At first it seems surreal. The Kennedy family is reaching back and honoring former Republican President George H. W. Bush with a Profile in Courage award in a ceremony at the Kennedy Library in Boston next month. Are liberals deciding to reach back and honor a former political foe whose virtues they have belatedly discovered?
Well, not quite, actually. Bush is being specifically honored for agreeing to a 1990 budget deal that raised taxes, despite his issuance of a solemn campaign pledge not to raise them (“Read my lips: No new taxes”). It is disheartening that liberals consider it “courageous” to break one’s word with voters. As Jonathan Tobin of Commentary notes: “At stake here is not so much the 41st president’s honor, but the sanctity of political promises as well as the principle of fiscal prudence that was at the heart of his shameless and ultimately self-destructive decision to repudiate that famous promise.”
The budget deal that Bush struck with Democrat House and Senate elders in 1990 stipulated there would be $2 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. Every penny of the tax increases was delivered, but Democrats actually spent $23 billion above the pre-budget-deal spending baseline. President Bush saw his party lose seats in the 1990 midterm election, and in 1992 millions of fiscal conservatives deserted him in favor of Ross Perot’s independent presidential bid. In 1992, Bush won only 38 percent of the vote, down from the 54 percent he had won in 1988. That represented the greatest loss of support suffered by an incumbent president since Herbert Hoover.
Bush realized the error of his ways during the 1992 campaign: “I’m very disappointed with Congress. I thought this one compromise — and it was a compromise — would result in no more tax increases. I thought it would result in total control of domestic discretionary spending. And now we see Congress talking about raising taxes again. So I’m disappointed, and given all of that, yes, a mistake.” But Democrats at the time were only too happy to not only slam Bush for violating his pledge, but also to snicker about his naïveté behind his back. Now — a quarter century later — they propose to honor him.
Ned Lamont, the leftist who defeated Joe Lieberman to become the Democratic Senate nominee in Connecticut in 2006 only to lose to Lieberman’s independent candidacy that fall, has penned a piece at Real Clear Politics celebrating Bush’s award and extolling his virtues: “History will show that he was a really good one-term president who never stopped serving his country.” Or so the liberals now tell us.