It was "Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy," by former Reagan administration official Bruce Bartlett.
When party and principles clash, loyalty to team typically trumps fidelity to tenets, while rationalization usually supplants ratiocination. Not in this case, however. Bartlett values his ideals enough to speak important truths about a president of his own party.
From the policy-generation process to tax cuts to spending to free trade, the author portrays the Bush record as dismal. Because partisanship imparts a certain imperviousness to facts (on both sides of the ideological aisle), criticisms of this administration are too often shrugged off, at least by the right-wing talk-radio crowd, as political carping.
It will be hard to dismiss Bartlett's book that way. A confirmed Reaganite, he not only worked in the Gipper's White House but went on to serve as deputy assistant secretary for economic policy during the last few months of Reagan's presidency and all of George H.W. Bush's.
One particularly troubling trait of the current White House, Bartlett writes, has been its "total subordination of analysis to short-term politics." A second "is a disregard for established economic agencies and total reliance on a small cadre of White House staffers, many with no substantive economic backgrounds, who regularly overrule those with experience and expertise on issues under discussion."
And consider the honesty it takes for a conservative to make this point: When it comes to fiscal responsibility, Bill Clinton's record is better than George W. Bush's.
Praising Clinton for deficit reduction, spending discipline, federal workforce reductions, and welfare reform, Bartlett writes that "for those reasons, growing numbers of conservatives now view Clinton as having governed as one of them - at least on economic policy."
One shortcoming: Although Bartlett criticizes the Bush tax cuts as poorly designed, he never quite acknowledges how much of the huge yearly budget deficits result from them.
From fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2005, "tax cuts and new spending contributed roughly equally to the increase in the deficit," says Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan budgetary watchdog.
Bartlett, who labels George W. Bush "one of the most free-spending presidents on record," is focused much more on that aspect of the ledger.
He's particularly exercised about the Medicare prescription drug benefit. That legislation was billed as a plan that would cost $400 billion over its first 10 years. However, it quickly turned out that the true cost of the bill had been concealed. The real price tag for the first 10 years is $557 billion. Meanwhile, a more representative decade-long cost, for the years from 2006 to 2015, is now put at more than $700 billion.
That benefit alone will consume 1.9 percent of gross domestic product virtually forever, Bartlett says. "In 2005, this would have come to $232 billion - more than all the corporate income taxes collected by the federal government and 26 percent of all personal income taxes," he writes. "In other words, the individual income tax would have to rise by 26 percent immediately and forever just to pay for the drug program."
It's worth noting that if Bush has been a spendthrift, the Democrats have hardly distinguished themselves. One depressing memory of the 2004 presidential campaign was watching the Democratic candidates tumble over themselves in their hurry to tell seniors that the new drug benefit simply wasn't generous enough.
Bartlett underscores another important idea: Although Bush likes to style himself a tax-cutter, in reality his borrow-and-spend fiscal policies have made a future tax hike virtually inevitable.
Or, to put it another way, because they haven't held spending to what revenues will support, Bush and Congress are sending part of the tab for current programs to future taxpayers, who will eventually have to make good our bills.
"Bush may turn out to be extraordinarily lucky and avoid having to face the consequences of his own fiscal actions, especially the hugely ill-conceived Medicare drug bill, and the burden of enacting a major tax increase may fall on his successor," Bartlett writes. "But it will be Bush's fault even if someone else ends up paying the political price."
It may not be everyone's idea of a race-through beach read, but Bartlett's is a thought-provoking book - one that merits more attention than apologists for this administration are likely to give it.
Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is lehighglobe.com.