agenda a failure, but he also gives Bush credit for not overly stigmatizing American Muslims after 9-11 and for pushing hard for immigration reform (not least because he and Rove recognized that it is not a smart long-term policy for the GOP to bash Latino immigrants in a nation that will be 30% Hispanic by 2050).

bgrothus January 30th, 2011 at 2:35 pm
In response to szielinski @ 31

It is interesting to me that in an era of no money, the Rs could not find anyone with seniority to serve on the Ways and Means Committee in the House, and they staffed it all with Freshmen, most likely Tea Party conservatives. I mean, since there is no money available for earmarks and the like, no one cared about it. I guess they did not even have a babysitter for these people.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:35 pm
In response to RevBev @ 30

Early on, Tim Naftali argues the changes were slow in coming. Meaning, many officials in the Bush administration even after 9/11 were still willing to rely on Cold War national security institutions. Slowly though the change happened. There are many reasons. Partisan politics was obviously important with both sides accelerating the arms race to be tougher against terrorism. Moreover, many of these changes were put into place without much public scrutiny. Once they came under the spotlight, they were harder to dismantle for the reasons we have discussed. Democrats also felt politically vulnerable attacking these programs for fear of being called weak on defense. Finally, the authors did not find much political evidence that public opinion was against the government using these methods to combat terrorism, certainly in the early years of the administration. Therefore, the push against this expansion was quite weak.

RevBev January 30th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 37

So helpful and sad as I guess with the perpetuation/expansion any opposition will be harder….Thanks

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Gary Gerstle wrote one of the most interesting chapters in the book. I remember first reading a draft of this and really found this to be a fresh interpretation. Kevin Kruse makes some similar points in his chapter on religion and Bush. Gerstle argues that Bush was very much hoping to diversify the Republican Party. He found that Bush’s life in Texas really shaped his approach to these issues and his own personal world was very multicultural. Bush tried to sustain these ideas after 9/11 and with immigration, but the end counter-pressure within the party were much stronger. I strongly encourage people to read this chapter, it gives a very different feel for the president. It also makes clear how a multicultural agenda faces some difficult challenges within the GOP. Kruse also makes some really interesting points about how Bush wanted to rely on religion to bring the government into some new areas of policy (such as aid to Africa).

bgrothus January 30th, 2011 at 2:40 pm

So in evaluating the success of the Bush Presidency, how does one determine what “success” means? I mean, he was incredibly successful in pushing forward the unitary executive, favoring the rich at all costs, etc.

But in terms of democracy, the citizenry and the status of the US long-term, was the country already headed for a big fall, or did Bush policies push the country over the cliff?

Who measures the success and on what grounds?

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 2:40 pm

In the area of national security, the administration systematically expanded the power of the executive branch to deploy military forces abroad and implement related programs such as domestic surveillance,

Bush spied on peace groups sent in ringers as Michael Moore pointed out we assume that they were reading our blog is the Obama administration spying on us too?
Funny that Right Wing hate sites can openly talk about violence and they are not getting shut down nor are the Feds arresting the Right Wingers before they go on shooting sprees.
I can understand Bush doing this but not Obama does Obama have control or not? Did Bush embed to many people in to many agencies for Obama to effect any change?

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 36

We will have to see how the committee is run. Since the 1980s, the parties have been more willing to staff committees with people who have less seniority. The reason is that the chairperson is much less powerful than in the committee era of Congress. The party leadership runs the committee with a strong hand and is more interested in staffing the panel with people who will be loyal in their vote. The committee is still quite powerful, controlling Social Security, taxation and more.

szielinski January 30th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 36

I suspect we’ll see many oddities like this in the near future! Perhaps the old guard GOP doesn’t want to take the blame for Tea Party freshman and what they want to accomplish….

