Jeb Bush

David Warsh: Jeb Bush redux, at Harvard

When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced his presidential candidacy in January 2015,  I was enthusiastic, largely on foreign policy grounds. It seemed he might champion the sort of conservative internationalism that characterized his  father’s one-term presidency.  I didn’t pay much attention to his views of domestic policy, but Alec MaGillis’s New Yorker article about Bush’s enthusiasm for privatizing public education caught my eye. Before I had time to follow up, Donald Trump had elbowed him out the race.

Last week Bush came  to Harvard to deliver its annual Godkin Lecture.  That the occasion was announced just two days ahead of time came as something of a surprise.  I went round to hear what the would-have-been candidate had to say.

The Godkin series is Harvard’s most most prestigious lecture in the social sciences. It was established in 1903, endowed by Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and others, to explore the essentials of democratic government and the duties of the citizen, in memory ofEdwin Godkin, founder of The Nation magazine and for 20 years editor of The New York Post. Herbert Croly, Walter Lippmann, J. Robert Oppenheimer, C.P. Snow, Clark Kerr, Gunnar Myrdal, Paul Samuelson, George Will, Daniel Patrick Moynihan have been among the lecturers.

Bush’s presentation turned out not to be a lecture. It was billed as a “conversation,” but what the audience heard instead was an abbreviated stump speech, plus some back-and forth with Harvard Professors Paul  E. Peterson and Roland Fryer.  

 “I was thinking about what I was going to talk about,” he said, “and I asked my mother, who is the boss of the Bush family, and she said, ‘Jeb, talk about 10 minutes, then get off and let people ask you questions.’”

He talked for 15 minutes about the desirability of a “bottom-up” society of individuals as opposed to a “top-down” society in which institutions were paramount, ending with a caIl for a “radical transformation” of public education. “A system that has 13,100 government-run, politicized, unionized monopolies as the governance model for educating millions of children of great diversity is not going to work….

“No other element of society is forcing people to go to a monopoly.  We don’t have state-run grocery stores. Even the Medicaid program is basically privatized, where there are choices. . In schools, the most important thing we do, we’re stuck in this model that probably worked really well a hundred years ago….”

Perhaps Bush is planning to write a book. If so, the invitation to lecture was premature. He has promised to return to Cambridge periodically during the autumn term to work with students at the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, led by Professor Peterson, a voucher enthusiast. Perhaps the Godkin invitation slipped between the cracks;  Kennedy School Dean took over only in January.

More likely, the event was timed with a November 8 ballot initiative in mind. In Proposition 2, Massachusetts votes on whether the state should authorize more charter schools. Its backers call it an effort to support public education.

Whatever the case, Bush’s presidential candidacy is in the rear-view mirror.  Future Republican leaders will come from the bottom up.

David Warsh is proprietor of and a longtime financial columnist and economic historian. He is based in the Boston area.

Voters hiding from the world

The insularity of that minority (i.e., “the base’’) of the electorate that tends to dominate presidential campaigns’ first innings explains much of the current nasty race, especially on the Republican side.

These people seek to protect themselves from the anxiety of hearing  a viewpoint they might not like by holing up in echo chambers in which the same fact-thin opinions are repeatedly  shouted day after day. The epicenter is the oratorical masturbation known as  political talk radio.

You’d think that listeners would get bored and occasionally want to hear something different, but that would make them uncomfortable. Talk radio does not encourage curiosity or research. The point is to soothe listeners by reinforcing their well-entrenched prejudices and satisfy their desirefor simple solutions to their problems – and clear villains.

The majority of talk-radio fans are middle- and lower-middle class white people aggrieved by their downward socio-economic mobility and upset about changing social mores as seen, for example, in gay marriage, and the changing ethnic and religious mix of America. That’s understandable.

But their refusal to listen to all sides  in order to become better informed citizens also suggests a disinclination to make the changes, be it training for new  work skills or bringing disorderly  personal lives under control, necessary to address these tougher times for many Americans. Too many of them are both angry and passive.

That makes them prey to such demagogues as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Mr. Trump may be an especially fitting candidate for our times: People who avoid reading and obtain most of their “news’’  from TV and talk radio like him the most.

No wonder (relatively) scandal-free people of great executive and policymaking accomplishment who would have been very plausible presidential candidates in the past – say former New York  Republican Gov. George Pataki and former Democratic Sen. Jim Webb -- don’t have a prayer. And such competent chief executives  as Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley haven’t gotten much traction either.

And it’s hard to see Hillary Clinton, despite her long CV, intelligence, ambition and persistence, as a person of great executive and policymaking success.  Bernie Sanders, for his part, is an eccentric fringe high-tax candidate in a nation whose citizens hate taxes. His only executive experience has been as mayor of Burlington, Vt.: pop: 42,000.

(A  possible spanner in the works of a Hillary Clinton marchto theDemocratic nomination: indictment stemming from her “top-secret’’ home-server e-mails.)

You’d think that voters would want the nation’s chief executive to be or have been a successful elected executive of a government body. And no, running a business is not the same as running a government body.

Globalization and technology, both of which will continue to eat away at the American middle class, require a panorama of responses,  including reducing  our plutocracy’s ever-increasing power, more job training and  rebuilding the nation’s  decayed physical infrastructure to create jobs and make the nation more internationally competitive.

