Where Was the Tea Party in the Bush Years?


It’s becoming a mantra: if you guys hate this stuff so much, why didn’t you take to the streets in droves burning effigies of Dubya? Even Dave Weigel, in a well-advised piece in the Washington Post busting lame myths about the tea parties, falls prey to temptation:

If you think the tea party would have risen up to oppose a Republican president who spent like mad and violated conservative principles, then where was it in the Bush years?

From where I’ve been hanging out for the past several years, the answer has seemed pretty obvious: during the Bush years, tea partiers, step by step and day by day, were growing ever more deeply disillusioned. And when they first took action, it was largely invisible, because nobody really notices when you walk away from a party. It’s far more noticeable when you wrangle up all your disillusioned friends and go for million man marches.

But it’s not easy to take to the streets like that. Unless you’ve got a really serious gripe — one that eats away at you day in and day out — you’re more likely to spend your time deep in work or play. Protesting doesn’t make money and it doesn’t spend money. In that way, it’s not very American. Yet nothing’s more American than getting riled up about some transcendent issue, busting out the hand-lettered placards, and forming a benign if angry mob. The left’s experience with the Iraq War seems to me to bear this out too.

So am I right, or what?

Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 16 comments.

  1. Inactive

    Your correct. Bush deficits were bad enough to get the Republicans thrown out of Congressional control in 2006 – even though they were 10% of our current levels. It took the fiscal insanity equivalent of a Pearl Harbour to truly awaken the Tea Party giant. Long may it remain awake.

    • #1
    • August 6, 2010, at 7:27 AM PDT
    • Like
  2. Member
    James Poulos, Ed.: … during the Bush years, tea partiers, step by step and day by day, were growing ever more deeply disillusioned. And when they first took action, it was largely invisible, because nobody really notices when you walk away from a party.

    The first step happened in November 2006. Folks with Republican leanings stayed home, or joined independents in electing Democrats to Congress because of disillusionment with Bush (both on the war and perceived economic turmoil). Dems campaigned on fiscal responsibility, ethics, etc. Four years later, people now see the fruit of that 2006 election – and are motivated to action because the economy is far worse now than in 2006, and they are getting something other than what they thought they were promised.

    The question is not “where were the tea partiers during the Bush years.” The question is whether this awakening will last beyond the current administration, remaining diligent in its pressure on the entirety of the political class.

    • #2
    • August 6, 2010, at 7:36 AM PDT
    • Like
  3. Inactive

    I, for one, did mute my criticism of Bush’s failure to control spending, so that nobody…NOBODY…would associate me with the moonbats calling President Bush, “Chimpy McBushitler,” or carrying signs portraying hm as a Nazi, or burning effigies of him. They criticized George Bush for everything under the Sun EXCEPT his spending. Their only disagreement with his spending was that it was allocated improperly. They wanted less military spending, and more welfare. Same road to Hell, different path.

    • #3
    • August 6, 2010, at 7:38 AM PDT
    • Like
  4. Inactive

    Spot on, James. My disillusion with Mr. Bush started with the prescription drug benefit. Nevertheless, you have to give a sitting president lots of slack during wartime. It was a matter of priorities.

    The curious thing about the tea parties is a comment I heard often from people in the crowd: “Conservatives just don’t do this (protest march).” We should, of course, credit Rick Santelli for lighting the fuse. Apparently the tea parties were latent within the conservative movement; we just needed someone to sound the call to battle. And conservatism is on the march, now in the most literal sense.

    • #4
    • August 6, 2010, at 7:51 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. Member

    I really like this Victor Davis Hanson quote and I think it relates to your question: “The common denominator here is that a largely conservative electorate has always wanted lower taxes, smaller but more competent government, fewer overseas commitments, honest government, and officials who live like the public they represent — and it can’t seem to find that package in any party or candidate being presented to it. Indeed, the Obama medicine is now seen as worse than the Bush disease, in that he less competently oversaw the war in Afghanistan, blew apart the budget, and lives more royally than any Republican.”

    • #5
    • August 6, 2010, at 8:20 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. Inactive

    James, I agree on this matter fully, but I’d go even further to point out the nature of the tea party in the present. As is abundantly clear to anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention, Republicans that don’t fit the Tea Party mold are just as much a target. In fact, the Bush era, big spending, Republicans have suffered the electoral consequences of their ways more so than the majority of Democrats at this point. Although, hopefully this won’t be true after the midterms.

    Can anyone name a G.W. Bush-styled Republican (if that’s even an accurate distinction) who’s now currently seen a prime candidate in the Tea Party movement?