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to wavpeac @ 34

Seconded important

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:43 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 40

That is why I avoid that question and leave it to others. I do tend to be interested in political and policy impact. This is a crucial part of any presidency. On this front I think it is hard to say Bush was not “successful.” Indeed, as time moves on and his programs stick, the case becomes stronger. On the second part of your question I’ll leave that to others.

bgrothus January 30th, 2011 at 2:47 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 45

What are the imperatives for political and policy change now?

seaglass January 30th, 2011 at 2:47 pm
In response to masaccio @ 20

Because, most of us know that the Gopers are really about POWER and if they don’t have it they’re only about getting it away from who does. When in Power they USE it and all the blather about small Gov’t ceases until the “other” guys get back in then they want a small Gov’t and deficits count , not their deficits ONLY the “other” guys. Hypocrisy you say but of course they don’t see it that way because they don’t consider the “other” guy as a legitimately holding power even when they do. This is also why so called Conservative SCOTUS judges can without hesitation wipe out a century’s worth of precedent and don’t consider it being activist. In their view all those decisions were illegitimate so overturning them was just returning things or making things right.

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 2:47 pm

During the Reagan administration, conservative intellectuals developed a theory of the “unitary executive” that radically increased presidential power, and Republicans reacted to the Iran-Contra scandal by defending White House authority to circumvent the law in its conduct of foreign policy. Republican (and Democratic) presidents have also asserted the right to send troops into combat without congressional authorization, an almost unlimited view of the constitutional power vested in the commander in chief.

Jon Woo’s ideas were based on that but also on Nixon’s its not a crime if the President does it theory but I thought those ideas were discredited by Watergate?

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to szielinski @ 31

This is a very interesting point. While some experts have claimed that the Tea Party is just an extension of Bush era conservatism I think there is a very big tension between the two. President Bush and the Republican leadership were not right-wing radicals. They were all part of a Republican Party that had enjoyed power for several decades and which was very much rooted in Washington. The K-Street Lobby was a perfect example of how entrenched the GOP had become. It is clear that many parts of the Tea Party Movement (though people like Armey do play a big role in the leadership) see themselves more like the right in the 1960s and 1970s, an out-group really willing to take bold and politically dangerous steps. My instinct is that the party establishment will tame these new Republicans. But it is a tough coalition to sustain.

tjbs January 30th, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Torture / Murder / Treason

Loved his psycho-sexual torture, him and condi did.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:51 pm

They were not discredited with Watergate. During the late 1970s and 1980s many Republicans (like Cheney and Rumsfeld) developed a strong argument in favor of executive power. They responded to congressional reforms in the 1970s that curtailed presidential power (like the War Powers Act and FISA) by mounting a strong defense of the executive branch and criticizing Congress as inefficient, slow and corrupt. The arguments that Bush and Cheney articulated about executive power and national security after 9/11 were born in the 1970s. The minority report in the Iran Contra hearing, which Cheney helped craft, focus on these very themes. It is interesting to see, via the perspective of the Bush presidency, how the limited effect Watergate had on our political culture when it came to this issue. Crucial, I argue in my book, is the fact that conservatives came to embrace presidential power in this period.

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to seaglass @ 47

Yes reasons change desire remains the same Bush ran on giving back the people their money with tax cuts mostly for the rich but he and the MSM never mentioned that fact. Instead Bush wanted to stimulate the economy and create jobs.
Now the economy is bad because Bush was wrong and now we need tax cuts to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

Matthew Lassiter January 30th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 45

Maybe it is a hard question for you to avoid, as it goes to the heart of assessing the Bush presidency? Many of the essays emphasize that the tensions within conservatism make it hard to translate a political movement into effective governance. But what is success? If measured by the occupation of Iraq, Katrina, and the collapse of the economy, Bush’s presidency seems a clear failure. If measured (as Julian has already argued in some of his responses) by the ideological goal of redistributing income upward and making it very hard for future presidents to unwind the tax cuts for the upper income brackets, by an anything-goes approach to corporate power, by reversing the 1970s-era checks on the presidency and reasserting executive power in foreign policy and ‘homeland security,’ then Bush seems to have succeeded in large part. Or at least his success is contingent on whether, in the end, the Obama administration overturns or works within Bush’s framework.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
In response to seaglass @ 47

No doubt about it. Conservatives are activists when it comes to government. Mary Dudziak has a wonderful essay in the book about conservatives and the law that makes this very point. Earlier I suggested that we must focus more on a battle over priorities about how to use government rather than looking at recent history as a battle between a “no-government” Republican Party and a “pro-government” Democratic Party. The essays in the book that focus on the law under Bush make this quite clear.

