Ominous Parallels: Is Obama the Next Bush?
For the span of the next 800 words, can you step back from your tribal affiliations and look at the world not through the eyes of a rabid Republican or Democrat but with due awareness of the unintended consequences that often bedevil massive Federal initiatives? Consider, then, the worrying similarities between our current and past president as well as what happened when our last president overreached in his zeal to resolve the crisis that came to define his presidency.
First, can you accept the nonpartisan consensus that both George Bush and Barack Obama love their country? They express this love in different ways but denying them the common ground of patriotism actually says more about you than about them.
Despite many obvious differences, these two presidents bear striking similarities. Both are expansive in their willingness to use executive power to tackle existential crises – one a security crisis and the other an economic crisis. Both have a bias for action sustained by an unshakeable belief in their righteousness. Both launched ambitious and unprecedented national programs that initially enjoyed broad popular support. And both govern as if the ends justify the means, giving short shrift to legal and constitutional niceties that might tie their hands.
George Bush surrounded himself with draft-dodging neocons who believed they possessed special knowledge about foreign policy, brooking no debate. Barack Obama has surrounded himself with tax-dodging Wall Street bankers who believe they have special knowledge about economic policy, brooking no debate.
George Bush launched trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan hoping to “make the world safe for democracy.” In the process he embroiled the country in a morass with no clear exit strategy. Barack Obama launched trillion dollar government takeovers in the banking, insurance, and automobile industries hoping to “correct the flaws in capitalism.” As he wades deeper into this morass, have you heard him articulate a compelling exit strategy?
Both of these men went “all in” with the nation’s checkbook asking for “sacrifice” from the citizenry, promising a better future. It would be interesting to see how Vegas odds makers compare the two bets. Which will happen first – Iraq becomes a stable democracy with a murder rate lower than Washington DC’s or Chrysler becomes a profitable car company and pays back its federal loans?
Yes, George Bush abandoned all pretense of fiscal discipline allowing his party to spend wildly not just on his wars but on a raft of programs logrolled through Congress. Barack Obama makes a pretense of fiscal discipline as his party spends wildly, not just on his stimulus and rescue packages but on a raft of programs being shoved through Congress by an unrestrained majority.
Bush’s lawyers concocted rationales allowing him to trample the Constitution in his pursuit of the “war on terror.” Congress gave him a free pass, too busy peddling earmarks to look after their constitutional responsibilities. Obama’s lawyers have quietly followed suit, allowing him to trample the constitution in pursuit of “creating or saving jobs.” Congress is giving him a free pass, still too busy peddling earmarks to look after their constitutional responsibilities.
Oddly enough, Bush’s last act as president was to pave the way for Obama’s dive into the banking, insurance, and automobile businesses, making a mockery of the Republican Party’s free market rhetoric. And Obama’s first act as president was to beef up the war in Afghanistan and extend the lease at Guantanamo, making a mockery of the Democratic Party’s anti-war rhetoric.
What kind of willful partisan blindness does it take to deny the common pattern in these two presidencies? The only thing we haven’t seen yet is the collapse of Obama’s popular support. But just wait a few years. With the threat of Carter stagflation looming and voter patience wearing thin for never-ending bailouts, there is plenty of time for the chickens to come home to roost before Obama’s term is up.
Short of total war aimed at the annihilation and unconditional surrender of an enemy nation-state, national problems rarely lend themselves to monolithic solutions hastily promulgated by imperial presidents. The unintended consequences of throwing unlimited resources at intractable problems often become more threatening than the original problems. Just look at the growing army of radical Islamicists waving their fists at Uncle Sam or the swelling ranks of zombie corporations waving their begging bowls.
Yes, the pendulum often swings from one party to the other as voters recoil from the most recent abuses of power. But instead of bouncing back and forth between the lesser of two evils, suppose we all picked up and read a copy of the Constitution? It might remind us that our federal government was not designed to engage in nation building in foreign lands any more than it was empowered to run mortgage banks, insurance companies, or auto manufacturers. Limiting the damage our political leaders can inflict on the country even while acknowledging their best intentions is not a partisan issue. It’s what makes us uniquely American.