Will the Tea Party Usher In a More Limited View of Government?

July 8, 2010 06:30

Conservatives might govern sooner than many expected.

BY Jim Prevor at The Weekly Standard

Former President George W. Bush recently gave a speech before a business group meeting in Houston, Texas. In the speech, he explained how he came to endorse bailouts for financial companies, auto companies, etc., toward the end of his term. He said that his personal inclination was to avoid bailouts – that if people or companies do imprudent things they need to suffer the consequences – including bankruptcy. He felt our system depended on that.

Yet he saw it as a matter of business management. His two primary financial advisors, Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Hank Paulson, secretary of Treasury, met with President Bush in the midst of the financial freeze-up and told him that he was on the verge of presiding over a new Great Depression. They said that the only hope of avoiding such a depression was to proceed with bailouts.

To the president, the issue was clear because his advisors were unanimous and credible: Bernanke, the Princeton professor, who had done his thesis on the causes of the Great Depression, and Paulson, the practical businessperson, former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs.

As President Bush, who has an MBA from Harvard Business School, explained it in his speech, good management requires you to select advisors whose advice you trust – and, when that advice is unanimous, take that advice. After all, if you don’t, it means those people weren’t respected or trusted enough and had no business being your advisers to begin with.

So George W. Bush saw it as an easy call – on one hand, a new Great Depression; on the other hand, no new depression. As he said, the choice was clear and, despite his inclinations toward free enterprise, he explained, “I chose no depression.”

One can criticize President’s Bush’s application of management theory to politics. For one thing, his theory seems to equate “trusting” an advisor with “agreeing” with an advisor – yet it would also seem important to bring in a diversity of opinions among those one relies on for advice.

It also implies a very technocratic view of the president, a kind of tie-breaker-in-chief approach to issues without a rooted philosophy of government. A famous anecdote – perhaps apocryphal – about Abraham Lincoln suggests an alternative view of the way the presidency should operate:

When he brought in the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln polled his Cabinet. The Secretary of State stood and uttered his “Nay” unmistakably. The Secretary of the Interior followed suit. The Treasury Secretary and so forth: all against. Lincoln heard them each in turn. Then Lincoln raised his hand and said “Seven nay, one aye” … “The ayes have it.”


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