Saturday, May 23, 2009

Where's the Beef?

Four months ago, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. In an historic inauguration, he became the first African-American, or indeed any ethnic minority, to become President. After eight years of the unpopular Bush administration, the changing of the guard was welcome to most Americans. The fresh face elected to the highest office in the land not only looked different, but promised something different. Barack Obama was coming to the White House to bring, "Change We Can Believe In." The disastrous policies of the Bush administration will be undone as a new day dawns in America....

But those of us who observe politics closely can only note that in almost every election, the "out party" complains about the excesses of the "in party," rides the abuses of the "in party" to victory and then becomes the new "in party," and proceeds to continue to exercise the power it previously complained about, but for which the previous government set precedent. Such behaviour is as old as the republic itself (consider Jefferson's Second Revolution in 1800, in which he rode the issue of the Alien and Sedition Acts to power, abolished them, and then proceeded to use state sedition laws to prosecute those that disagreed with his government) and perhaps as old as democracy itself. President Obama is no exception. For all his talk about change, the President has remained committed to continuing and fulfilling the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

To the careful observer, it is not surprising that the policies of the Obama administration are similar to the Bush 43 administration. After all, Barack Obama campaigned as a liberal and the Bush administration was the most leftist administration in four decades. My recent open letter to President Bush describes the left-wing policies of his administration in detail (, but the highlights included a new federal health care entitlement, an increased role of federal government in education, massive domestic spending, socialization of financial industry, and a proposal for a federal "car czar" to give government control of the auto industry. While I know of no specific education proposal from the Obama administration, his White House has made an even larger and more unaffordable health care entitlement a priority. His administration has continued to socialize the financial industry by bailing out and buying large shares in more and more banks, and his car "politburo" now essentially runs GM and Chrysler and the President himself canned the GM CEO. Massive government spending continues. Candidate Obama took issue with one major Bush administration domestic policy - the tax cuts. President Obama, however, is quite content to let them continue and has no plans to repeal them (they will, however, expire if not renewed by Congress, in 2011).

In foreign policy and national security, President Obama has pursued a similar course to President Bush as well. Although rhetoric has changed, policy has not. President Obama announced the closing of Gitmo, but has no real plan to do so. Furthermore, he has promised not to release any enemy combatants that cannot be tried but are still a danger (presumably he decides whether they are dangerous or not). Therefore, open ended detentions will continue whether at Gitmo or not. After promising due process and a right to a trial to those detained, President Obama has decided to return to the military tribunals established by his predecessor. The surprising insurgent candidacy of Senator Obama owed its success, in part, to his opposition to the war in Iraq, his opposition to the surge strategy in Iraq, and his promise to end that war. President Obama views the Bush exit strategy for Iraq as adequate and has made no effort to modify the status of forces agreement President Bush negotiated with the Iraqi government in order to hasten our withdrawal. Besides, those troops aren't coming home, signaling and end to our foreign adventurism, when they leave Iraq they will be deployed in Afghanistan. But, the most chilling Bush administration security policy was its illegal eavesdropping on mobile phone calls made overseas. Yet, in the late stages of the campaign, Senator Obama voted for the bill that essentially retroactively endorsed that policy, gutted the authority of the FISA court and gave the federal government a longer time limit to eavesdrop on someone without a warrant. Now his administration happily uses this authority to "keep us safe." Senator Obama said he would not support the bill if it granted immunity for telecom companies that assisted the Bush administration in their illegal eavesdropping. The bill did grant such immunity and Senator Obama still voted for it (see the following article for a nice discussion of the new FISA law: ).

The Bush 43 administration was a serious threat to the liberty of American citizens. It grew the size and scope of government at an alarming rate, it usurped the authority of state governments, it amassed debt that our descendants will never be able to repay, it made a mockery of private ownership when it bought large portions of the financial sector, it went to war without a declaration from congress and defined the war in open-ended way to seize war powers indefinitely, it detained people without charges, and it illegally eavesdropped. In November 2006 and November 2008, the American people said, "enough," and ousted Republicans from both the legislative and executive branches of government. Presumably these voters wanted, "change." Presumably these voters wanted Bush policies to end. Presumably these voters did not want a President who would essentially represent a "Bush third term." The irony is, a Bush third term is exactly what the voters got. Under President Obama, questionable detentions and increased government eavesdropping will continue, foreign adventurism will continue, new health care entitlements will be created, runaway spending will continue, socialization of the financial industry will continue. In no substantial way are the policies of the Obama administration different from those of the Bush administration (oh, except for a few federal dollars for embryonic stem cell research, hurray change!). I am reminded of Walter Mondale's reference to a popular TV commercial of the mid 1980's when he challenged the lack of substance to Gary Hart's, "new ideas." For all the President Obama's talk about change we can believe in, "where's the beef?"

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