There’s something oddly familiar about the Obama presidency, Steve Thomas at McClatchy mused yesterday. Some hard-to-define quality, a bit of Crawford je ne sais quoi, perhaps. For a man who ran as the antithesis of his predecessor — even to the extent of running on the slogan Hope and Change — Barack Obama has drifted into the policies of George W. Bush that he once castigated:
Now, on one major policy after another, President Barack Obama seems to be morphing into George W. Bush.
On the nation’s finances, the man who once ripped Bush as a failed leader for seeking to raise the nation’s debt ceiling now wants to do it himself.
On terrorism, he criticized Bush for sending suspected terrorists to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and denying them access to U.S. civilian courts. Now he says he’ll do the same.
On taxes, he called the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy wrong, and lately began calling again to end them. But in December he signed a deal with Republicans to extend them for two years, and recently he called the entire tax cut package good for the country.
And on war, as a candidate he said that the president didn’t have authority to unilaterally attack a country that didn’t pose an imminent threat to the U.S., and even then the president should always seek the informed consent of Congress. Last month, without a vote in Congress, he attacked Libya, which didn’t threaten the U.S.
Of course, not everything is similar. Obama picked two liberal Supreme Court justices, for example, and he pushed for and got ObamaCare. Thomas claims that it’s not much different from Bush’s Medicare Part D, which isn’t even true economically, as bad as Part D was for the budget. Part D didn’t have an individual mandate and it doesn’t require states to force insurers into “exchanges,” for just two points of dissimilarity.
Another area of contrast is in executive-branch power. Obama ripped Bush continuously for supposed arrogance, while Obama’s allies argued that Bush had created an “imperial presidency” from the concept of the “unitary executive,” which only proved that they didn’t even understand the concept. Now we have Obama not just starting wars without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress — which, contra Thomas, is much different than Bush, who did get Congressional authorization for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — but also attempting to impose his agenda on health care, global warming, and Internet control through regulatory adventurism. Obama has been stymied on the latter two fronts by Congress even when under full control of his party, and now Obama wants to bypass the legislature altogether … to the silence of the “unitary executive” hysterics from the previous decade.
Amusingly, Thomas even attempts to blame Bush for some of Obama’s drift:
At the same time, some of the surprising continuity of Bush-era policies can be tied to the way Bush and events set the nation’s course, particularly on foreign policy.
“Morphing into Bush was not a willful act,” said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “It was acquiescence to the policies his predecessor shaped and the cruel realities that Obama inherited.”
Well, that’s rather rich for a candidate who ran on change, isn’t it? We’re more than two years into Obama’s tenure, and the time to talk of inheritances has long passed. The problem isn’t that Bush was so effective as President that none of his successors can ever change course, it’s that the changes Obama promised aren’t practical nor politically viable. The “cruel reality” is that Obama didn’t know what he was talking about while on the campaign trail, and he got elected by people who didn’t understand that.
In 2012, Obama won’t be nearly as lucky.