    • #6
    • August 6, 2010, at 9:04 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. Inactive

    James, this time you are right :–) The tension had been building for years, but the importance of winning the War on Terror tended to unite loyal Americans despite their concerns.

    You know what a lot of “Tea Partiers” did in 2008? They wee so fed up with Washnigotn business as usual that they voted for Barack Obama, because they believed his rhetoric about changing the way business is done.

    It was when he began spending like a bipolar banker that the tension coalesced in reaction, andf the tea Party “movement” was born.

    TARP, son of TARP, Porkulus, the Bailouts, Obamacare. If President Bush had done those things, then the Tea Party would indeed have been realized on his watch.

    • #7
    • August 6, 2010, at 9:55 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. Member

    I think what irritates most is that the Tea Party is a new organization, but that many of the people that make up its ranks were complaining about spending and policy failures.

    Many of the conservative and libertarian bloggers I now complained loudly about the Bush years. I myself complained (a small voice, to be sure, but I was not silent) about everything from No Child Left Behind and the Old Folks Pill Bill to his nearly veto-free presidency and a remarkable inability of his administration to advocate for its own policies.

    The idea that conservatives just formed a line behind Bush and approved of everything that was happening is ridiculous. It’s a sign of a person who never truly paid attention to what conservatives were saying and who thinks of conservatives in the same way that the left seems to view minority voting blocks: as monolithic structures made up of people who move entirely in lockstep with one another, never straying in ideology or opinion.

    And that’s kind of offensive.

    • #8
    • August 6, 2010, at 10:30 AM PDT
    • Like
  9. Inactive

    Here’s a question:

    Is it necessary to heap scorn upon Bush’s head in order to prove your bona fides in criticizing Obama? As Dr. Hanson has said often before, can’t it simply be the case that Bush’s misdemeanors were simply not egregious enough to really bother too many people (I may be mistaken here, or simply projecting my own experiences onto others), whereas Obama’s felonies pushed people over a line, and a lot of this retroactive Bush-bashing is just an attempt to maintain a sense of “consistency” in the face of criticism from folks like Weigel?

    • #9
    • August 7, 2010, at 1:18 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. Member

    Colin, I think that’s a reasonable line of thought. I mean, if you look at the deficit numbers and the amazing increase in the scope of government in one year under Obama, it is reasonable to look at it just in terms of this presidency and the damage done.

    Very reasonable.

    But Bush does deserve the criticism and it is important to understand where he failed so that the next Republican president can do better.

    I’ve self-identified as a Republican ever since I was in high school. I knew then where my political sympathies aligned. I voted for Bush both times through even though I knew his faults and I think history will be kinder to him than we imagine. He was a better choice than either Kerry or Gore would have been, I have no doubt in my mind.

    He wasn’t a true conservative, though, and he played a big part in getting us where we are today. Speaking purely as a Republican, if we plan to do a better job in the future we have to be willing to be critical about our mistakes. He was a Republican president, so his mistakes are ours.

    • #10
    • August 7, 2010, at 2:02 AM PDT
    • Like
  11. Moderator

    Conservatives who weren’t paying attention at the time might also have just assumed that since Bush called himself a conservative, and there was no shortage of talking heads griping about how conservative he was, he was probably acting conservative, without looking any deeper than that.

    Whereas with Obama, conservatives would naturally be more wary, as his label wasn’t “conservative”.

    How people are labeled matters in how wary we are of them. It’s only natural, as labels exist primarily to be a shorthand for all sorts of information.

    It can take someone a while to catch on to the bad behavior of a person when the bad behavior isn’t what you’d typically associate with the person’s label. If you were a woman and if a guy you knew to be flagrantly gay started making untoward advances to you, would you even recognize what was happening at first?
    • #11
    • August 7, 2010, at 3:22 AM PDT
    • Like
  12. Inactive

    David, I’ll agree with you about his failures, and more importantly, perceived failures being ours (Republicans) as well. Yet, shouldn’t Republicans work to at least claim some of his successes as their, also? I mean, we’re stuck with those failures, and more importantly, perceived failures, even if we thoroughly repudiate the man (which I see happening often among media outlets on the right), but none of the successed rebound to our benefit that way. Beyond being wrong (in my maybe not-so-humble opinion), it seems to me short-sighted.