RevBev January 30th, 2011 at 2:55 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 54

Would you explain focus on the law….as in broken or passed, etc. What will we see?

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 2:55 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 51

Ok the Nut cases never thought the idea if the President does it its ok was discredited.
Funny Obama is in power and even though he has surrendered on every issue the GOP is screaming in projection about Obama wanting to do doing what Bush would have done if he were a Lefty.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:55 pm

We do need to be careful here. Thinking of Matt’s comments earlier. Jim Patterson’s and Nelson Lichtenstein’s essays in the book makes a strong case that Bush’s economic policies–from deregulation to tax cuts–were very expansive but rooted in policy preferences that had taken shape for several decades. Many Democrats had accepted these policies as well.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 2:59 pm

This is a good point. I don’t think all the authors are in agreement on this. I believe that the divisions in the GOP sometimes could be useful. If the divisions are contained, as they were during the early part of the presidency, they become a source of building coalitional support for the party and the president’s policies. I think most of the essays agree that in terms of policies–the division in the GOP did nothing to prevent some rather significant changes from taking place. The divisions caused two problems. First, there were certain policies where the divisions undercut the ability of the GOP to move forward in ways that might have benefited the party. Nowhere is this clearer than with immigration reform which ended the genuine effort by Bush to bring Latino voters into his party. Second, the divisions became a problem in the electoral arena by 2008 when it dampened enthusiasm for the GOP.

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 3:01 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 57

These policies in the real world are a disaster the fact that Democrats supported them means nothing. Lax oil rig inspections and approval of experimental deep water plans gave us the Gulf Oil spill.
Lax coal mine safety enforcement cost lives, no food inspections meant mercury cat food from China, lax food inspection means more food recalls.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

There is a wonderful chapter in the book by the historian David Greenberg who writes about anti-intellectualism in the Bush administration. The chapter is NOT about Bush and his intelligence. Rather Greenberg traces how the administration mounted an intense war against expertise as they pursued their policy agenda. In areas such as the environment, Bush and his colleagues were very successful when they tried to discredit the experts who were raising big questions about what was going on. I think the findings of the chapter offer some important insights into the kind of politics we have seen in recent months.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:06 pm
In response to RevBev @ 55

Dudziak looks at how the administration used the law to advance its objectives. She challenges conservatives and liberals who have argued that the administration ignored the law. She finds that Bush officials developed complex and “creative” ways to avoid court jurisdiction such as with their constitutional theories of executive power. She shows how the administration used law to push certain policies and to protect the executive branch

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 3:07 pm

While mortality rates in the United States overall have declined over the past few decades, mortality rates in metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas have diverged since the early 1990s. Figure 6 shows that, since 1990, non-metropolitan mortality has declined at an average annual rate of only 0.73 percent, significantly slower than the metropolitan rate of 1.27 percent.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/cea/factsheets-reports/strengthening-the-rural-economy/the-current-state-of-rural-america

http://my.firedoglake.com/thingscomeundone/2011/01/16/the-hispanic-paradox-is-greater-than-we-think/

Rural areas are red state GOP strongholds any doubts deregulation or lax regulation of farm chemicals explains why people in Dem Blue Urban Areas since the early 90′s live longer than people governed by GOP deregulation policies?

JamesJoyce January 30th, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Under “w” administration, CDO’s rated “AAA” Sold throughout the world. GS insures CDO’s w/AIG Oil reaches $147.00. I guess all those loans needed was a little increased in energy costs to “kill” them. GS collect.. AIG goes south. The housing market implodes after sustained high energy prices. A success for Executive Oil, from a conservative perceptive. Nice transfer of wealth. Now we can do it all over again as the markets react to the corporate’s oil mantra and Egypt Lots to look forward to folks. A sequel called, Corporate Sodomy, Part II?

bgrothus January 30th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

It appears that Bush was extremely successful in getting his agenda implemented. I guess what history will determine is whether the policies were successful in terms of whether our democracy/economy will survive.

