If you are president of the United States, there must be many days when you wish you had stayed in bed. That has to be occurring more frequently for George W. Bush as his tenure in office draws slowly — perhaps all too so for him — to an end.
Take the other morning when Bush awoke to find that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, generally considered a Republican, for whom he has had nothing but praise, was really a closet dissenter in league with what seems to be a growing number of Americans who don’t think very highly of Bush. Greenspan accused both the president and congressional Republicans of endangering the economy by abandoning the sound, conservative principles of fiscal management to the evil of deficit spending for political gain. He said the Republicans deserved to lose control of Congress in 2006.
Worse, the generally cryptic Greenspan, whose charisma has been compared to that of an inanimate object, seems not to have liked the president very much despite having served under both him and his father. He really had more empathy for Bill Clinton. His praise of Clinton “as politically courageous” was the most public passion Greenspan has managed since warning the world about the dangers of the “new economy.” Ironically, it was the record tax revenues from that dot-com bubble that temporarily swelled Treasury’s coffers and allowed Clinton to balance the budget. At least Greenspan was right about the fleeting nature of the dot-coms.
So now Bush not only has to face the growing public disenchantment over an unpopular war, the intense criticism of his homeland security measures and his thwarted plans to bring some sense to immigration, he must deal with being called fiscally unsound by an economic icon on whose advice he had relied. Praise the libertarians and pass the ammunition — to the Democrats, that is. The benefits to their 2008 election arsenal could be substantial.
Greenspan, like most of those who see the current White House as an axis of evil, to borrow a phrase, can’t resist including Vice President Cheney, his one-time colleague and friend from the administration of Gerald Ford, in his criticism. Greenspan wrote that when Bush and Cheney won in 2000, “we had a golden opportunity to advance the ideals of effective, fiscally conservative government and free markets,” but instead “I was soon to see my old friends veer off to unexpected directions.”
It seems fair comment here to inquire why, if Greenspan felt so strongly about the president’s failure to grasp the need to control the deficit and to use the bully pulpit and the power of the veto to control spending, he didn’t speak out firmly and publicly? Maybe he should have. Few voices carried more weight. Perhaps he did privately, but his public pronouncements were never forceful. So why now?
Furthermore, Greenspan’s rebuke of this president and Republicans in Congress and his praise for Clinton, whose wife is the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, appear politically calculated. His remarks can only be useful as a blueprint for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign and other Democrats. The economy is always the No. 1 domestic issue in any presidential election, and only in wartime is foreign policy more important. Even then, the huge costs of a military expedition of the current scope and its impact on other needs link the two issues in debate.
Obviously, Greenspan is also interested in selling books, and his media-savvy wife, longtime TV correspondent Andrea Mitchell, clearly understands the importance of spicing up a subject that could be used to combat sleeplessness. If that was her advice, it may prove correct from a commercial standpoint, but not altogether so from a fair and prudent standpoint. It seems like piling on.
One can only wonder if Greenspan somehow misses the spotlight and authority that made him the most influential economic manager of his time even if his utterances were often almost impenetrable to the average person.
For Bush, Greenspan’s assessment of him must have made it just another in a long line of bad days.
(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)