I thought George W. Bush a fraud from the moment I heard of him, and I’m glad that Bush is now coming to be seen in the proper light.

The most prominent such example is in the writings of Bruce Bartlett. Bartlett, 54, worked in the Reagan White House and had an influential role in the supply-side economic revolution of that great era.

Bartlett just came out with a book. The title alone tells you what he thinks of our president: “Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.”

In his book, Bartlett largely ignores the Iraq fiasco other than to note the “growing evidence that the White House knowingly forged the evidence on weapons of mass destruction.” His critique is primarily economic.

“I never much liked the guy, but I didn’t like the alternatives,” said Bartlett of his early perceptions of Bush when I called the author at his home in Virginia. But the 2003 Medicare prescription drug program was unthinkable for a conservative. In one stroke, Bush had created an unfunded liability that greatly exceeded the entire Social Security shortfall. The new benefit – covered in a chapter titled “The Worst Legislation in History?” – brought the total unfunded liability of Medicare to $68 trillion, he noted.

Such a figure is essentially meaningless to the average taxpayer. Here’s a way to give it meaning: “To fund it, you would have to raise an amount roughly equal to the income tax,” he said.

And you’d have to do that right now. Or you could cut the benefits. Bush won’t do either. He’s going to let the next president clean up after him.

But that next president is going to have to cancel the one arguably conservative policy Bush has enacted, the tax cuts of 2001.

“Tax cuts are fine, but none of them are permanent,” Bartlett said. “That means the hand of the next president is very strong. He can just veto any bill to keep the tax cuts.”

He’ll have to if he wants to be fiscally responsible. Someone’s going to have to pay for the profligacy of the Bush era. Bartlett notes that even liberal Democratic presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson raised taxes to pay for their wars. Bush is just passing the bill to the next guy for his endless “war on terror.”

“Reagan had a much more serious problem to deal with,” said Bartlett. “He had the Soviet Union pointing thousands of nuclear warheads at the United States. And he won the Cold War.”

And he did it without getting our guys killed. How? Reagan was smarter than people gave him credit for. Bush, meanwhile, is turning out to be every bit as dumb as he sounds. He compounds that dumbness by refusing to entertain critical opinions.

I can get away with saying that kind of thing, since no one reads me inside the Beltway. But Bartlett’s views got him fired from his $172,000-a-year job at the National Center for Policy Analysis. It’s tough being the bearer of bad news.

There’s worse news to come. Bartlett devotes a chapter to the value added tax, which is a sort of national sales tax. A lot of conservatives want to see the VAT replace the income tax. No, says Bartlett. The U.S. will need a VAT along with the income tax when the baby boomers start to retire.

That’s not all Bush’s fault. But he could have done a lot to avoid it – if he’d been a conservative. But Bush turned out to be more liberal than Bill Clinton. At least that’s what the numbers say. And the numbers are all in Bartlett’s book.

Paul Mulshine is a columnist for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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