Cheapening  labor and technology-based automation, which so far have mostly destroyed the jobs of blue-color workers, are now eating away even at what had been well-paying upper-middle-class jobs. Andsenior business execs show little desire to share more of their gargantuan compensation with underlings.

The candidates generally avoid presenting and emphasizing  programmatic details because details don’t do well on TV and talk radio. And so many journalists have been laid off that the surviving ones almost entirely focus on the easiest and more marketable stuff in the campaigns - - the daily insults,  faux pas and hour-by-hour opinion polls -– the horse race.

Apparently that’s fine with the people who hide in the silos of talk radio.

Once the candidates of the two major parties are chosen, perhaps more substance will appear as the candidates reach for support  from moderate  and independent voters. We can hope they’ll then explain  with considerabledetail and precision what they’d do and, as important, how they’d do it.  

Meanwhile, most of the electorate,  the large majority of whom only bother to vote in November, can look into the mirror to see who is most  to blame for our predicament.

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail) oversees, is a partner at Cambridge Management Group (, a former Providence Journal editorial-page editor and a former International Herald Tribune finance editor,

David Warsh: Kasich's time may have come



Readers have wondered when I might back off the hunch I voiced a year ago, and reiterated as recently as December, that Jeb Bush still could eventually win the presidency.  Here goes:

Bush clearly no longer has a chance of winning the nomination. It is Ohio Gov. John Kasich who appears ready to seize the role of a plausible competitor to the eventual Democratic nominee. There appears to be almost no political difference between the two men, except the heavy baggage connected with the former’s name. Kasich is running second to Donald Trump in New Hampshire in the polls.

Nobody said it would be easy, but the logic of Kasich’s candidacy is simple:  If he polls strongly on Feb. 9 in New Hampshire; if he gains enough traction in February to score some successes in the Super Tuesday primaries on March 1; if he wins Ohio’s winner-take-all primary on March 15; if he gains the nomination of the Republican Party at its convention in Cleveland in July – then he stands a good chance of being elected president in November.

Why?  Because he is good at appealing to voters who consider themselves independent of either party’s establishment.  And it takes 270 votes in the Electoral College to win the presidency.  And it’s a stubborn fact of present-day U.S. politics that most states are virtually certain to wind up in one column or another.

Kasich would seem to be competitive with the Democratic nominee, whether it is Hillary Clinton or someone else, in all 10 states that seem likely to be up for grabs in the fall – Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and New Hampshire.

I have been as surprised as everybody else by events of the last year. Let’s review:

It was barely a year ago that Mitt Romney announced that he was mulling a third presidential bid. The establishment wing of the Republican Party swiftly overruled him, indicating a preference for Jeb Bush, who in December 2014 had mentioned on his Facebook page that he was considering a run. Supposedly preemptive sums of money flowed to Bush’ s Super PAC, Right to Rise, run by political consultant Mike Murphy. Romney quickly steered off.

What happened next was that,  unfazed, 15  other persons declared their candidacy for the Republican nomination, one after another, along with Bush: Ted Cruz (March 23), Rand Paul (April 7), Marco Rubio (April 13),  Ben Carson (May 4), Carly Fiorina (May 4), Mike Huckabee (May 5), Rick Santorum (May 27), George Pataki (May 28), Lindsey Graham (June 1), Rick Perry (June 4), Bush (June 15), Donald Trump (June 16), Bobbie Jindal (June 24), Chris Christie (June 30), Kasich (July 21), and Jim Gilmore (July 30).

Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton declared her candidacy on April 13, Bernie Sanders on April 20, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on May 29, and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on June 3. Sanders has recently swept ahead of Clinton in polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Why such pandemonium?  The over-arching explanation seems to be Bush-Clinton fatigue after so many years of their presence in presidential politics.

Without a single vote being cast, real-estate baron and reality-television star Trump vaulted to front-runner status in most polls of Republican voters.  It’s getting a little late to explain U.S.  outcomes in terms of the aftermath of the 2007-09 financial crisis; Europe is another matter: most likely the Trump phenomenon is an expression of ephemeral contempt for dynastic politics. 

Trump is not the first self-financed celebrity candidate to seek the presidency.  He’s just the one with the fewest principles.  Software entrepreneur H. Ross Perot ran as an independent candidate in 1992, upstaging incumbent George H. W. Bush and enabling Bill Clinton to win the presidency with just 43 percent of the vote (Perot received 19 percent and Bush 37 percent, but electoral vote totals were 370, 168, and 0.) 

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is threatening to enter the race as an independent if Sanders gets the better of Hillary. An interesting questions have to do with Trump’s options once his star begins to fade. Eventually he presumably will become a commentator. Better for everyone if it were sooner rather than later.

Bush could do everyone a favor by quickly stepping out of the campaign if his New Hampshire totals are disappointing and urging his massive organization to support Kasich.  As far as I can tell, his politics are little different from those of the Ohio governor, except on foreign policy. Still, Bush would make a very good secretary of state in a Kasich administration.  The silly negative ads with which the two campaigns are attacking one another in the final days of New Hampshire should stop.

I have no idea how likely any of this might be. I do know an incredibly interesting political season looms.  There is a real possibility that the election of a moderate Republican would be good for the country, mainly for the obvious reason:  Kasich’s success would dampen the amplitude of extreme opinion on the right.