That we will all be dead (and perhaps our democracy as well) appears to me will also become a fact. There will be no historians to sort it out.

RevBev January 30th, 2011 at 3:10 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 61

Fascinating, and still raises the question how they were so unchallenged. Maybe W is really the teflon Pres. Does the book Bush’s Brain (if you’ve read it) accurately reflect how decisions were being made?

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 3:11 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 60

Reading about the Bushies hate of smart people would be funny. Reading their lame attempts to discredit science with lies I can blow holes in with 5 minutes of google search suggests that the Bushies need better liars.
I remember when politicians cared about voters enough to tell better lies. I think Bush showed his contempt for America people by not even bothering to lie to us good.
Still I will ask about your book at the library.

szielinski January 30th, 2011 at 3:11 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 58

Is the GOP elite/Tea Party movement differences approaching a point of no return where a specific failure will prove decisive for one of the two?

Will it produce a defeat for the Tea Party akin to the defeat Jesse Jackson suffered in 1988?

PeasantParty January 30th, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Julian,

Can you say that our current/Bush policies are more ideological on both the part of both parties? I am trying to find where our Government is using leadership in the benefit of the country as a whole.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:12 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 64

Most presidents go through cycles in terms of how they are evaluated. Even someone like Herbert Hoover has had historians who look at changes that did occur under his presidency which influenced FDR. As I mentioned, the transformation in how we analyze Ronald Reagan has been dramatic. This is really unending. It depends on new archival discoveries, changes in the political context within which historians are writing, and the way that events unfold overseas (think of Truman as another example).

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 3:15 pm

The chapter is NOT about Bush and his intelligence.

Can’t write about facts not in evidence. Same with his military record.:)

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:16 pm
In response to szielinski @ 67

Not yet. The tensions between the new Republicans in 1995 and the leadership was also quite severe. People like Robert Dole were really frustrated with the new class in the House. But over time, the radical Republicans became Washington Republicans. It was a pretty quick process. My guess is this can happen again. I can also see some of the grass roots energy of the Tea Party dying down, particularly if Obama continues to make aggressive moves toward the center and the economy picks up.

Matthew Lassiter January 30th, 2011 at 3:18 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 64

Here’s where political historians draw distinctions between a focus on the influence of political parties and particular presidents, and a focus on political institutions and entrenched bureaucratic interests over the long term. For example, Bush clearly wanted to ‘partially privatize’ Social Security. Remember when he made that a feature of his 2005 State of the Union address? He appeared to think that he could move on this issue after the 2004 election, just as he moved on tax cuts in 2001, despite political resistance. Yet the Democrats and the hesitation of many Republicans, and the many American voters who do not want their retirement to be at risk, stopped this cold. He failed to kick-start immigration reform. It’s hard to get domestic policy through Congress unless you can peel off part of the other party’s members. Obama barely did it with health care reform with almost all Republicans opposed, and he did so in the end by compromising significantly with corporate interest groups before Congress voted on the law (no public option, etc). I think we might draw a distinction between presidential power in foreign policy, which it is very hard for Congress or even public opinion to check, and power in domestic policy, which is much more limited by political institutions, and which presidents exercise as much through executive branch agencies and appointments as through laws.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:20 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 68

Not exactly clear on the question can you explain? The essays show Bush officials constantly trying to balance these needs–doing what (they think) is best for the country and doing what is needed to win reelection and build a strong coalition. Often the two didn’t go hand in hand. But please expand so I can answer you.

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Deregulation of the Banks, of home loans, and the bond rating agencies are Bush’s deregulation legacy.

szielinski January 30th, 2011 at 3:21 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 71

But won’t the integration of the Tea Party Congressmen and women just reproduce the movement-elite dynamic that is one component of what drives the Tea Party?

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

This gets back to our earlier discussion. In general, work by journalists tends to stress how president remake politics. The work by historians, and some political scientists, often finds that the case is very different. Presidents are often constrained by existing policies, institutions, and public opinion. The cases Matt mentions are very good. I think our book makes clear that President Bush was often frustrated by his inability to make changes, even with the significant advances that do take place. Indeed, without 9/11 it is unclear how much change would have taken place. I would only disagree a bit with Matt (and this relates to another book of mine which we discussed here, Arsenal of Democracy) that presidents have a free hand on national security. Public opinion, Congress, and pre-existing policies have an enormous impact here as well. I think President Obama has learned this since day 1.

