Everywhere I've been recently, I heard a version of an argument that I hear a lot of Democrats -- more accurately, liberal supporters of Democrats -- make on TV and in print now. It was: "Why can't Democrats get stuff done the way that Republicans could under Bush?" One activist in Wisconsin asked me why Democrats didn't ram more things through reconciliation "like Bush did."
I think this argument leaves out a lot of history. What were the biggest domestic legislative accomplishments of the Bush administration? To what degree did they involve Republicans using their power in a way Democrats are too wimpy too? Let's run them down.
* The tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Those actually passed in the reconciliation process -- the 2003 package passed 50-50 in a 51-49 GOP Senate.
* No Child Left Behind. That was huge but it wasn't a conservative accomplishment. Conservatives hated it, and considered it a compromise with the federal education apparatus.
* Medicare Part D. Again, enormous, but apart from the creation of HSAs, conservatives loathed it, considered it a Republican laying-down of arms on the welfare state.
I don't think I'm leaving anything out -- even Fred Barnes, in a
top 10 rundown
of Bush's achievements, limited the domestic wins to NCLB and Medicare reform as the big domestic wins. By contrast, the big dreams of the conservative base -- privatization of Social Security, deep spending cuts, abolishing the Departments of Education and Energy -- got nowhere. Go back and read the
in Bush's second convention address, which is a pretty good gauge of what voters expected and Republicans wanted.
* In a new term, I will lead a bipartisan effort to reform and simplify the federal tax code.
* We must strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to save some of their taxes in a personal account, a nest egg you can call your own and government can never take away.
And so on, with big conservative pledges matched lots of pledges that were, frankly, not conservative -- expanding Pell Grants, expanding access to SCHIP, expanding cheap home ownership via the tools available to government.
I don't think you have to make excuses for either man, Bush or Obama, to point out the gap between what voters
they're getting -- a king who can enact his promises -- and what they actually get, an executive who has to get his agenda through the veto points of House committees, House votes, Senate committees, Senate votes, filibusters, holds, and conferences.