Does Bush Get It?

One of the most lacerating comments about Mitt Romney in 2012 was that he spoke “conservatism like a second language.” (Still not certain whether Jonah Goldberg or Charles Krauthammer originated the phrase, but I think it was Jonah’s first.) The same problem has applied to the entire Bush Conglomerate since the beginning: do they get the conservative movement at its core, or are they just country-club conservatives, which are not the same thing.

Today Jeb Bush unveiled his tax reform plan that he hopes will revive the economy to grow closer to 4 percent, rather than the anemic 2 percent of the last few years. A lot of liberals think this is a ridiculous or unrealistic target, which is another example of how today’s “liberals” (who really aren’t any more) have forgotten or reject their patrimony: the 1960 Democratic Party platform called for 5 percent growth, and recall JFK’s slogan: “Let’s get the country moving again!” Today’s Obama-Hillary-Sanders slogan seems to be, “Let’s get the country redistributing more!” Growth ought to matter most to liberals, because the difference between a 2 percent growth rate and a 4 percent growth rate is the difference between total fiscal ruin for entitlement programs and a slim chance of reforming them in such a way as to keep them viable 20 and 40 years from now. You simply can’t tax “the 1%” enough to pay for the promises of the welfare state, which is why the European social democracies tax everybody very heavily through regressive consumption taxes such as the VAT.

Anyway, back to Bush and his plan. It looks good as far as it goes. On the individual side, the centerpiece is this:

We will cut individual rates from seven brackets to three: 28%, 25% and 10%. At 28%, the highest tax bracket would return to where it was when President Ronald Reagan signed into law his monumental and successful 1986 tax reform.

But of course, how did we lose that top 28 percent rate? Oh that’s right: a president named Bush—George H.W. Bush—went back on his “no new taxes” pledge and agreed to a new 31 percent top income tax rate. From there it was off to the races under Clinton and Obama to raise top rates even higher. George W. Bush tried to reverse course, but was only able to do so temporarily because of budget rules that were put in place when his dad was president that limited the duration of such tax cuts. We might still have that 28 percent rate—or a lower top rate than we have—if the first President Bush had held firm on the matter.

As I say, Bush’s tax reform plan looks good. But conservatives need a lot more reassurance that this Bush truly gets it, and will take a fight to the Washington establishment, instead of affecting a “kinder, gentler” administration—or is it “joyful” this time around?