Standards & Similarities: Considering the Amount of Antipathy That Democrats Express for George W. Bush and Republicans Express for Barack Obama, It's Almost Surprising How Similar Their Policies Are

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According to Alex Barker writing in a November 9 blog entry for Britain's Financial Times, President George W. Bush once confided to several British officials, including then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, "I'd have endorsed Obama if they'd asked me." Although former President Bush's spokes-people have vehemently denied that the President ever said any such thing, Bush's statement seems in line with what too few partisan Democrats and Republicans are willing to acknowledge: that differences between former President Bush and President Obama are mostly cosmetic.

It may be cliched to observe that there isn't a dime's worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats, but most of us still nurture the fond hope that there is some difference between an allegedly conservative Republican President like George W. Bush and a liberal Democrat like Barack Obama. Certainly the two men differ strikingly in style. Where Bush was verbally awkward, Obama is the soul of eloquence (at least when his teleprompter is working). Where Bush cultivated a good ol' boy persona, Obama exudes effete elitism. Where Bush typically played the hardliner against his political enemies, Obama has often appeared conciliatory. These, in addition to obvious contrasts in race and upbringing, are the sorts of differences that the media love to dwell on, as though the most crucial attributes of the President are a nimble intellect and a winning personality.


But whatever their various distinguishing traits in their private lives, our political leaders must be judged foremost by their actions in office. And in these, there has been, for several generations, little variation from one President to the next. Our most recent two Presidents are no exception; in matters of bread and butter policy, their similarities far outweigh their differences, while in matters of fundamental political principle, they differ not a whit.

As to the sort of policy decisions that adorn electoral platforms, consider how striking the similarities between Bush and Obama have proven to be, both during Bush's presidency (when Obama was in the Senate and regularly voted in favor of Bush initiatives) and during the Obama presidency, when the President has mostly carried on the policies of his predecessor.

Make War, Not Love

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, likely to be remembered as President Bush's most important undertakings, have been carried on under President Obama almost precisely as President Bush would have done, had he been elected to a third term in office. It was President Bush, after all, who envisaged winding down the war in Iraq sometime after 2010, rejecting out of hand any notion of an earlier withdrawal. Candidate Barack Obama conspicuously distanced himself from this policy, promising to end the war in Iraq soon after taking office--only to change his position once elected. We're now more or less following the timeline for Iraq recommended by President Bush, which was cemented by a "Status of Forces Agreement," and signed with the Iraqi government shortly before Bush left office. That agreement committed the United States to withdraw military forces by the end of 2011. Many thousands of American troops are still in the country, the gigantic new fortress-like U.S. embassy in Baghdad--the most expensive in the world--opened for business in January 2009, and the bombings and violence continue unabated in that tragic land. It should now be plain to all observers that, despite the much-ballyhooed withdrawal of combat troops, the U.S. occupation of Iraq, as emblemized by its Residency-esque new embassy, is to be as permanent as the British Raj in India.


In Afghanistan, meanwhile, President Obama's surge is an obvious imitation of President Bush's attempts to put down insurrectionists in occupied Iraq. And, as with Iraq, the infusion of tens of thousands more American troops in Afghanistan has led only to more violence and to higher American casualty rates. …