I’m calling the election. The winner will be George W. Bush.
Whether Obama serves a second term or hands the reins to Romney, we will face another four years of Bush’s policies.
The war on terrorism defined Bush’s tenure. Obama has embraced virtually every significant aspect of Bush’s national security strategy. The current administration has signed off on warrantless wiretapping and has claimed the authority to start wars even in the face of explicit congressional opposition. The White House has hid behind a shroud of extreme secrecy, invoking the Espionage Act against whistleblowers and stonewalling torture investigation by revising the Freedom of Information Act through executive order. The FBI has continued its crackdown on dissenters and infiltrations of peaceful political groups. Obama has even formalized the most extreme Bush-era claim of executive power — the authority to detain American citizens indefinitely without charge. His administration has gone even further to claim the president can kill any suspected terrorist in the world by drone bombing, describing his personal mental calculation over such decisions as “due process.”
On civil liberties and preventive war for the declared purpose of fomenting democratic revolution abroad, Obama has embraced the Bush doctrine. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained it clearly last year:
They ended up keeping Guantanamo open not because they like it — we didn’t like it either — but they couldn’t think of a better solution … The same is true with the Patriot Act, and military commissions, and indefinite detention. All of those things were criticized but today are still in place two-and-a-half years later because they are the best alternative to the other choices.
Obama has not only continued the Bush war-on-terror legacy; he has built upon it and worked to make the extremism of the last decade permanent.
What’s Romney think of Obama’s Bush-like war policies? He agrees with pretty much all of them. In the last debate, the governor essentially echoed everything the president said, attempting unconvincingly to sound critical while heaping praise on Obama’s most conspicuous foreign policy initiatives, approving of the drone killings in Pakistan “entirely,” saying “the president was right to up the usage of that technology.” On Obama’s most significant Bush-like foreign policy initiative, the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, Romney practically sounded like he wanted us to reelect the president:
We’ve seen progress over the past several years. The surge has been successful and the training program is proceeding apace. There are now a large number of Afghan Security Forces, 350,000 that are ready to step in to provide security and we’re going to be able to make that transition by the end of 2014.
In fact, whether Obama or Romney wins, Bush’s national-security approach will triumph more decisively than it had before Obama took office, when these policies at least elicited real controversy. If Obama wins, it will be seen as a referendum on his Bush-like wars and power grabs, granting them permanent bipartisan entrenchment. If he loses, it will be perceived as a vindication of Romney’s bellicose rhetoric and a victory for the neocons. The War Party wins regardless.
As for economic policy, Obama and Bush have more in common than voters seem to realize. Just as he kept Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Obama also reappointed Bush’s choice to head the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, and put Tim Geithner, who was intimately involved in Bush’s bank bailouts, in charge of the Treasury. Obama has embraced deficit spending even more energetically than Bush–but this is a difference in degree, not in kind. In response to the post-9/11 recession, Bush championed deficits and easy credit. Reacting to the Enron scandal, Bush gleefully signed Sarbanes-Oxley, one of the most significant amplifications of corporate regulation since the New Deal. In response to the financial crisis, Bush unhesitatingly threw his weight behind TARP bailouts for Wall Street and auto bailouts for Detroit. At the Democratic National Convention, one partisan after another touted Obama’s corporate welfare for the car industry on the short list of his greatest accomplishments. Bush started that program. Obama continued it. Romney cheers it on.
Bush gave us the TSA, abusive signing statements, shameless earmarks, and faith-based initiatives. Obama followed suit. No reason exists to think Romney will not as well.
On macroeconomics, Romney agrees with Obama and Bush’s core Keynesian premises. He believes that cutting a trillion dollars from the budget would “shrink GDP over 5 percent” and plunge America “into recession or depression.” Romney plans to increase deficit spending, just like Obama and Bush.
The aggrandizement of federal control over health care ranks as Obama’s highest domestic achievement. Even here, the partisan differences are overblown. Romney also supports federally guaranteed health care for preexisting conditions. In principle, he always favored government mandates over the individual to buy insurance. Neither candidate advocates reducing government’s role in health care. Nor did Bush, who pushed hard for Medicare D, the largest expansion of the welfare state since the Great Society. Like Obamacare, it passed in an atmosphere of panic, secrecy, and collusion with industry, as reluctant legislators voted for it out of partisan loyalty without reading the monstrously sized bills.
Both Obama and Romney try to distance themselves from the awful Bush years, yet both have adopted the worst elements of the Bush agenda: perpetual and preventative wars, punitive trade sanctions, violations of traditional civil liberties, warrantless surveillance, extrajudicial detentions, regressive credit expansion, the revolving door between the White House and Wall Street, increases in domestic spending in the name of free enterprise, cronyism and national regimentation in the name of social welfare, regulatory expansion, deficit-based anti-recession measures, bailouts of banks and other major corporations, and colluding with special interests over major decisions behind closed doors.
On the hot-button social issues, from reproductive rights to gay marriage, there appear definite rhetorical differences, but the president exercises very little direct control over most of these policies. Meanwhile, many issues almost never enter into the national discourse — the IRS, the Fed, the FDA’s mistreatment of dying Americans, the public school system, the criminal justice system, police brutality, heavily armed regulatory agents running roughshod over everyday Americans, immigration, and the drug war. On these issues, Obama and Romney are both Bush clones. Obama has escalated the crackdowns on medical marijuana dispensaries, deportations of immigrants, and the militarization of law and order. Romney promises more of the same.
The election looks pretty close but that’s an illusion. November will bring a landslide victory for the most unpopular president in recent memory. Bush is about to win a fourth term.