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 3:25 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 71

Nope Newt compromised with Clinton to get stuff passed and his own party went after him. No GOP leader will repeat that mistake for a generation. No GOP leader not eve Newt today has the Media spotlight and political support to defy the GOP.
Sarah Palin is the GOP’s only star who regular voters can identify.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:26 pm
In response to szielinski @ 75

I am not 100 percent certain we know what drives the Tea Party movement. Some of it is a rebellion against the GOP and the perception that the leadership became too comfortable in Washington. Some of it is the frustration and anxiety among the middle class about the economy. Some of it is clearly a strong movement against Obama and his policies. I think political parties have the ability to absorb these kinds of rebellions. They can live with the movement-elite dynamic, if it becomes a way to drive up voting and broaden legislative support. In the first few years after 9/11, using national security as a unifying theme, Republicans were able to do this. The impact was clear in 2004. The big question in my mind is if Tea Party Republicans push things so far that they force the party–as in 1995-1996–into taking politically untenable steps that give Democrats a huge opening.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:28 pm

That might be true. Of course, all Republicans today remember the government shutdown in 1995 and 1996 are are hesitant to repeat that mistake. For all the rhetoric, Bush actually abandoned or backed off from the far right on many issues, immigration reform, Social Security privatization, other wars of regime change (like Iran) and more. My guess is we will see this again.

PeasantParty January 30th, 2011 at 3:29 pm

I just meant that the ideological factors seem to be so much stronger than actually taking care of America and it’s citizens.

For example: Bush deemed his new economy to be a “service economy” and even went so far as to declare that Burger joints were manufacturing companies.

Well, the service economy hasn’t worked out too well for America. So, I am beginning to think of it in the terms of, to whom are we in service to.

Matthew Lassiter January 30th, 2011 at 3:30 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 76

Yes I partially revise my comment and encourage everyone to read Arsenal of Democracy. But it seems difficult to constrain a president who is determined to introduce troops into a theater of combat, at least in the short term, even though public opinion and bureaucracies shape presidential decision-making as Julian has shown well in his previous work.

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 3:31 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 78

Racism and hate the TeaBaggers hate taxes because they think the Dems give their tax money to black people.
Reagan’s famous Welfare Mom from Chicago buying Steak and driving a Caddy started this.
Blacks were the scapegoat for the White Middle class falling behind in tough economic times today Hispanics are the new scapegoats.

szielinski January 30th, 2011 at 3:31 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 78

The impact was clear in 2004. The big question in my mind is if Tea Party Republicans push things so far that they force the party–as in 1995-1996–into taking politically untenable steps that give Democrats a huge opening.

We may an answer to this one this time next year!

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:33 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 80

This is an interesting question, not one I am sure I have an answer to. Obviously many of the economic policies (see the Jacobs and Lichtenstein chapters in the book) did benefit key interest groups in the Republican coalition. But the basic policy outlook of deregulation, tax cuts, and shifting resources toward the sunbelt) meshed with the ideological worldview of the GOP by 2001. I think Bush believed that he was doing what was best in the country, and key interests lined up behind someone whose views were so similar. This is not to say his policies were best for the country. Just in trying to evaluate what he was doing I don’t think there was a huge tension between worldview and interest group support in the GOP.

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 3:34 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 79

Any common threads to why Bush backed down on certain issues? Bad poll numbers, budget numbers that would not add up, no troops to invade Iran without a draft? Was there a cut off point where Bush decided things were impossible?