You might wonder, whence stems my license to pronounce on these matters?  I have, after all, never covered a campaign. All I can say is that these arguments are deeply grounded in concern for economic affairs over the long run, and you will never hear them from my old friend and fellow economics columnist, Paul Krugman, of The New York Times.  He thinks that there are no moderates in the Republican Party primaries, and that even if there were, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

David Warsh, an economic historian and a long-time financial journalist, is proprietor of

Philip K. Howard: How to bring parties together to fix infrastructure mess

Fixing America’s decrepit infrastructure shouldn’t be controversial—it enhances competitiveness, creates jobs, and helps the environment. And of course, it protects the public. Repairing unsafe conditions is a critical priority: More than half of fatal vehicle accidents in the United States are due in part to poor road conditions.

After years of dithering, Washington is finally showing a little life for the task. Congress recently passed a $305 billion highway bill to fund basic maintenance for five years. But the highway bill is pretty anemic—it barely covers road-repair costs and does nothing to modernize other infrastructure. The total investment needed through the end of this decade is actually $1.7 trillion, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Further, the highway bill does nothing to remove the bureaucratic jungle that makes these projects so slow and costly.

But these two failures—meager funding and endless process—may actually point the way to a potential grand bargain that could transform the U.S. economy: In exchange for Democrats getting rid of nearly endless red tape, Republicans would agree to raise taxes to modernize America’s infrastructure.

Stalled funding. The refusal to modernize infrastructure is motivated by politics, not rational economics. By improving transportation and power efficiencies, new infrastructure will lower costs and enhance U.S. competitiveness—returning $1.44 for every dollar invested, according to Moody’s. That’s one reason why business leaders, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers—normally on the same page as congressional Republicans—have been pleading for robust public funding. As an added benefit, 2 million new jobs would be created by an infrastructure-modernization initiative, jump-starting the economy. That’s why labor leaders and economists have joined with the business community to advocate for it.

But these benefits largely accrue to society at large—not to the public entities funding the infrastructure. Because tolls and other user charges, where applied, rarely cover all the capital costs, the federal government often must subsidize public works if the United States wants modern interstate transportation, water, and power systems. As a matter of party ideology, however, Republicans have steadfastly refused to raise the gas tax and other taxes needed to fund infrastructure. This line in the sand was drawn in the 1990s because of the Republican conviction, widely shared by the public, that government is wasteful.

So when the highway trust fund expired this year, Congress found itself in an ideological struggle over how to fix potholes. Unfortunately, Washington’s answer is an inadequate funding plan that is also basically dishonest, resorting to gimmicks like selling oil from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve at more than $90 per barrel (when the market price is closer to $40).

Red-tape waste. The Republican frustration about government waste is illustrated by the inefficiencies of infrastructure procurement and process. The arduous procedures by which public infrastructure gets approved and built shows that total costs could be cut in half by dramatically simplifying the environmental review and permitting processes—which can often consume a decade or longer. The water-desalination plant in San Diego, for example, which is vital for water-parched California, began its permitting in 2003. It finally opened in December 2015, after 12 years and four legal challenges.

Even projects with little or no environmental impact can take years. The plan to raise the Bayonne Bridge roadway, which spans a strait that connects New Jersey to Staten Island—in order to allow a new generation of post-Panamax ships into Newark Harbor—had virtually no environmental impacts because it used the same foundations and right of way as the existing bridge. Yet the project still required five years and a 20,000-page environmental assessment. Among the requirements was a study of historic buildings within a two-mile radius of the Bayonne—even though the bridge touched no buildings. Once approved, the project was then challenged in the courts based on—you guessed it—inadequate environmental review.

All of this process is expensive. The nonpartisan group Common Good (which I chair) recently published a report on bureaucratic delays, Two Years, Not Ten Years, which found that decade-long review and permitting procedures more than double the effective cost of new infrastructure projects. Delay increases hard costs by at least 5 percent per year. Delay prolongs bottlenecks and inefficiencies, which totals 10 to 15 percent of project costs per year (depending on the infrastructure category). A six-year delay, typical in large projects, increases total costs by more than 100 percent.

Careful process, the theory goes, makes projects better. But the U.S. approval process mainly produces paralysis not prudence. America’s global competitors don’t weigh themselves down with these unnecessary costs. Take Germany: It is a far greener country than the United States, yet it does environmental review in a year not a decade. Germany is able to accomplish both review and permitting in less than two years by creating clear lines of authority: A designated official decides when there has been enough review and resolves disputes among different agencies and concerned groups. The statute of limitations on lawsuits is only one month, compared with two years in the United States—and that two years is only because it was shortened under the new highway bill. Following Germany’s lead, Canada recently changed its permitting process to complete allreviews and other infrastructure decisions within two years, with clear grants of authority to officials to meet deadlines.

Like most laws, America’s infrastructure process has its supporters. Any determined opponent of a project can “game” the procedures to kill or delay projects it doesn’t like. And, just as most Republicans are adamant about not raising taxes, many Democrats are adamant about not relinquishing the effective veto power environmentalists currently wield. After all, who knows when a new Robert Moses might appear to flatten urban neighborhoods?

Spending years arguing about if the project is worthwhile rarely improves the decision.

