Monday, August 8, 2011

Bush and Obama: More similar than different

Obama is (deservedly, in my opinion) taking a lot of heat these days for the debt crisis and the down economy. One of the classic responses from left-wingers trying to defend Obama is "Well, would you prefer Bush?" In some ways, that is a good point. More fundamentally, however, I feel like it misses the point. If you look past the "R" and "D" labels, Bush's and Obama's presidencies are really more similar than different. Obama is not really a liberal, although he does lean left; nor was Bush really a conservative, although he leaned right. They are both statists, dramatically expanding the power and the role of government. And both their administrations were characterized by grossly irresponsible spending and heavy-handed policies that backfired.

During Bush's eight years in office, the national debt ballooned from $5.7 trillion to $10.6 trillion--an increase of nearly $5 trillion. During Obama's 2.5 years in office, the national debt grew from $10.6 trillion to $14.5 trillion--an increase of nearly $4 trillion in about one-third of the time. However, Obama has done his borrowing in a historically bad economy, when some amount of deficit is acceptable or even advisable so as to allow for pro-growth tax cuts or spending. Bush's borrowing was mostly during good economic times, when deficits are much harder to justify. In addition, some of Obama's spending was the result of the two wars he inherited from Bush. Conclusion? Bush borrowed a lot when he should have been borrowing nothing. Obama is borrowing a ridiculous amount when he should only be borrowing a little.

Besides spending like drunken sailors, both presidents seemed to believe that more power from the U.S. government is a good thing. Bush attempted to expand American global influence with bombs and guns. He started two wars that turned into long, deadly occupations, while continuing to believe that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan would somehow appreciate the American occupation and the heavy American influence on their new governments. Obama, on the other hand, seems to believe that he always knows better than the American people--whether it means forcing people to buy healthcare, preventing people from buying incandescent lamps, trying to tell companies that they can't open a factory in a certain state, or trying to prevent workers from having a secret-ballot vote on whether to unionize. Obama clearly does not see individual economic freedom as anything worth protecting.

So forget the "R" and "D" labels. We should not automatically associate all Democrats with Obama or all Republicans with Bush. The next president, regardless of party, needs to be someone who is as unlike either of them as possible.

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