One of the most striking lines of President Bush's new memoir, Decision Points, is the line in which he tells aides, "If we're really looking at another Great Depression, you can be damn sure I'm going to be Roosevelt, not Hoover."
Mr. Bush may want to check out the new book by his successor as governor of Texas, Rick Perry, Fed Up!, as a corrective. Mr. Perry writes that the claim that Roosevelt's New Deal ended the Depression is a "fraud" that "simply does not stand up to history." He writes, "Consider that when FDR took office in 1933, unemployment was at 25 percent. It still topped 20 percent six years later, in 1939." He goes on to quote FDR's Treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau Jr., telling Congress in 1939:
We have tried spending money: We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work…I say after eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started…And an enormous debt to boot!
It's not the only point on which the two Texas governors, both Republicans, differ. While Mr. Bush defends his decisions to intervene in the economy amid a downturn, Mr. Perry criticizes them: "We are fed up with bailout after bailout and stimulus plan after stimulus plan, each one of which tosses principle out the window along with taxpayer money."
Mr. Perry criticizes the seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September 2008, along with the Troubled Asset Relief Program signed into law in October 2008, as "the culmination of the statist's dream — the literal upending of a unique American way of doing things that had been defined by self-reliance, hard work, faith, a belief in private charity not government, and, perhaps most of all, a devotion to free markets."
As Mr. Perry puts it, "this big-government binge began under the administration of George W. Bush."
Indeed, the most newsworthy element of Mr. Perry's book is just how critical it is of Mr. Bush and other Republicans. The criticism is focused on economic policy but not limited to it; Mr. Perry also faults the president for trying to order Texas to review criminal convictions of foreign nationals who had not been notified of their consular rights. That case went to the Supreme Court, where Texas won a 6-3 victory in Medellin v. Texas, allowing it to proceed with the execution of José Ernesto Medellín, who had raped and murdered two teenage girls.
Mr. Perry also faults Mr. Bush's No Child Left Behind education initiative and the Republicans in Congress who voted for it: "This willingness to turn power over to Washington was driven in significant part by the desire to further expand federal faith-based initiatives and to provide for increased possibility of school choice. This is a perfect example of Republicans losing sight of the fact that perfectly laudable policy choices at the local level are not appropriate (much less constitutional) at the federal level."
Writes Mr. Perry, "the average Republican too often shows up to the fight seeking something 'less bad' than what the Democrat wants. That's not a fight, it's a concession." He goes on, "Washington Republicans haven't been willing to stand up and fight."
He writes, "Ultimately, the record is fairly unforgiving for Republicans — particularly in Congress — who have been in power in Washington over the last decade or so. They haven't just spent our money wildly — they have blatantly ignored our core founding principles and expanded the reach of Washington into our lives while blowing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore the balance of power from Washington back to states."
The book overall is an argument for enforcing the Tenth Amendment, limiting federal government, and relying more on the states. As a Northerner, I was also interested in Mr. Perry's coverage of "states' rights" in the run-up to the Civil War. He argues that the states whose rights were being violated in the run-up to the war were those of the North. He writes:
Unwilling to give up a way of life inexcusably based on an abominable practice, southern states persuaded Congress — the federal government — to pass the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which compelled citizens of northern states to act against their conscience and help return escaped former slaves into bondage. Meanwhile, the federal Supreme Court got involved, striking down states' personal liberty laws and ruling in Dred Scott v, Sanford that federal territories could not be free and that free states were not entitled to offer the rights of citizenship to former slaves. Thus, while the southern states seceded in the name of "state's rights," in many ways it was the northern states whose sovereignty was violated in the run-up to the Civil War.
So is this a 2012 presidential campaign book? It sure looks that way. Mr. Perry touts his own record in Texas: "the Texas unemployment rate is the lowest among the nation's ten largest states…We have also produced more private-sector jobs than any other state in the nation over the past ten years…That's what happens when you free up citizens to compete."
Mr. Perry also takes three separate swipes at the universal health care plan begun by one of his potential 2012 rivals, Mitt Romney, writing that since it was passed, "the waiting times to see a doctor in Massachusetts have nearly doubled," while "the costs are so out of control" that a commission has already recommended rationing care. Even Newt Gingrich, another potential 2012 rival, who wrote the foreword to Mr. Perry's book, is not spared. Mr. Perry writes that "most" of the "spending restraint" during the Gingrich-led Congress "came from not fighting President Clinton's efforts to cut military spending."
It may be that, with the memory of President Bush still fresh, America doesn't want to put another Texas governor in the White House. In an odd way, it's similar to the challenge that George W. Bush faced back in 2000 with an electorate skeptical of putting another Bush in the White House. With this book, Governor Perry goes a long way toward distancing himself from Mr. Bush's policies. And if he doesn't end up as president, you get the sense he'd be okay with that, anyway, given the conviction with which he makes the case that more of the decisions in our country should be made in state capitals or by private individuals rather than in Washington.