With election season just having passed us by, I thought it would be a good time to repost this article about the 2008 election I wrote for SwiftEconomics. While everyone thought Barack Obama represented a major change to George W. Bush (which in some ways, he certainly did), there was an awful lot about that new boss that was the same as the old boss. Even with Trump, there's a good amount that hasn't changed (*cough* sucking up to Saudi Arabia *cough*).
The following is an excerpt from one of Barack Obama’s campaign speeches, paraphrased by yours truly:
“Change. Change, change, change. Hope. Change you can believe in. Hope. Hope you can believe in. Yes we can. Dreams. Hope and dreams. Change and hope. Dreams and change. Dreams you can change in. Change, hope and dreams. Hope, dreams and change you can believe in. Yes we can hope to change our dreams. Change.”
The theme of which, at least from what I have gathered, is that our current president believes we need to change a few things. Well, I agree with him. I thought President Bush was a disaster. Unfortunately, though, other than the ridiculous hero worship and cult of personality that Obama’s got going (see here, here, here, and of course Obama girl and yeah this one too, sorry, I can’t help myself), it really doesn’t seem like much of anything is changing.
Let’s start with economics. This is, after all, an economics website. Barack Obama’s big economic proposal, thus far, was the $787 billion dollar stimulus package. Just about every Republican opposed it. So obviously the previous Republican administration was fundamentally opposed to using tax payers money that was taxed away from tax payers to give back to tax payers to stimulate the economy (yeah it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either). Oh wait, that’s right, Bush and his administration had their own $150 billion dollar stimulus package in 2007. It was much smaller, but so were our problems back then. If he was still in office during this phase of the crisis, it seems logical to conclude his next stimulus package would have been at least close to the size of Obama’s. Of course, all the Republicans would have supported it then.
But at least Obama was opposed to Bush’s massive, wealth redistributing, bailout of failed financial firms. Uhhhhh, no, Obama voted in favor of the TARP. In fact, Democrats supported that bill at almost twice the rate the Republicans did. But hey, that was before Obama got in office; he would never support such a thing now. Except TARP II has been put on the table, by none other than Obama’s Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner.
George Bush ran record deficits almost every year of his administration, a fact the Democrats hammered home to prove the Republicans weren’t a party of fiscal discipline. The Democrats are absolutely correct, however, it’s about the same as Moe telling Curly that he’s stupid and relatively mistake prone. Under Obama, the United States is expected to have a $957 billion dollar deficit in just the first half of this year! Needless to say, Obama has not exactly restored fiscal discipline.
Luckily, Obama has promised to regulate the financial industry, to make up for Bush’s wild and reckless deregulations. Unfortunately, for change’s sake, as I mentioned in my first ever article, Bush was not a deregulator. The pages in the federal registry increased by an average of 76,526 pages each year under Bush’s watch, and every regulatory agency had its budget significantly increased. So adding more regulations isn’t any different. Furthermore, the main piece of deregulation blamed for our current mess was the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. This, however, was passed under Bill Clinton’s administration.
If Obama thought we needed to change from both George Bush and Bill Clinton, his Secretary of State nomination seems to be an interesting choice. And speaking of change in the administration, take a look at this list of former Clinton people making up his cabinet. It’s not exactly what I would call change:
Obama even kept Bush’s appointment, Robert Gates, on as Secretary of Defense. I mean, we’re all afraid of change to one degree or another, but give me a break!
Moving outside of economics, we find even more similarities. Sure, Obama was against the War in Iraq. He didn’t vote to cut off funding or anything like that, but did give an inspiring one speech opposing the war, which apparently changed the course of history. He gave this speech from the very visible and scrutinized position of state senator. Just try to name your state senator right now. Go ahead, do it! You can’t. Anyway, his reasoning for opposing the war was:
“What I sensed, though, was that the threat Saddam posed was not imminent, the Administration’s rationales for war were flimsy and ideologically driven, and the war in Afghanistan was far from complete.” (2)
Well that’s at least something. And he should get credit for it. Unfortunately, his withdrawal plan is extremely slow and very similar to what Bush had already negotiated with the Iraqis. Obama is also willing to leave up to 50,000 troops in Iraq after the 2010 withdrawal. Our bases, and Vatican-sized embassy, are probably also there to stay. Well that’s certainly good; I mean we wouldn’t want the Iraqis to actually think we might NOT be occupying their country.
Then there’s Afghanistan, where Obama is planning to substantially increase our military presence in the near future. Apparently, we should throw a big fuss when Bush plans a surge, but when Obama gets his surge on, who cares, right?
But at least the Patriot Act is no more. Well, not quite. And by not quite, I mean not at all. Obama did fight against renewing the original version of the Patriot Act, but went ahead and voted in favor to reauthorize it in 2006, as long as it had a few provisions to prevent abuses. OK, that’s like a nickel of change. But when you base your entire campaign around the word “change,” I expect at least a couple of quarters.
Furthermore, there are reports that wire-tapping will continue, and in Jewel v. NSA, the Obama administration used the same “State Secrets” excuse the Bush administration had previously used, so to not release any government files on the subject. Obama did at least close Guantanamo Bay, or will in a year. However, he’s leaving the rendition program in place. So I guess torture is illegal in the United States now, but we can still ship suspected terrorists to some third world country and go medieval on them. I guess that’s a little different…I guess that’s technically change.
It’s also true that Obama has urged reform on healthcare and climate change policy. However, this is just upping the ante on Bush. Bush, after all, pushed through the ridiculously expensive Medicare Part D. In addition, he funded Hydrogen Energy research and supported John McCain, who like Obama, was trying to push through Cap and Trade.
Oh, but Obama is so likeable. He’s smart, charming and articulate (or according to his Vice President; so fresh and so clean clean). On the other hand, Bush was just awful. I mean, come on, he was just a mean, stupid, arrogant, selfish, inarticulate, greedy, racist, sexist, intolerant, conformist, prejudiced, homophobic, ageist, classist, environment hating, warmongering, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, flag waving, unpatriotic, misogynistic, misandrinistic, misanthropic, biphobic, transphobic, heterophobic, anti-intellectual, unprincipled, fundamentalist, nationalistic, America-centric America-hater. Alright, I’ll give you that. But just because one is likeable and one is not, doesn’t necessarily mean their policies are fundamentally different from each other.
So my question is simple: what exactly has Obama changed? A little bit of change here and there, on the peripheries, doesn’t matter to me and shouldn’t matter much to anyone else. In the end, I think Reason Magazine’s Michael Moynihan put it best, “…it appears that on the economy, the Obama administration will be Bush on steroids, and on the War on Terror, he’ll be Bush-Lite.” Well that’s just dandy. I guess “change you can believe in” was some sort of code for “the same old thing you’re just going to have to learn to accept. Deal with it asshole.”
(1) List provided by Reason TV, The Winds of Change, January 13, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2hwfu9KANM and Obama Picks More Clinton Officials for DOJ, Patterico’s Pontifications, January 5, 2009, http://patterico.com/2009/01/05/obama-picks-more-clinton-officials-for-doj/
(2) Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, Pg. 347, Vintage Books, Copyright 2006
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