The tragic flaw in this position, however, is that lengthy environmental review is dramatically harmful to the environment. Prolonging traffic and rail bottlenecks, the Common Good report found, means that billions of tons of carbon are unnecessarily released as officials, environmentalists, and neighbors bicker over project details. America’s archaic power grid—not replaced in part because of permitting uncertainties—wastes electricity equivalent to the output of 200 coal-burning power plants. At this point, the decrepit state of America’s infrastructure means that almost any modernization, on balance, will be good for the environment. Water pipes from 100 years ago leak an estimated 2.1 trillion gallons of water per year. Faulty wastewater systems release 850 billion gallons of waste into surface waters every year. Overall, America’s infrastructure receives a D+ rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers. For every project that is environmentally controversial, such as the Keystone pipeline, there are scores of projects that would easily provide a net benefit to the environment.

In some vital projects, adhering to rigid legal processes could even lead to catastrophe. For example, the proposed new rail tunnel under the Hudson River must be completed before the adjoining tunnel is shut down to repair damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Any delay in approvals would cut rail capacity to Manhattan from New Jersey in half, with unthinkably bad consequences on traffic, carbon emissions, and the economy.

Environmental review is important, but the tough choices required can usually be understood and aired in a matter of months not years. The trade-offs for the most part are well known: A desalination plant will produce one gallon of briny byproduct for every gallon of clean water; the new rail tunnel under the Hudson River will require dislocating homes and businesses at either end; a new power line will emit electromagnetic energy and mar scenic vistas. But California’s fresh water must come from somewhere, New York needs to eliminate rail bottlenecks, and new power lines will carry clean electricity to cities from distant wind farms. In each case, the relevant questions are whether the new project is worth the costs and, sometimes, whether there’s a practical way to mitigate the effects. Spending years arguing about if the project is worthwhile rarely improves the decision—it only makes projects more expensive while prolonging pollution.

A new bargain. There’s a way to break the logjam caused by a lack of needed funding and an overabundance of process. Conservatives concerned about wasteful government should agree to raise taxes to fund infrastructure if liberals agree to abandon the bureaucratic tangle that causes the waste. This deal will cut critical infrastructure costs in half, enhance America’s environmental footprint, and boost the economy.

Adequate funding will get America moving with safe and efficient infrastructure. And abandoning years of process need not undermine environmental goals or public transparency. The key, as in Germany and Canada, is to allocate authority to make needed decisions within a set time frame. Public input is vital, but it can be accomplished in months. Plus, input is more effective at the beginning of the process, as adjustments can be made before any plan is set in the legal concrete of multi-thousand-page environmental-review statements.

Politically, of course, getting Republicans and Democrats to strike a bargain—more funding for less bureaucracy—won’t be easy. Special interests on both sides have their claws deep into the status quo. It is notoriously difficult to raise taxes, and curbing review timelines can sound like cutting corners. But America can’t move forward on infrastructure built two generations ago. Eliminating traffic jams, electricity outages, airplane delays, and unnecessary tragic accidents will be more than worth the small increase in taxes and a shorter review period.

Congress knows there’s a problem­. The new 1,300-page highway bill tiptoes toward streamlining decisions. Unfortunately, these good intentions may actually make matters worse. The bill creates a new 16-agency committee to review projects and defines elaborate procedures on how to set a permitting timetable. But the timetable can be waived, and the new procedures assiduously avoid the one indispensable element for enforcing deadlines: a final decision maker. Indeed, the reluctance to grant anyone the ability to resolve disagreements is almost comical. The director of the Office of Management and Budget is supposedly in charge, but the director’s ultimate grant of authority amounts to no authority all: “If a dispute remains unresolved … the Director … shall … direct the agencies party to the dispute to resolve the dispute.”

But a new bipartisan bargain doesn’t require complicated drafting. It only takes a few words for Congress to approve a gas tax or other taxes to fund infrastructure-modernization programs. And the radical change needed to reduce permitting from ten years to two years will not be made in substantive law—underlying environmental requirements, for example, would remain the same—but rather in authorizing specific officials to make and review decisions. Creating clear lines of authority is much simpler than defining the intricacies of a procedural labyrinth. The law can give the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality responsibility over deciding when there has been enough environmental review, and it can give the OMB director responsibility over resolving disputes among squabbling agencies. They will both be accountable to the president and, if necessary, to the courts. Common Good, at the request of relevant committees in Congress and with the help of two former Environmental Protection Agency general counsels, has already drafted proposed amendments that establish these lines of authority as well as oversight standards for the president and the courts.

The good news is that the political winds are shifting. Hillary Clinton recently proposed a $500 billion infrastructure initiative that included a call to radically streamline permitting and review processes. And Jeb Bush recently called for permits to be granted “within two years instead of ten.” With strong leadership, the nation can get there: If the Democrats cut waste and the Republicans provide funding, Americans will have better rules and better roads.

Philip K. Howard is chairman of Common Good, a regulatory and legal reform organization, a New York-based lawyer and civic leader and the author of several books, including The Death of Common Sense and The Rule of Nobody.

David Warsh: "System of 1896'' and GOP hopes for decades of power



So impatient am I with the Trump phenomenon that I spent a good part of the week reading The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters, by Karl Rove (Simon & Schuster, 2015).

I read all the way to the end to discover the answer  that Rove gives — not every word of a fairly long book, mind you, but enough to get a feeling for the argument. It was an interesting time. Rove tells a good story. He had plenty of help from the published works of a quartet of academic historians – “the Modern McKinley Men,” he calls them – and from own his extensive staff.

