Party Like It’s 2005! The Restoration Election of 2010

“Miss Me Yet?” So said the pro-George W. Bush billboard in Minnesota that Rep. Michelle Bachmann took with her to a Republican conference in Washington this past winter. The slogan has gone from an underground whisper to the battlefield rallying cry of the GOP’s most entrenched partisans.

But the slogan is baffling: How can you miss something that never left?

Republican politics and ideas have not changed one iota since Bush choppered over Barack Obama’s inaugural crowd on that January afternoon. They have not gone through a period of reinvention like the Democrats did in the late 1980s. They have even failed to emulate the Republicans they claim to idolize. As Sam Tanenhaus wrote in his excellent 2009 book, The Death of Conservatism, Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley, Jr., purged the worst extremists from the conservative movement in the early-mid 1960s. They vocally admonished and expelled the John Birch Society, a racist outfit of xenophobic crazies that went so far as claiming President Eisenhower was a secret Communist agent. Cut to 2010, and the Birchers have a table at the very conference at which the Michelle Bachmann asked the Bush-backers, “Miss Me Yet?”

Of course they do! Just last week, the chairmen of the Republican efforts to take back Congress said they see nothing wrong with embracing the Bush legacy, mounting an anti-change campaign for a restoration in Washington. “I think a lot people are looking back with more fondness on President Bush’s administration, and I think history will treat him well,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).

Congressman Pete Sessions, another Texas Republican, recently said, “People had jobs when Republicans were not only in charge but George Bush was there.”

Well, Sessions is right in saying that they ‘had’ jobs.

Cue Newsweek journalist Jonathan Alter, who reminded at a recent book signing: “The economy was losing 740,000 jobs a month in January 2009, when Obama took office. If we stayed on the pace we were on, we would have had—without exaggeration—another Great Depression, with 20 percent unemployment by the end of 2009.”

Republicans have derided Obama’s February 2009 stimulus spending/tax relief bill, claiming the President promised it would keep unemployment below 8 percent (an accusation that was rated ‘barely true’ by PolitiFact). Meanwhile, the stimulus bill curtailed the gusher that was the Bush era job-hemorrhaging. And it might have been more effective had it been bigger. Do not forget that the stimulus was limited to $787 billion in the Democrats’ unsuccessful effort to attract Republican votes in the House.

The stimulus has gotten a raw deal. For all the talk of the landmark health care and Wall Street reform legislation that President Obama has signed, Alter’s new book, The Promise, also illustrates how truly monumental the stimulus was: “five landmark pieces of legislation in one.”

“If the bill had been split into the biggest tax cuts for the middle class since Reagan, the biggest infrastructure bill since the Interstate Highway Act in the 1950s, the biggest education bill since Lyndon Johnson’s first federal aid to education, the biggest scientific and medical research investment in forty years, and the biggest clean energy bill ever, then Obama would have looked like Superman, or at least more like FDR.”

But Alter also notes that Obama could not be too forward about his mega-agenda or risk a public wooziness at the change in altitude. But wasn’t ‘CHANGE’ what his entire campaign was about?

Which is why the restoration election of 2010 is so stark a contrast. About a year ago, a lot of people were talking about how the Tea Party would take conservatism back from the Bushes and toward fundamentalism—a ‘change conservatism’ of sorts. They would start tearing down regulations and agencies like no tomorrow. They would eliminate pork and waste and follow the original text of the U.S. Constitution, and that would be it.

Yet within a few months, they had been fully co-opted. Bachmann was asking them if they missed George W. yet, and they all obediently nodded.

Because even if you think the Bush nostalgia is just rhetoric, that Republicans really are bent on changing their old policies in the next Congress, the plans speak for themselves.

On last week’s Meet The Press, the moderator asked the Republican campaign chairmen exactly what spending they would cut to A) pay for the extra tax cuts they want and B) reduce the deficits they’ve been complaining about (despite being largely responsible for them). Neither Republicans could name a single government action, program or even a vague area from which they would pare down. They said they were waiting for President Obama’s deficit commission to report on Dec. 1. That’s comical since it doesn’t take a deficit commission to name ONE cut you’d make. It’s even more comical since Cornyn voted against the idea in the first place.

Of course, Cornyn and Republicans don’t like to look back to the past; they prefer to bring it with them into the future.