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:36 pm

The relationship between race and conservatism has been a big issue for historians. Some historians argue that race was the underlying factor behind the conservative mobilization since the 1960s. Others argue that many other factors were at work, such as national security arguments and political economy. Matt has written some fantastic stuff on this subject. I do think Gary Gerstle’s chapter in my book strongly challenges any notion that conservatism has been unified on race. He provides rather strong evidence that Bush, and many Republicans in his Texas circles, didn’t view the world that way and wanted a more diversified Republican Party. There were political reasons for doing so but this was also part of how they saw the world. There have clearly been racial arguments employed by some Tea Party protesters but I am not sure we would want to say this is all that the movement is about.

eten January 30th, 2011 at 3:37 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 80

Ideology is organized religion by any other name. The objective of the Tea Baggers is the same as the objective of all right wing conservatives including the fascists of the 20′s and 30′s. They want corporations to control the government. If they can’t have that then they want the smallest government that they can buy. The concept of “we the people” has no real meaning for them.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:39 pm

One are the limits of presidential power. Second, is the persistence and durability of policies that Bush inherited when he became president. A third factor was the enormous political damage from Iraq which undercut much of the political strength Bush secured after 9/11. A fourth was the revitalization of the Democratic Party in 2004. Finally, I think (and I stress this perhaps more than others) was that Bush’s national security agenda would always be difficult to actually implement in the post-Vietnam age. Just as conservatives found that many New Deal/Great Society programs were more popular than they thought, the impact of Vietnam was also long-lasting. There was no more draft, there was a distaste for long and costly wars, and there was not much legislative support for calling for the kinds of sacrifice needed in a full-scale military mobilization. All of these are highlighted by different authors as important sources of push back.

RevBev January 30th, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Do any of your writers explain why W let Rove go? Or any analysis of the Plame event? Could W have been as out of that loop as claimed?

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Fred Logevall, I believe, talks a bit about this though the pieces don’t really focus on the “inside story” kind of work we find from Woodward. This is more big picture. But several are pretty clear that the Plame event was part of a rather systematic effort 2002-2003 to suppress and intimidate opponents.

eten January 30th, 2011 at 3:43 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 86

Don’t you think that fear is the driving force behind all Republican initiatives? Fear of a race. Fear of criminals. Fear of foreigners. Fear of this and fear that. And isn’t their answer always war or more and bigger jails?

szielinski January 30th, 2011 at 3:43 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 86

There have clearly been racial arguments employed by some Tea Party protesters but I am not sure we would want to say this is all that the movement is about.

It’s true the Tea Party and the GOP are not wholly devoted to a racist politics but it’s also true that both by necessity must accommodate their racists. In this, they are no different than the relationship between the Democratic Party and the Southern Democrats. What would the electoral future of the GOP be without the party’s voters concerned with race issues?

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:45 pm
In response to szielinski @ 92

I suspect that the political costs are higher for Republicans today. If Bush had been able to obtain immigration reform his chances for expanding the Republican base would have been quite significant. While in the short-term some of the anti-immigrant and even anti-race feeling might fuel some Tea Party activism, I don’t think that helps the GOP. I think it distracts them–and media coverage of the party–from issues that might more potent politically (like the anti-tax argument).

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:48 pm
In response to eten @ 91

Fear is an important aspect of partisan politics. To be sure, Democrats use fear too. It is an old tradition (think of how Truman “scared the hell” out of Congress, taking the advice of Arthur Vandenberg, to build support for the Truman Doctrine. The essays really show how the post-9/11 fears were integral to the politics employed by the Bush administration in his early years. The 2002 midterms were a case in point. But conservatives have also used the politics of hope. Reagan did this very often, such as with his Morning in America campaign. Bush used this rhetoric as well in his discussions of the economy.

Matthew Lassiter January 30th, 2011 at 3:48 pm

I’ll throw out one more really general question to Julian as this forum hits the home stretch. The contributors to your volume should be commended for taking the risks involved in writing a history of the very recent past and even a history of the present. But is there anything in the book that you think would have changed if you were finishing it now—after the Republicans have retaken the House, after Obama pushed through the longtime Democratic goal of national health care but also has failed to address unemployment and home foreclosures with the same effectiveness that both administrations addressed the crisis facing the banks, and etc?

PeasantParty January 30th, 2011 at 3:50 pm

excellent question!

szielinski January 30th, 2011 at 3:50 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 93

While in the short-term some of the anti-immigrant and even anti-race feeling might fuel some Tea Party activism, I don’t think that helps the GOP. I think it distracts them–and media coverage of the party–from issues that might more potent politically (like the anti-tax argument).

