Karl Rove, Fiscal Sociopath: Paul Begala On Bush’s Financial Legacy

The man they called Bush’s Brain blasted Obama for putting the country on the road to fiscal hell. Clinton strategist Paul Begala on the outrageous claim by the real villain.

George W. Bush & Karl Rove (Mandel Ngan, AFP / Getty Images)

Stop, Karl, you're killin' me.

I mean it. This stuff is hilarious. Your latest column in The Wall Street Journal is a masterpiece of postmodern satire. You make Swift look slow. You make Twain look plain. You make Colbert and Stewart look like Huntley and Brinkley.

In case you missed it, The Architect's latest missive excoriates the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush era through the satirical device of pretending to call Barack Obama fiscally reckless. He quotes a 16-month-old speech by a European leader (Get it? Rove citing a Eurocrat with approval. Oh, it is savagely self-hating.) saying Obama is on the road to "fiscal hell." In a sentence whose every syllable is pregnant with irony—mordant, burlesque, self-flagellation—Rove writes: "Deficit spending did not begin when Mr. Obama took office."

No shit, Sherlock.

Karl Rove lecturing Barack Obama about fiscal responsibility is like Lizzy Borden campaigning against elder abuse.

It must be satire. Even Mr. Rove is not so intellectually dishonest, so brazenly hypocritical as to accuse anyone else of fiscal imprudence. Do I really need to repeat the indictment? Oh, OK:

When President Clinton took office, the federal budget deficit was $290 billion—the largest deficit in American history. In January 1993, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the deficit would grow to $513 billion by 2001. Instead, President Clinton and Democratic economic policies balanced the budget. Clinton and his Democratic allies—(not one Republican voted for the Clinton economic plan in 1993)—turned the projected $513 billion deficit into a $281 billion surplus. We lifted 7 million people—including 4 million children—out of poverty and up into the middle class, producing the lowest poverty rate in a quarter-century. We created 22.5 million private-sector jobs, lifted the wages of working people and left Social Security with a projected $2.49 trillion surplus.

Democratic economic policies under Clinton reduced the federal civilian payroll by 377,000 employees—the lowest level since the Kennedy administration. Under Clinton, federal spending as a percentage of GDP dropped from 22.2 percent to just 18.5 percent—the lowest level since 1966.

Had we simply continued Clintonomics, we would have paid off the national debt. Not the annual deficit—we'd already eliminated that—but the entire national debt, in 2009. For the first time since Andrew Jackson (a Democrat, too, by the way) was president, in 1833.

But now President Obama struggles mightily with staggering deficits—at a time when our economy is teetering on the brink of a double-dip recession. Something must have happened. Hmm... What could it have been? What fiscal disaster intervened between Presidents Clinton and Obama?

Oh, right. I remember: The worst presidency of my lifetime. Or my father's lifetime. Or my late grandfather's lifetime (and he fought in World War I). Bush and Rove inherited the largest surplus in history. And they squandered it. Which surprised even me. I thought if Bush would be good at anything it would be inheriting things.

It takes something special for the Architect of the Bush presidency, which caused the greatest fiscal reversal in American history, to accuse anyone else of profligacy. In Texas, we call it chutzpah. Others might say rank hypocrisy. But it's more than that. Mr. Rove, like so many Republicans, is a fiscal sociopath. Either that or the greatest parody artist of our time.

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So let's reach into our bag of metaphors in what I fear will be a vain attempt to put Karl's column into context. Karl Rove lecturing Barack Obama about fiscal responsibility is like what? I'll start the ball rolling, dear reader, but you have to do your part. Log onto the Comments section below and share your metaphor with the group.

Karl Rove lecturing Barack Obama about fiscal responsibility is like...

Like an arsonist complaining that the fire department is wasting water.

Like Lizzy Borden campaigning against elder abuse.

Like Tiger Woods lecturing about abstinence.

Like Sarah Palin calling Elie Wiesel shallow.

Like Lady Gaga saying you're over the top.

Like Tony Hayward saying you're not managing your image well.

Your turn.

Paul Begala is a CNN political contributor and a research professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. He was a senior strategist for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign and served as counselor to President Clinton in the White House.