RIght Cross

Is George W. Bush a conservative? Author Bruce Bartlett doesn't think so,

and saying that cost him his job.

Even before his name showed up in The New York Times Sunday Magazine on October 17, 2004, Bruce Bartlett knew he might be screwed. A few weeks earlier, the former Washington insider--he was a policy analyst for both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush's administrations--appeared in The New Republic saying aloud what few conservatives would say in private: Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if John Kerry got elected. This is what he told writer Franklin Foer: "People are careful about how they say it and to who they say it, but, if you're together with more than a couple of conservatives, the issue of would we be better or worse off with Kerry comes up--and it's seriously discussed." Bartlett's words had the stink of heresy; how dare one of the party's own turn on the president, especially so close to the election.

Bartlett knew he was taking a big risk. He also meant every word, having come to believe during Bush's first term that this conservative president was no such thing at all. No real Republican would have grown the government the way Bush had, by some 23 percent since Bill Clinton left office. No real Republican would have signed into legislation the Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003. And no real Republican would allow the national deficit and government spending to increase to record levels. Bartlett saw his party's leader not as the revolutionary or reformist he's portrayed as by loyalists but as a traitor to the cause of fiscal conservatism.

Still, saying what he did in The New Republic was nothing. At least in that lefty mag he didn't compare Bush to Al Qaeda like he did in the Times in October 2004.

Brian Stauffer
Can't keep a Goodman down: John Goodman, head of the National Center for Policy Analysis, says he had no choice but to let Bartlett go.
Mark Graham
Can't keep a Goodman down: John Goodman, head of the National Center for Policy Analysis, says he had no choice but to let Bartlett go.

Some 16 months later, Bartlett claims he was misquoted by writer Ron Suskind but doesn't dispute the meat of what he was quoted saying, which was this:

"Just in the past few months, I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do. This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them...This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts. He truly believes he's on a mission from God."

Keep in mind it wasn't Ted Kennedy who said this. It was a Republican who'd been on Bush's daddy's payroll. A Republican who wrote two very sober-minded books on economic policy, 1981's Reaganomics: Supply Side Economics in Action and 1983's The Supply-Side Solution. A Republican who has pushed for tax reform and small government in his syndicated column and in op-eds that have appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and other more right-leaning publications. And a Republican who, since 1995, had been on the payroll of the conservative Dallas-based think tank called the National Center for Policy Analysis, which counts among its board members and contributors Dallas' Fred Meyers, the Aladdin Industries executive who raised more than $200,000 for Bush's 2004 campaign and chairs the Republican National Committee's Presidential Victory Team.

As it turned out, Bartlett's boss at the National Center for Policy Analysis wasn't too thrilled with the Suskind piece. Bartlett says now he thought his conversation with Suskind was an off-the-record chitchat among friends, but like a kid caught hurling spitballs at the teacher, he was called into the principal's office and reprimanded by John C. Goodman, the NCPA's founder and president, and former governor of Delaware Pete Du Pont, chairman of the NCPA's board of directors.

"John called me the day after the article appeared and told me that Karl Rove had called him to complain about it," Bartlett says from his home in Great Falls, Virginia, where, from all accounts, most rooms are filled with ancient bookshelves and file cabinets filled with reams of tax-related documents. At 54, he boasts of having no wife or children to interfere with his self-proclaimed Spartan lifestyle.

"And that was really when they started to really pressure me to tone down my criticism," Bartlett recalls of that meeting at the NCPA's Washington, D.C., offices. "I know that there was contact [with the White House], and I know that Rove knows John Goodman, because the one time I met Rove and talked to him, he asked me what John was doing, and they know each other from Texas politics."

Goodman, sitting in his North Dallas offices on Coit Road, confirms that he and Du Pont demanded a meeting with Bartlett after the Times story appeared--though Goodman says he forgot precisely why they had the meeting, till reminded of the story and the Al Qaeda quote. He laughs when it's mentioned, as though he can't believe he could let such an egregious misstep by one of his own escape his memory. And though he disputes Bartlett's contention that Rove or any member of Bush's inner circle called to complain or force the NCPA to punish the economist-columnist, he says, yeah, absolutely Bartlett was told to stop pickin' on the president with attacks they considered personal at best and mean-spirited at worst.

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I have been commenting heavily on Bruce Bartlett's Facebook page for a very long time. The topics we discuss there, the team of people working through these matters and the manner in which Bruce participates directly himself is uniquely constructive (progressive and conservative) as we try honestly to understand what this society, our economy and practice of government should do next. We might just figure this thing out.