Race talk, along with conservative positions on many other social issues, may not help the GOP, but are they not the social issues the glue that keeps the party whole?

RevBev January 30th, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I re-read your intro. Do any of your writers address the animus that surrounded Bush by the time he was finished? I realize all this is scholarly, but I am curious if any of his personality/quirks/foibles were discussed. For instance, his pretend search for WMDs was one of the worst jokes Ive ever heard.

Matthew Lassiter January 30th, 2011 at 3:51 pm

and, I should add, after Obama escalated in Afghanistan even as he drew back in Iraq

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:53 pm

This is a great question. I love the challenge of writing about contemporary history. I realize that there are risks. I approached this volume with the understanding the history would be incomplete and some of it subject to revision. I have not been that shocked by what has happened, although I think some of my authors were stronger believers that 2008 was the end of the era of conservatism. I tried to frame the book as a moment of crisis for the REpublican Party, which I think it still was. The strains of decades of being in power and the strains of some of the factionalism and contradictions that emerged with the politically unpopular war in Iraq undercut the strength of the GOP. But I argued that it is a mistake to assume we had entered a new era. President Obama himself (while he was a candidate) warned that conservatism had made long-lasting changes in our ideas and policies. Obama himself is a product of this era–rather than the 1960s–and reflects this through a rather centrist approach to domestic policy. Therefore, I feel that the findings in the book still work. They provide a really outstanding look at key issues from this era and capture the ending of the Bush administration as one where a party had fallen politically and it was unclear where they were going next. I am sure as the archives open and events unfold, some claims in the chapters will be challenged. But that is a good thing. Matt and I both know that there are no interpretations by historians that go unchallenged. Even work published 200 years after an event takes place is subject to debate and analysis. That is the great thing about writing history, it is an ongoing process and ongoing debate. The point of this book was to start the debate with some very solid work and some provocative arguments.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:56 pm
In response to RevBev @ 98

I might be wrong here, but I think some of the authors touch on this, in terms of when his “average guy” persona became a huge political liability. But it was not the central theme as the authors really pushed to talk about the Bush presidency without focusing just on Bush himself. This I would add is another way in which historians start writing about periods in presidential history. They start looking at issues such as religion and politics in these years, or anti-intellectualism in public life rather than the ins and outs of each individual which journalists tend to do so well.

dakine01 January 30th, 2011 at 3:56 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon,

Julian, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the financial crisis.

Matthew, Thank you again for Hosting this lively discussion.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Julian’s information and book

Matthew’s information

Thanks all,
Have a great evening!

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I think that one of the factors many observers missed was how the evolution and expansion of the conservative media (including on the Internet) created a foundation and bully pulpit for conservatives after 2008 to attack the president and shape the public agenda.

Julian Zelizer January 30th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Thank you everyone for a terrific discussion. I hope everyone enjoys the book. Great being here. Julian

eten January 30th, 2011 at 3:59 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 94

Being the consummate actor Reagan did one fine job deceiving the public. If both parties use fear to keep the public in line, to manipulate public attitudes, who benifits most from this tactic? The oligarchy?

Matthew Lassiter January 30th, 2011 at 3:59 pm

As Julian just said, “The point of this book was to start the debate with some very solid work and some provocative arguments.” With this goal, The Presidency of George W. Bush is certainly a success, with important essays by eleven of the most influential political historians of modern America. Thanks to Julian for participating in this forum, thanks to the rest of you for the questions, and I encourage everyone to read this book.

PeasantParty January 30th, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Thank you both. Enjoyed the Book Salon tonight!

RevBev January 30th, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Thanks for your time and for the writers work as well. I will continue to wonder how he seemed so unfettered by heavy opposition if not prosecution.

PeasantParty January 30th, 2011 at 4:03 pm
In response to RevBev @ 108

;-) You and me both!

RevBev January 30th, 2011 at 4:16 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 109

Looks like that was the last word; thanks;)

ThingsComeUndone January 30th, 2011 at 4:18 pm
In response to Julian Zelizer @ 88

Thanks very informative answer.

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