    Regarding Bush’s conservatism, I’ll just have to disagree with you. He may not have been a perfect conservative, but then again, I can’t think of a major figure on the right who is. Romney liked to talk about the three-legged stool (ironic, considering he had issues with each leg). Well, most major figures on the right seem to be able to pin down two legs. Reagan, fiscal conservatism and hawkishness. Bush, social conservatism and hawkishness. I could go on, but spotting the apostacies of people I like is kind of a drag. Anyway, a flawed conservative should still be considered a conservative.

    • #12
    • August 7, 2010, at 4:50 AM PDT
    • Like
  13. Inactive

    Where were the Tea Partiers in the Bush Years.

    First I remember them calling Talk Radio and saying, “How could he sign that? The Supreme Court has to Overturn it.” REF: Campaign Finance Reform

    Next I remember them calling Talk Radio and saying, “We don’t need the Federal Government more involved in Education.” REF: No Child Left Behind.

    Then they called Talk Radio and Complained about Perscription Drugs.

    Etc. Etc.

    Remember Harriet Meyers? Who do you think was standing up then?

    Or Comprehensive Immigration Refor… er Amnesty Disguised? Ask any Tea Partier what they were doing during that debate. I already know what they were doing, they were making establishment republicans and democrats angry. Who do you think Schumer and McCain were threatening to retaliate against in 2006?

    Finally the Tea Partiers were the ones calling talk radio in October of 2006 and saying to the dismay of the host, “Republicans Deserve to Loose.”

    Here’s a little hint, that’s why Republicans are often booed off the stage at a Tea Party Rally. Tea Partiers know a RINO when they see one.

    They were there and they were speaking out!

    • #13
    • August 7, 2010, at 6:04 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Member

    Colin, you’re right, we should claim those successes, too. That’s a good point.

    I’m not convinced Bush should be considered a conservative, but I’m happy to leave it aside. I’m not a big believer in purity tests and I’m not a fan of the term RINO. It bugs me thinking that folks out have a well-defined box that a person must fit in to be considered a Republican. In national politics, you better be willing to build coalitions and find core agreements or you are consigning yourself to failure. See: Libertarians.

    That said, who could fail to be mad at the GOP after having the House, the Senate, the majority of state governors, and the Presidency during Bush’s first term. With that kind of political advantage–and the good will of the majority of Americans–how is it that conservative political reforms completely failed?

    And it is an embarrassment that Republicans failed to work to support Bush in the push to reform Social Security.

    We will gain ground in the midterms. To keep that momentum, we’ll need to do a better job than we did during the Bush years.

    • #14
    • August 8, 2010, at 1:43 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. Inactive

    “That said, who could fail to be mad at the GOP after having the House, the Senate, the majority of state governors, and the Presidency during Bush’s first term.”

    Well, me, frankly. You may not have been happy with the reforms that took place during the first Bush term, but as a matter of fact, they were some the the largest reforms of the federal bureaucracy in a century. They only thing was, the reforms were of the national security bureaucracy, the intelligence community, and the pentagon. What Bush did, in placing this government on a war footing and restructuring our national security system for a generational struggle, was only matched by Truman’s National Security Act. The Reagan reforms under Goldwater-Nichols don’t even match up, considering they were a reform of just the Pentagon.

    There’s a certain crowding-out effect when you pump so much time, energy, and resources into a historical reorganization of the military and national security system. You can’t focus on your old priorities like you did before that “day of fire”, to quote Bush. Now, if you want to argue that the war turned out to be not as important as we all figured at the time, I’ll beg to differ, and I bet I’m not the only one.

    People will complain about Bush doing this, or not doing that, right up until the moment we have another smoking hole in the ground to deal with. At that moment, the red-headed stepchild of conservatism at the moment, hawkishness, will once again come to the fore.

    • #15
    • August 9, 2010, at 6:07 AM PDT
    • Like
  16. Inactive
    David Jones: Colin, you’re right, we should claim those successes, too. That’s a good point.

    I’m not a fan of the term RINO. It bugs me thinking that folks out have a well-defined box that a person must fit in to be considered a Republican. In national politics, you better be willing to build coalitions and find core agreements or you are consigning yourself to failure. See: Libertarians.

    The term RINO is not applied regarding Boxes.

    It is about Key Sellouts. RINO’s always sell out when it hurts the most.

    Arlen Spectre and Jim Jeffords come to mind. But Collins and Snowe show up to pull the rug out on many occasions as well.

    It’s not about boxes, it’s about core priciples and damage the occurs when the sellout occurs.

    In short, keep in mind this one truth – Your Enemy Can Never Betray You.

    • #16
    • August 10, 2010, at 2:28 AM PDT
    • Like