McKinley (1843-1901), the 26th president of the United States, rose to prominence as a young hero of the Civil War, later governor of Ohio.  He is more widely remembered as the man whose assassination by an angry anarchist catapulted Theodore Roosevelt, his 42-year-old vice president, into the White House.

Yet McKinley had won two presidential elections, the first of them towards the end of a bitter depression that began in 1893.  He reconfigured the political map of the day, creating Republican majorities in the Northeast, the Upper Midwest and California – just the opposite of the present day.  In defeating William Jennings Bryan, he created what scholarly historians have called the “system of 1896,” which, they say, lasted until 1932.  After 1896, Rove writes,

The Republican Party was no longer a shrinking and beleaguered political organization composed of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants in the North and Southern blacks being systematically stripped of their right to vote.  Instead, it was a frothy, diverse coalition of owners and workers, longtime Americans and new citizens, lifetime Republicans and fresh converts drawn together by common beliefs and allegiances.

Rove, of course, is himself a practicing political operative, the consultant widely credited with producing the 2000 candidacy of George W. Bush.  He served as the administration’s senior political adviser and deputy chief of staff until resigning, in August 2007.   In 2010 he organized American Crossroads, a political-action committee to raise money for the 2012 elections. In 2013, he organized the Conservative Victory Project, with a view to supporting “electable” conservative candidates.

As befits an expert fundraiser, Rove ends the books with what amounts to a literary PowerPoint presentation: eight reasons for McKinley’s first victory.  He conducted a campaign based on big issues, sound money and protection for infant industries. He attacked his opponent, turning a strength (free silver!) into a weakness (inflationist!). He sought to broaden the Republican base, appealing with considerable success to Catholics, labor unions and immigrants, formerly excluded groups. He put more states in play than had previously been the case. He campaigned as an outsider against traditional GOP bosses in New York and Pennsylvania. He successfully portrayed himself as an agent of change.  He adopted the language of national reconciliation, in sharp distinction to Bryan. Finally, he raised plenty of money and brought his advisers into his campaign – Mark Hanna in particular.  And he did all this from the comfort of his own home in Canton, Ohio –- receiving one delegation of would-be constituents after another, including a body of former Confederate soldiers, in his “Front-Porch” campaign.

In other words, says Rove, McKinley was the first modern president. If all this still seems a little remote in time, here is a video of Rove himself zestfully describing what he sees as the parallels. He writes, “McKinley’s campaign matters more than a century later because it provides lessons either party could use today to end an era of a 50-50 nation and gain the edge for a durable period.”

The really interesting part is this search for a durable edge, it seems to me, and not because I am especially interested in history.  Like Rove, I am concerned mainly with the present day. Also like Rove, I believe  that the US electorate is prone to subtle long-term mood swings.

Speculation about long political cycles—periodic electoral “realignments” of political parties, students of politics call them – had great vogue in the 1960s and ’70s, when Rove and I were young. Professors of political science described them, notably V.O. Key, Walter Dean Burnham, E.E. Schattschneider and James L Sundquist. Historians Arthur Schlesinger, senior and junior, popularized the idea.  Recently, , of Yale University, has critically examined to good effect the idea of generation-long spans, first in a landmark article for Annual Review of Political Science, and in a subsequent book, Electoral Realignments: A Critique of An American Genre (Yale, 2004). He is certainly right when he says that contingency, strategy and valence all play a part. “Politics cannot be about waiting,” he writes, “for realignments or anything else.”  Here is Mayhew’s review of Rove’s book.

And yet the narrative itch persists – before, during and after. The idea that the election of 1896, McKinley vs. Bryan, brought into existence an electoral “system” that dominated U.S.  politics until 1932, has been neglected, I think, somewhat obscured by the eight-year presidency of Woodrow Wilson, which eventuated only after the Republican Roosevelt staged his third-party “Bull Moose” run in 1912. Even the Federal Reserve System was largely a Republican creation, under the leadership of Sen. Nelson Aldrich (R-R.I.).  I am no historian, but I am inclined to believe Wesleyan University’s Schattschneider, who wrote: “The most substantial achievement of the Democratic Party from 1896 to 1932 was that it kept itself alive as the only party to which the country could turn if it ever decided to overthrow the Republican Party.”

Taken together, along with an account of the influence of congressional Republicans during the Wilson administration, the presidencies of McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft,  Harding, Coolidge and Herbert Hoover constitute it seems to me, as coherent a period of governance as the two that followed. The realignment that followed the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 lasted until 1976, at least if you buy the argument that Richard Nixon was the last “liberal” president. The realignment that began with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, or, if you prefer, Jimmy Carter in 1976, lasted at least until 2008.

That’s where Rove comes in.  He thinks that the Republican Party can gain a second wind – another 30  years or so of hegemony, if only it finds a candidate who can adopt McKinley’s tactics.  This, in turn, is where Rove hopes Jeb Bush will serve. Sure enough Bush last week finally began to make his move, preparing to challenge Trump for the political fraud that he is. I still expect the contest for the nomination will come down to Bush vs. someone else – Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio or even Chris Christie.  It’s even conceivable that Bush could still beat Hillary Clinton in the general election, if all the stars were to align.

