Bringing America Home addresses the questions that are on the minds of a great many Americans: 1) How did America lose her way? 2) How can we find our way back?
Only by understanding how we got off track in the first place can we put in a place a strategy to deal with as serious a set of problems facing our nation as I have seen in my lifetime. How did America go from having the strongest economy in the world to facing our most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression? How did a nation that was once the most respected in the world go from winning the Cold War to a state (some claim) of irreversible decline? What became of an American culture that once was guided by the principles of Christianity, and the Judeo-Christian ethic? And, how can our nation respond effectively to the threat of radical Islam.
There is plenty of blame to go around with leaders from both political parties who have been in charge in the post-Reagan period of American politics.
Unfortunately, the Bush Administration squandered the political capital that Goldwater-Reagan conservatives took more than three decades to build. What passed for “conservatism” in the Bush administration was barely recognizable to many conservatives like myself who started in the political trenches as supporters of Sen. Barry Goldwater and who later went on to serve in the Reagan administration. If you believe as I do – that the “personnel makes policy” in a presidential administration, the Bush White House might as well have hung out a sign – no Goldwater-Reagan conservatives need apply.
Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Henry Paulson, and the other key policymakers can attempt to put the best possible face on their actions during the Bush presidency, but it does not change the fact that on the major economic and foreign policy issues confronting them at the time, they often made bad choices, —- choices that a truly conservative administration would not have made.
An example of “spin control,” or rationalization can be found in a new book from Bush political advisor Karl Rove. According to Peter Baker in the New York Times, Rove now claims that “Mr. Bush probably would not have invaded Iraq had he known there were no unconventional weapons there.” The reality is that Vice President Dick Cheney was de facto President of foreign policy at that time; and the Vice President and his neoconservative allies in the Administration were determined to launch a preemptive war in Iraq, no matter what.
Let me read an excerpt from my book on this very subject: (page 63)
“Immediately after September 11, Paul Wolfowitz began to push the Bush administration to go to war in Iraq, even though the attacks had been directed by Osama bin Laden, not Saddam Hussein. George Tenet, then director of the CIA, claims that Richard Perle, who chaired Presidents Bush’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee from 2001 to 2003, made the case to him for targeting Iraq for military action. Neoconservative propaganda outlets began pushing the notion that Saddam Hussein was linked to Osama bin Laden and needed to be overthrown. Douglas Feith’s newly created Office of Special Plans at the Department of Defense promoted the same line. The propaganda offensive was so successful that polls soon found over 50 percent of the American public thought that Saddam Hussein was responsible for September 11.
Nonetheless, the campaign to blame Hussein for September 11 proved insufficient to justify a preemptive war against Iraq. So the neoconservatives’ next approach was to claim that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs) that he would use against the United States unless we toppled him from power:
The WMD allegations resonated with an American public still in shock over September 11.
In an interview with Vanity Fair (July 2003), Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admitted that the WMD claim was just another ploy. “The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason” for going to war in Iraq.
In the intelligence business, we call it “cooking the books.” I saw it firsthand as a military intelligence officer in Vietnam when there was a push to shape intelligence to fit the preconceived conclusion of the higher-ups. In the run-up to the war in Iraq, any information, no matter how dubious the source, supposedly connecting Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden was welcome in Douglas Feith’s Office of Special Plans and publicly touted by neoconservative advocates of the war: It didn’t matter that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were bitter foes in the Arab world.
Any intelligence data supporting the charge that Saddam Hussein was developing WMDs was likewise highly prized, even if the information came from questionable sources. The claim that Hussein had attempted to acquire “yellowcake” uranium from Niger was the final piece of “evidence” that Vice President Cheney and his neoconservatives allies inside the administration needed to get the President to set in motion the elimination of the Saddam Hussein regime and the “democratization” of the Middle East.
It turned out that this so-called smoking gun was an intelligence fabrication.
There were many principled conservatives who questioned the preemptive war in Iraq and warned of the unintended consequences of military intervention to impose democracy in the Middle East. They were demonized by neoconservative pundits. Writing in National Review, onetime Bush speechwriter David Frum referred to conservative opponents of the Iraq War like the late Robert Novak as “unpatriotic conservatives.”
President Reagan put in place a successful strategy to win the Cold War with very little loss of American military lives. He was cautious about sending our soldiers into harm’s way unless he deemed it to be in our national interest to do so and only after he was sure our military mission was clearly defined.
Contrast Reagan’s Soviet strategy with George W. Bush’s response to radical Islam. Bush allowed neoconservative ideologues to control the foreign policy decision-making process during his first term in office. Key officials like Paul Wolfowitz were so obsessed with ousting Saddam Hussein that they lost sight of the greater threat of Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida.
