Former President George W. Bush made headlines this past week by announcing the start of the George W. Bush Institute. Among the key points in his speech was that he believes he went against his basic free-market beliefs in setting up the TARP program toward the end of his presidency.
He said the following:
I believe in the power of free enterprise, which made the decision I faced last fall one of the most difficult of my presidency. I went against my free market instincts and approved a temporary government intervention to unfreeze the credit markets to that we could avoid a major global depression.
He then argued that steps taken by the federal government since then have gone too far:
As the world recovers, we’re going to face the temptation to replace the risk and reward model of the private sector with the blunt instruments of government spending and control. History shows that the greater threat to prosperity is not too little government involvement but too much.
Here is a clip of that part of the speech:
His speech implies that, except for the $700 billion bailout program, his presidency stayed true to his free-market, anti-government beliefs. The real history is not so kind. Besides TARP, just some of the other deviations from those principles included the Medicare prescription-drug bill and “No Child Left Behind.” Both measures increased the federal government’s role in two important aspects of people’s lives: health care and education. Overall spending, a large part due to the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, went up during the eight Bush years.
Perhaps it was practical necessity that drove his administration to pursue such policies that went against what Bush claims are his instincts. Or maybe it was political maneuvering. Regardless of why he chose to deviate, the fact is that he did deviate well beyond just the TARP program.
If this is a true change of heart, great; better late than never. Too bad he didn’t make the change before he left office. Implementing these pro-government-intervention policies, particularly the Medicare expansion and TARP, only gave the Obama administration more cover in expanding the bailouts and wanting to expand the government’s role in health care.