Would that outcome be the beginning of a second long skein of Republican victories?  I doubt it. Rather than cycles, why not call it a zig-zag pattern? – somewhat irregular but durable shifts in majority voter preferences, every couple of generations or so?  My hunch is that, for now, the GOP has had its turn.  Even an unlikely Bush victory would point away from the policies enunciated in the primary campaign. National security aside, the big issues of the next twenty years in presidential politics – inequality, citizenship, climate change – have barely begun to show up.

David Warsh is a proprietor of and a longtime financial journalist and economic historian.


Paul A. Reyes: Jeb Bush has had freebies his whole life

The Republican Party has struggled for years to attract more voters of color. In a recent campaign appearance, candidate Jeb Bush offered yet another useful case study of how not to do it. At a campaign stop in South Carolina, the former Florida governor was asked how he’d win over African-American voters. “Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” he answered. So far, so good, right?

“It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”


With just two words — “free stuff” — Bush managed to insult millions of black Americans, completely misread what motivates black people to vote, and falsely imply that African Americans are the predominant consumers of vital social services.

First, the facts.

Bush’s suggestion that African-Americans vote for Democrats because of handouts is flat-out wrong. Data from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies shows that black voters increasingly preferred the Democratic Party over the course of the 20th Century as it stepped up its support for civil rights.

These days, more than 90 percent of African Americans vote for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates because they believe Democrats pay more attention to their concerns. Consider that in the two GOP debates, there was only one question about the “Black Lives Matter” movement. When they do comment on it, Republican politicians feel much more at home criticizing that movement against police brutality than supporting it.

Bush is also incorrect to suggest that African-Americans want “free stuff” more than other Americans. A plurality of people on food stamps, for example, are white.

Moreover, government assistance programs exist because we’ve decided, as a country, to help our neediest fellow citizens. What Bush derides as “free stuff” — say, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and school lunch subsidies — are a vital safety net for millions of the elderly, the poor, and children, regardless of race or ethnicity.

How sad that Bush, himself a Catholic, made his comments during the same week that Pope Francis was encouraging Americans to live up to their ideals and help the less fortunate.

Finally, Bush’s crass comment is especially ironic coming from a third-generation oligarch whose life has been defined by privilege.

Bush himself is a big fan of freebies. The New York Times has reported that, during his father’s 12 years in elected national office, Bush frequently sought (and obtained) favors for himself, his friends, and his business associates. Even now, about half of the money for Bush’s presidential campaign is coming from the Bush family donor network.

And what about those corporate tax breaks, oil subsidies and payouts to big agricultural companies Bush himself supports? Don’t those things count as “free stuff” for some of the richest people in our country?

It’s also the height of arrogance for Bush to imply that African Americans are strangers to “earned success.” African-Americans have been earning success for generations, despite the efforts of politicians like Bush — who purged Florida’s rolls of minority voters and abolished affirmative action at state universities.

If nothing else, this controversy shows why his candidacy has yet to take off as expected. His campaign gaffes have served up endless fodder for reporters, pundits, and comics alike.

Sound familiar?

As you may recall, Mitt Romney helped doom his own presidential aspirations by writing off the “47 percent” of the American people he said would never vote Republican because they were “dependent upon government.”

In Romney’s view, they’re people “who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Sorry, Jeb. The last thing that this country needs is another man of inherited wealth and power lecturing the rest of us about mooching.

Raul A. Reyes is a lawyer  and columnist based in New York City.Distributed by 


David Warsh: Scott Walker: Political asset stripper



This appeared in last spring.

Republican Party business interests and  centrists have rallied around Jeb Bush. Tea Party conservatives so far seem to prefer Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to the rest of the list of would-be contenders – Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum. {Editor's note: This was written before the recent rise of Donald Trump.}

The first state primary is still  months away.  But to understand the appeal of Bush and Walker to their respective constituencies, it helps to know something about the situation on the ground in Wisconsin.

Walker, 47, who rose from state legislator in 1993 to county executive for Milwaukee to governor, achieved national prominence in 2011 when he successfully campaigned to strip the state’s public unions of most of their collective bargaining rights.  He survived a recall election and, in 2014, won a second term.

Recently he picked a new fight with organized labor when he said he would sign “right-to-work” legislation on the verge of passage in the Republican-led legislature. The measure would deprive unions of their right to charge non-member workers the equivalent of dues.

Robert Samuels, of The Washington Post, spent time in the state recently and found the public unions reeling. Describing an ill-attended meeting in a union hall in a small town in central Wisconsin, his report began:

The anti-union law passed here four years ago, which made Gov. Scott Walker a national Republican star and a possible presidential candidate, has turned out to be even more transformative than many had predicted.

Walker had vowed that union power would shrink, workers would be judged on their merits, and local governments would save money. Unions had warned that workers would lose benefits and be forced to take on second jobs or find new careers.

Many of those changes came to pass, but the once-thriving public sector unions were not just shrunken — they were crippled….

The state branch of the National Education Association, once 100,000 strong, has seen its membership drop by a third. The American Federation of Teachers, which organized in the college system, saw a 50 percent decline. The 70,000-person membership in the state employees union has fallen by 70 percent.

