Economy,  Stateside

“I’m going to be Roosevelt, not Hoover”

During the 2008 financial collapse, then-President George Bush concluded that the federal government needed to save capitalism from itself– even if it meant partly nationalizing the financial and auto industries.

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post writes:

It was the final chapter of Bush’s presidency, and is correspondingly the final chapter of his memoir, "Decision Points." As Bush describes it, he had just been told by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson that they should spend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to buy up mortgage assets, and he approved the plan in full. "If we’re really looking at another Great Depression," he recalls saying, "you can be damn sure I’m going to be Roosevelt, not Hoover."

By Tea Party doctrine, that’s heresy. But Bush, in "Decision Points," doesn’t back off at all from his defense of the auto industry rescue and the federal ownership of financial companies – even though those positions today would make him a pariah in his own party.

"The strategy was a breathtaking intervention in the free market," he writes of the TARP bank-bailout program. "It flew against all my instincts. But it was necessary to pull the country out of the panic. I decided that the only way to preserve the free market in the long run was to intervene in the short run."

In an extended book-launch interview with Bush, NBC anchor Matt Lauer referred to a Pew Research Center poll that found nearly half of Americans hold the false belief that TARP was passed under President Obama, while only 34 percent know it originated under Bush.

"Oh, yeah?" Bush replied. "Fifty percent of the people were wrong." He defended his rationale for supporting TARP: "Do you adhere to your philosophy and say, let them all fail? . . . Or do you take taxpayers’ money and inject it into the system in hopes that you prevent a depression? And I chose the latter."


Even then, the ideologues were opposed. Bush quotes "one Republican senator" – Jim Bunning of Kentucky – as saying the TARP program would "take away the free market and institute socialism in America." He recalls his own party’s efforts to defeat TARP, and a public letter written by Grover Norquist saying only "Dear President Bush: No."

Bush acknowledges that he undertook "the most drastic intervention in the free market since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt," but he says it "helped spare the American people from an economic disaster of historic proportions." He defends the "automakers’ rescue" with federal loans: "I had to safeguard American workers and families from a widespread collapse." He admits that the AIG bailout was "basically a nationalization of America’s largest insurance company." But, he adds, "that was a hell of a lot better than a financial collapse."

Funny. When Barack Obama talks in similar terms, he gets accused by Bush’s fellow Republicans of being a socialist. Of course, as I’m sure our rightwing readers will be pleased to explain, the difference is that Bush did these things reluctantly while Obama (no matter what he actually says) does them eagerly.