The Republican presidential primary has had plenty of discussion of the 1990s, but very little of the 2000s. The Associated Press' Beth Fouhy points out that the name of the last Republican in the White House is rarely mentioned, and when George W Bush's name does come up, it's jarring, as when an Iowa voter asked Ron Paul if she could really trust he'd stick to his foreign policy, given "a couple of presidents from Texas that said they weren't interested in wars ... like George W. Bush." Fouhy reports that many policies conservatives don't like -- the bank bailout, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Medicare prescription dug benefit -- were all Bush policies. But we still haven't gotten the chance to rehash all the stuff that happened in that controversial decade. Instead, we're still talking about the 1990s.
Presidential candidates have been talking about the 1990s for a long time. In 2003, the Democratic candidates running against a Republican incumbent brought up the last Democratic president's name all the time. "I agreed with Bill Clinton on most things," Dick Gephardt said. "In 1993, I was the majority leader who led with Bill Clinton to get this economy straightened out… You remember? Twenty-three million new jobs in seven years. Unemployment was in 3 percent. We took a $5 trillion deficit and turned it into a $5 trillion surplus." John Kerry on trade: "The fact is that Bill Clinton was absolutely correct." John Edwards on foreign policy: "This president has completely disengaged in North Korea. If you watch what happened, the Clinton administration was actually engaged, making progress." But the previous president that gets mentioned most in the last year of debates is Clinton, like when Newt Gingrich tries to prove he can work with Democrats. Gingrich's candidacy has been a nostalgia tour of the 90s -- the fun things, like Gingrich's posing with Power Rangers, and the less fun things, like how Washington became so polarized and how the individual health care mandate got its start as a conservative idea in the early part of the decade.
Bush goes unmentioned even at the most obvious moments, like when Gingrich said he'd been "Romneyboated" by negative ads in Iowa. Gingrich was complaining about underhanded political attacks, implying that the "swift boating" of John Kerry for the benefit of George W. Bush was a terrible thing. And yet when John O’Neill, head of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, defended himself to the National Review's Brian Bolduc, he didn't mention Bush at all. Instead, he talked about Gingrich's congressional record, saying he hasn't been a fan of Gingrich "ever since the debacle in the late 1990s, when he came close to squandering a Republican majority in the House and engaged personally in conduct that really hurt the Republican party."
We briefly talked about Bush when Rick Perry entered the race -- that Perry was everything that Bush aspired to be. But it turned out Americans prefer a fake cowboy who sometimes plays dumb to a real cowboy who, judging by his debate appearances and the testimony of many Texans, actually is dumb. But dissecting Bush's mannerisms is nowhere near as interesting as dissecting his legacy will be, whenever we get the chance to do it.