The story artfully hints at the disparities in job security, wages, and benefits that exist between union and non-union jobs.  Statistics are hard to come by, but where government workers 50 years ago routinely accepted lower levels of compensation in return for greater job security and reliable pension benefits, anecdotal evidence suggests that government salaries in recent decades have tended to equal and often surpass comparable private-sector employment opportunities.

Samuels writes,

While some union members have been energized by the fight, they say they notice a new, more vocal animosity toward them. It has been particularly pronounced in rural areas, where public-sector jobs were some of the most prized gigs in town.

In King [Wis], population 1,700, [union steward Terry] Magnant said she couldn’t change a sign at the union hall without someone giving her the finger. Farther west, in Stanley, prison workers said they ditched their favorite pizza pub because the owner stood by while other customers called them “leeches.”

In Reedsburg, that tension surprised Ginny Bourgeois, 52, who clerks at a local Kwik Trip. The community had always been divided, defined as much by the factories manufacturing car parts as it was by cornfields now blanketed in snow. Still, it was a place where the community got together for spaghetti and corn feeds and filled bleachers to watch the Reedsburg Beavers play. Now, she said, people were fighting over politics at gas stations.

Still, she felt unions needed to sacrifice.

“Everyone knows teachers’ insurance was some of the best you could get,” Bourgeois added. “They do fairly well around here, and they do a good job teaching. But everyone in this town has had to tighten their belts. They should too.”

Judy Brey, a 58-year-old speech therapist who taught in the community for 22 years, said such sentiment hurt teachers’ morale. She said she grew up admiring her dad, who put six children through college on his union-supported job as a forester. “I don’t make a lot, but we’ll be okay with retirement, ” she said he told her. That, she was taught, was the reward for public service in Wisconsin.

“Now I’m always nervous that everyone will think they’re moochers,” Brey said. “That I’m a moocher.”

The history of the union movement can only be understood in the larger context of American business in the 20th Century – but it seldom is,   Even the broad outlines of the story of American business are not well understood.

Alfred Chandler, the great historian of business, who spent his last 40  years at  Harvard Business School, worked tirelessly to demonstrate the importance for economic growth of giant corporations – not just in the US, but in Britain, Europe and Japan, too.  First in Structure and Strategy: Chapters in the History of American Industrial Enterprise (MIT, 1962), then in The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business, (Harvard, 1977) and finally in Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism (Harvard, 1990), Chandler described and analyzed the stability that arose when industries became oligopolies, markets dominated by a handful of first-movers, each with substantial power to set prices, all determined to compete on other grounds.

But when the time came for an international conference in 1994 to celebrate what was clearly a triumph of empirical economics, Big Business and the Wealth of Nations (Cambridge, 1997), European unions were barely mentioned. and American unions had no place at all in the index. Moreover, it was already apparent that market conditions had changed dramatically since the 1970s  – that the twin forces of innovation and globalization were undermining familiar arrangements of enterprise that had begun taking shape more than a hundred years before.

No comparable economic history of the labor movement exists, though Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Harvard, 1998), by Daniel T. Rodgers, of Princeton University, made a very good start.  Steven Greenhouse, for  19 years a labor reporter for The NewYork Times, contributed The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker (Knopf, 2008) before he retired earlier this year to begin another book. In the mid-1950s, 35 percent of American workers belonged to unions, Greenhouse writes; in 2008, the number was 12.1 percent and declining, just 7.5 percent in private sector unions -- the lowest proportion since 1901.  But those numbers come toward the end of the book, not the beginning.

The story of the last  40 years has been one of pell-mell corporate  restructuring in industrial economies and newly industrializing ones around the world.  Call it what you like: deregulation, a Big Bang, the Leap Outward, Perestroika. Private unions have been intimately affected by the turmoil, public unions somewhat less so.

In the US, the   Employment Retirement Security Act of 1974, known as ERISA, spelled out rules under which companies could legally freeze their pension plans.  Few have hesitated to do so.

But no such measure was undertaken for public pensions.  As Mary Williams Walsh, the dean of pension reporters, wrote recently inThe New York Times,  cracks have started to appear in the legal foundation of government pensions, the  doctrine of “vested rights:”

First in Detroit, then in Stockton, Calif., now in New Jersey, judges and other top officials are challenging the widespread belief that public pensions are untouchable.

Walker is clearly part of this evolution.  He should be seen to have begun doing something that needs to be done – albeit in an especially combative way.  Just as corporate restructuring called forth a gallery of types over the years – entrepreneurial geniuses and private equity kings, roll-up artists and spin-off wizards, merger mavens and makeover masters – so the restructuring of labor markets eventually will be seen to have produced a few basic sorts of innovative leaders.  Walker is one such rxample..

Among corporate chieftains, the lowest rung is reserved for those known as asset-strippers, a term of no great precision, except that the community knows one when it sees one —  raiders who borrow heavily and then sell off assets to pay down debt with no clearer goal than the accumulation of riches. My hunch is that is the category in which Walker will come to be placed – a political asset-stripper of uncommon ambition, who sought to convert a policy of smug confrontation to personal gain.

It’s Wisconsin, a state of sharply divergent traditions, not Indiana or Michigan; maybe it could not have been done any other way. But Scott Walker is very unlikely to become the Republican nominee, much less president of the United States.

David Warsh, proprietor of,  is a  longtime economic historian and financial journalist.


