Bartlett speaks in favor of political openness

Witty and caustic, economist Bruce Bartlett spoke with a clarity that might have prompted official rebuke only two years ago when, in his words, Bartlett was told by Karl Rove to “shut his mouth.”

Bartlett discussed the trajectory of his political career preceding the publication of his book “Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy,” as well as the fallout that ensued afterwards, with a crowd of about 40 students at a Morse College Master’s Tea Tuesday afternoon.

Bartlett, who held positions in the Reagan administration and was deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department during the presidency of George H.W. Bush ’48, was fired in 2005 by the National Center for Policy Analysis for his outspoken criticisms of the spending policies of President George W. Bush ’68, a move that has been publicized in the media and labeled by some as an instance of revenge on the part of the current administration.

Disappointed by the Republican Party’s steadfast support for the current president, Bartlett described what he has perceived as a detrimental shift from the Reagan administration’s libertarian small government ideals to the current president’s large government spending habits, masked as conservative only by narrowly conceived social policies.

“After the [2004] election, I thought that the conservative community would come around,” Bartlett said. “But they’ve stayed, much to my amazement, loyal to him, and in public there’s this ‘circle the wagons’ mentality that will not brook criticisms from anyone, and anyone who does is ostracized as I’ve been.”

After briefly explaining the background of his book, Bartlett expounded on issues ranging from his criticisms of the president’s line-item veto power to the need for a higher retirement age and the exorbitant cost of Medicare.

“We basically need the individual income tax plus payroll tax to pay for Medicare out into the future,” Bartlett said. “We’re going to have to abolish the education department and the transportation department, because there’s going to be no money to pay for anything since Medicare is eating up everything. And I think it’s sad, the fact that nobody knows this.”

In addition to faulting the Bush administration and the Republican Party, Bartlett predicted an economic crisis due to the apathy of young voters.

“The problem is that when you look at the people who vote at the highest percentages, they are people over 60, and the people who vote the least are the people in this room,” Bartlett said. “There’s no counterbalance. There’s just too much apathy, and the people who get checks in the mail are voting in very high numbers, and then if you factor in the aging of society where [the baby boomers] will be direct beneficiaries of the programs, where are you going to get the votes to discourage this spending?”

Bartlett said his admonitions were necessary in light of party calls for censorship and the inability of Republicans to examine the President critically.

“My boss in Dallas said Karl Rove had just called him; he said from now on you really have to keep your mouth shut,” Bartlett said. “That’s why I decided to write a book; I thought maybe I could convince them of the depth of the problem and my sincerity in these beliefs.”

Students on both sides of the political spectrum responded positively to Bartlett’s presentation, saying he offered knowledge merged with engaging jest.

“I thought he was an excellent speaker,” Asia Mernissi ’10 said. “I’m pretty liberal, and I still managed to enjoy it. Even though I didn’t agree with what he had to say, I still liked how he presented his arguments from a fiscal perspective.”

For others, Bartlett’s comments provided a glimpse into the position of people active in the American political landscape.

“I thought [Bartlett’s commentary] was a rare look into the actual political process because people with that sort of access rarely have the opportunity to speak their minds,” Chris Ricca ’07 said. “The fact that he’s been ejected, from his point of view, and for him to say such frank things, is very refreshing. He’s not a politician, and it just proves that even if you’re an adviser, if you bite the hand that feeds you, you get kicked out.”

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