Five years ago. Barack Obama was running for president for the first time. George W. Bush was president, and Obama was running as the anti-Bush. Everything about his pitch to voters was essentially, “Bush has messed everything up, so I’m going to give you hope and change by doing everything differently.”
Five years later, what’s really different?
Bush supporters would protest that Obama is far worse than their man. They have a visceral hatred for Obama, because he represents everything they hate. They see Bush as tough-minded and patriotic, whereas they see Obama as a weak peacenik who’s giving everything to welfare recipients.
Obama supporters also protest, because they are certain that Bush was far worse than the man they saw as a savior. They saw Bush as stupid and war-like, whereas they see Obama as smart and kind-hearted. They see Bush as hateful to minorities and immigrants, but Obama is generous and is a leader who represents the country’s best values.
When it comes to actual governing and results, both groups are wrong. If you ignore their rhetoric to their own parties’ voters, you find they have much more in common that you’d think. I’ve been saying this for years, but people in the mainstream of the political system are now saying the same thing.
In a new article from the Associated Press this week, there’s a look at how these two men who are so different in ideology, personality and so forth have ended up with such similar policies.
Bush started two wars and Obama came to office promising to get out of the wars. He finished fighting the Iraq war, but he’s just as bogged down in Afghanistan as Bush was. He’s using drones to kill people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other places, including many innocent civilians. It’s hard to argue that Bush would have handled things any differently.
Obama ran for office promising to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay where prisoners have been held without trial for more than a decade. He said it was wrong to treat human beings this way — but he’s continued treating these people in the same way. (Many of them are on hunger strike right now. I don’t blame them.)
Bush was trying to deal with the financial crisis by “stimulating” the economy through various means. Obama has continued the same policies in much bigger ways. You can’t see any policy differences there.
Obama did push through a radical new health care plan that will be massively expensive and will threaten the economy, but people forget that Bush did the same thing. Remember the Medicaid drug benefit for seniors? That was Bush’s plan to saddle the government with a massive new entitlement program which could sink the economy singlehandedly. Despite rhetorical differences, it’s hard to see that their actual policies were much different in result.
Whether it’s immigration or education or almost anything else, there are remarkably few substantive differences between them. Yes, you can point to a few. The Obama administration has handed out money to “green energy” companies in ways that the Bush administration wouldn’t have. The Bush administration was big on “faith-based initiatives” that don’t mean anything to Obama’s people. But you have to work pretty hard to find these differences, and they’re minor in the big picture.
The statist system is essentially on automatic pilot. Politicians of either party get elected by telling some coalition of voters what they want to hear. Then they make more and more people depend on them by delivering benefits — money from the treasury in one way or another — to as many people as possible.
Democrats like to pay for those programs by borrowing a lot of money and also taxing “the rich.” Republicans just like to borrow all the money. But the direction of spending never changes, no matter who the president is.
Many of you spend a lot of time working to get one or the other of your parties’ candidates elected (as president, senator, congressman, whatever). You’re wasting your time. Your candidate can’t deliver on what he’s promising and whatever general policies are already in place are generally going to stay there.
If you’re counting on majoritarian politics to change things, you’re going to be disappointed. You might feel better emotionally to hear someone more like you speak words that make you feel good once he’s elected, but there’s a huge gap between what your candidate says when he’s running for office and what he can accomplish once he’s there.
Quit looking to the next election for the savior to fix all the problems. Nobody’s coming to save the system. It’s just a game of musical chairs that will decide who happens to get blamed when things finally collapse when the music stops.