With respect to domestic policy, the Bush administration found itself more aligned with the “guns and butter” spending excesses of President Lyndon Baines Johnson than with the conservatives who questioned the expansion of the federal government, and the increased spending that went with it.
The Bush administration adopted the viewpoint that “big government” was fine so long as their people were in charge. They even developed a term for this growth in centralized power and federal spending – they called it “big government conservatism.” In so doing, they abandoned traditional conservative beliefs that, wherever possible, governmental power is best reserved to the states, local communities, and the people themselves.
I include a chapter in my book Bringing America Home entitled “Big Government Conservatism is an Oxymoron” and point out that many Washington Republicans were just as culpable as Democrats in treating our taxpayer dollars as “other people’s money” to be spent as they and special interests decide. If spending whatever it takes for political power passes for “conservatism,” we might as well officially commemorate the death of American conservatism.
When fiscal conservatives warned of the dangers of excessive budget deficits, Dick Cheney responded by declaring , “Deficits don’t matter.” To true conservatives (and most Americans), deficits do matter. Some Reagan critics like to say Bush was just doing what Reagan did in running up big deficits. There is one huge difference. President Reagan cut domestic spending during his first term to help pay for the increased defense build-up necessary to deal with the Soviet Threat.
Huge government debt loads along with lack of private sector job creation are a lethal combination for an economy that is in the midst of its most serious national recession since the Great Depression. Are we setting ourselves for a jobless recovery and the destruction of our middle class in this bubble economy dominated by Wall St. financiers and backed by taxpayer bailouts whenever these “too big to fail,” financial institutions get on the wrong side of their risky credit derivative trades? I call the bailouts “privatization of the gains and socialism of the risk” – if the trades work out, the Wall St. crowd gets the benefits; if they go bad, we the taxpayers pay for their losses and make them whole. The AIG bailout is a classic example of this. That policy started with Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (and his protégés Larry Summers and Tim Geithner) continued with Hank Paulson and Tim Geithner in the 2008 taxpayer bailouts, and has been defended by the Obama administration.
We have a business tax policy which rewards private equity moguls for loading American companies up with high levels of debt while penalizing savings and capital investment to create private sector jobs here in the United States. There has been zero private job growth in the US from 1999 to 2009. The only growth in jobs in that decade has come from increased government employment. During that same period, we have seen a one-third decline in our U.S. manufacturing base with a total loss of more than 5.5 million jobs that have been “outsourced” or gone away. These negative trends should concern all Americans.
As my old venture capital boss, Bill Bowen liked to say when our company had made a bad investment, those are our “sunk costs.” We can’t undo them. What do we do now to fix the problems?
First, we need a tax policy which rewards savings and capital investment in order to create jobs here in the United States. As I point out in Bringing America Home, we can make that happen by replacing our onerous business tax system with a revenue neutral, 8% border-adjusted consumption tax along the lines proposed by Austin business economist David Hartman. That would level the playing field with our trading competitors and start brining good jobs home to America again.
Other proposal solutions set forth in Bringing America Home include the following:
1) A reform of our educational system
2) A greater emphasis on economic policies that focus on the importance of Main St producers, small business men and women, and middle class Americans
3) Rebuilding our manufacturing base
4) A return to the Constitutional principles of federalism, separation of powers, and appropriate checks and balances
5) A new strategy to address the threat of radical Islam
But no matter how well we do in addressing our serious economic and foreign policy problems, none of it matters if we don’t straighten out our culture. It is a sad commentary when the best-known American export is not a U.S. manufactured product, but a Hollywood culture which glamorizes sex, violence, crude language, and mindless hedonism. When you see the effect of the Hollywood culture on young people in foreign lands, it doesn’t make one proud that this is how others see Americans these days. The chapter entitled The Coarsening of the Culture essentially makes the case that a free market system — or our political system, for that matter, — won’t work if we don’t have an ethical compass underpinning it.
That is why the dying father’s advice to Skipper Dippel, my friend from Brenham, Texas, rings just as true today as when first written. The complete letter is in my book. I will only quote a few sentences from a Texan for whom character and ethics matter most. (page 165-166) “Guard against ambition and pride, or in the long run you will be a loser; perhaps not in appearance, but in reality…One certainty in life is that you are not always on top. There are many people who try to avoid the falls by changing philosophies. These are people of convenience. They’re often successful in the short term, while they are on earth. But I have always wondered whether they were successful in the sense of eternity. I feel following conscience is a far better guide. Remember to judge people on their merit and not by their possessions or jobs. People should be judged by how they use their success rather than by how much they acquire. ”
That was once the American code of conduct. Good words to live by and to help guide us as we seek to revitalize our culture.
It is time for conservatives to bring America home.