Thursday, June 23, 2011

Don't Know Much History

I recently finally finished up the book Decision Points by George W. Bush. In general, it was a good read and a reminder of the difficult choices that Bush faced at various stages of his presidency and why he acted in the ways he did. It's easy in hindsight to gripe about all the wrong things he did without appreciating the circumstances and context in play at the time the decisions were made.

However, there was one jolting example of how Bush approached one particular decision--how to respond to the 2008 financial crisis-that I found rather disturbing:

I adjourned the meeting and walked across the hallway to the Oval Office. Josh Bolten, Counselor Ed Gillespie, and Dana Perino, my talented amd effective press secretary, followed me in. Ben's historical comparison was still echoing in my mind.

"If we're really looking at another Great Depression," I said, "you can be damn sure I'm going to be Roosevelt, not Hoover."


I'm not surprised when I see such historical ignorance displayed in the media or in the populace at large. They've long been fed the narrative that laissez-faire Hoover fiddled while the Depression worsened and that only the big government activism of FDR saved the country from certain ruin. But to see a president of the United States, a REPUBLICAN president of the United States, in this day and age continue to believe that canard is stunning.

We often heard stories during the Bush years about how well read the president was and how he and Karl Rove even had contests to see who could read the most books in a year. Apparently he never had a chance (during his years in the White House or since retiring to private life) to pick up any one of a number of texts that have explained the real history of the Great Depression. It’s not as if they’re particular hard to find. Some have even become quite well known among those with even a passing interest in economics.