David Warsh: U.S. party politics in our more perilous times

harvey "Anti-Drone Burqa,' by ADAM HARVEY, in the show "Permanent War: The Age of Global Conflict, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, through March 7.


Why is the race for the Republican presidential nomination shaping up the way it is?  On Friday Mitt Romney ended his bid to return to the lists after only three weeks. It’s clear why he got out:  the Republican Establishment that supported his candidacy in 2012 has switched to backing Jeb Bush.

But why did he get in? We know something about this, thanks to Dan Balz and Philip Rucker of The Washington Post.

One issue that seemed to weigh on Romney was the Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris on the Charlie Hebdo publication. Romney talked about the issue with close advisers the night before he declared he would seriously consider running. “Paris was the biggest of all the factors,” the Romney associate said. “It was a tipping point for him about how dangerous the world had become.”

That sounds more than plausible. Romney spent more than two years as a Mormon missionary in France in the late 1960s.

We don’t know much yet even about the reasons that Jeb Bush has stated privately for deciding to enter the race, despite, for instance, this illuminating examination of his involvement in public-education issues in Florida, where he was governor for eight years. It seems a safe bet that his motives eventually will turn out be similar to those of Romney, stemming from his family’s long involvement in US foreign policy.

If you listen carefully, you can hear tipping going on all around.

For my part, I was deeply surprised to find myself thinking aloud in December that, as a centrist Democrat, I might prefer Bush to Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016. I expect to read several books and chew plenty of fat over the next few months figuring whether that is really the case.

It’s not simply that I expect that the path to the nomination would  require Bush to rein in the GOP’s Tea Party wing – all those space-shots meeting late last month in Iowa – an outcome to be devoutly desired, but not enough in in itself to warrant election. More important, it is possible that Bush would promise to bring the Republicans back to the tradition of foreign-policy realism that was characteristic of Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford and George H.W. Bush, and bring future Democratic candidates along with him. That would be something really worth having.

To the end of thinking about what is involved, I have been reading Overreach: Delusions of Regime Change in Iraq (Harvard, 2014), by Michael MacDonald, professor of international relations at Williams College.  It is a brilliant reassessment of the opinion-making forces that led to the American invasion of Iraq, an aide-mémoire more powerful than Madame Defarge’s knitted scarf  for all its careful comparisons, distinctions and citations.

The conventional wisdom has become that George W. Bush all but willed the invasion of Iraq singlehandedly. There is, of course, no doubt that the president was essential, says MacDonald. For one reason or another, Bush positively hankered to go to war. But he had plenty of help.

For one thing, there were the neoconservatives.  By 2000, they more or less controlled the Republican Party.  MacDonald put the emphasis less on policy makers such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld than on the extensive commentarial behind them:  Journalists Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan at the Weekly Standard and the New American Century think tank, the long-dead political philosopher Leo Strauss (nothing neo about him) his and latter-day acolyte Harvey Mansfield, of Harvard Law School, and Bernard Lewis, an historian of Islamic culture, to name the most prominent.

For another, there were the Democratic hawks. The Democratic Party itself divided into three camps: opponents (Sen. Edward Kennedy, former Vice President Al Gore, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi); cautious supporters (Senators John Kerry ,Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton); and passionate supporters (Senators Joseph Lieberman, Diane Feinstein, and Evan Bayh).  Former Clinton adviser Kenneth Pollack made the argument for war in The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.

MacDonald discounts the theory that the oil companies argued for war, with a view to obtaining control of Iraqi reserves.  But he credits the argument that Israel and the Israeli lobby in the United States strongly supported regime change.  And the pundits, ranging from Thomas Friedman of The New York Times to Michael Kelley of The Atlantic to Max Boot of The Wall Street Journal, as well as the editors of The New Yorker, The New Republic and Slate.   Economic Principals, whose column you are reading now, was a follower in this camp.


At first the war went well.  The U.S. captured Baghdad, Saddam fled, and Bush staged his “Mission Accomplished” landing on an aircraft carrier.  But after the apparent victory began to melt away, MacDonald writes, those who had supported the war for whatever reason united in what he calls the Elite Consensus designed to shift the blame.

The war should have been won but it was poorly planned. There weren’t enough U.S. troops. Defense chief Rumsfeld was preoccupied with high-tech weaponry.  Administrator Paul Bremer was arrogant. The Americans never should have disbanded the Iraqi army.  The Iraqis were incurably sectarian.  The Americans lacked counterinsurgency doctrine. The whole thing was Bush and Cheney’s fault.  And, whatever else, the Elite Consensus was not at fault.

In fact, writes MacDonald, the entire intervention was based on the faulty premise that American values were universal.  Regime change would be easy because Iraqis wanted what Americans wanted for them:  democracy, individualism, constitutional government, toleration and, of course, free markets.  Some did, but many did not.

Breaking the state was easy; liberating Iraq turned out to be impossible. Instead, MacDonald notes, the always precarious nation has turned “a bridge connecting Iran to Syria.” Meanwhile, Russia is annexing eastern Ukraine, over its neighbor’s attempts to break away from Russian influence and enter the economic sphere of the European Community. It has become a much more dangerous world.

Hence the dilemma facing Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, if either or both are to become presidential candidates in 2016. Can they back away from the proposition that has been at the center of American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War – as Michael MacDonald puts it, that we are the world, and the world is better for it?

David Warsh, a longtime business journalist and economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.c0m