Every four years, the American presidential electoral burlesque gets underway with a flock of candidates vying to be anointed the Democratic or Republican standard-bearer, all the way to the Oval Office. Every one of those candidates promises change. Yet by the time the primary dust clears, the two candidates left standing seldom exhibit more than cosmetic differences in policy, either between themselves or in contrast to any president or major-party presidential nominee within living memory.
Since the Great Depression, the American presidential race has almost always featured two major candidates with, to use former presidential candidate George Wallace's pungent terminology, "not a dime's worth of difference" between them. In particular, in matters of foreign policy, finance, and federal subsidies of every stripe--the three activities of the federal government that determine our political and economic destiny--no president or major-party presidential nominee since Calvin Coolidge, except Barry Goldwater, has strayed outside strictly observed lines of orthodoxy. The occasional candidate willing to challenge this bipartisan orthodoxy, and who manages to attract enough of a following to launch a viable campaign--a Congressman Ron Paul or a Pat Buchanan, or in a former generation, a Senator Robert Taft--always finds himself vilified and attacked by the so-called mainstream media and assailed by leadership within his own party.
This electoral cycle is proving no different. A crowded field of presidential aspirants that included, on the Republican side, the principled Tom Tancredo and the impeccable libertarian constitutionalist Ron Paul, and on the Democratic, strident anti-establishment types like Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, has been winnowed down to two polished posers who offer the American public, yet again, not a choice but an echo.
As with presidential tilts past, this one promises to be long on tawdry melodrama but short on substance. Obama's skin color or bowling ability have nothing to do with his performance in office, any more than McCain's alleged bad temper is a reliable indicator of his willingness to uphold the U.S. Constitution if elected. In fact, aside from age, race, and rhetorical style, Obama and McCain are remarkably similar in almost every area where their views really matter, despite the perception that one is a candidate of change and the other a candidate of the status quo.
For example, neither candidate has uttered a peep against the United Nations or against the general internationalist cant of American foreign policy. Obama is widely viewed as the candidate more likely to extricate U.S. forces from Iraq, but he has made unmistakably clear, in his pledge to defend Israel and his tough talk on Iran, that he regards U.S. foreign aid and military involvement in the Middle East in some form as non-negotiable. As for American troops still deployed in around 130 countries, presumptive candidate Obama has given no indication he would consider bringing them home.
Presumptive candidate …