Feature:Opinion

Obama’s mad message: don’t go back to failed policies of Bush-Obama era

Ted Balaker Contributor

Speaking at packed and partly-packed venues, President Obama warns voters about “going back to the failed policies of the past decade.” Which policies might those be? Bailouts? Ineffective stimulus packages? Massive government spending? It’d be impossible to go back to those policies because we’ve never left them.

Check out the record: Bush backed bank bailouts; Obama backed bank bailouts. Bush bailed out automakers; Obama bailed out automakers. Bush signed a stimulus package; Obama signed a stimulus package. Bush vowed to clean up Wall Street by passing a package of complex financial regulations; so did Obama. Bush championed a massive new health care entitlement; so did Obama. Bush spent like mad, and so did Obama.

At a rally in Minnesota, President Obama explained that “the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” What’s madder still is doing the same thing over and over — and doing it on a bigger scale — and expecting different results. Take spending increases. Obama rips Bush for “turning record surpluses into record deficits,” even though Obama’s spending record tops Bush who topped every president since Lyndon Johnson. And from stimulus packages to health care entitlements, Obama’s strategy is to take a bad Bush policy and make it worse.

Of course, there are areas where the two presidents really have governed differently, and Obama amplifies those while stumping for fellow Democrats (Tax the rich!). Some stump speech applause lines seem to rely mostly on audience ignorance. (Attention rally attendees: Bush did not cut education funding. He increased it by 58 percent.) And from deficits to the drug war to pork politics, you won’t find much change to believe in.

Both right and left have chronicled the continuity between Bush and Obama. The ACLU ran an ad that depicts Obama morphing into Bush and for good reason. On the detaining of terror suspects, Obama notes, “The most important thing for the public to understand is we’re not handling any of these cases any different than the Bush administration handled them all through 9/11.” Obama could make similar statements on issues ranging from the Patriot Act, to war, to gay marriage.

Of course, when Obama breaks out his excruciating “car in ditch” analogy, he’s referring to the GOP’s economic policies. It was those policies, according to the president, that drove our nation into that ditch. You remember that eight-year dark spell where Wall Street plutocrats were allowed to “run wild” in free-for-all fueled by deregulation. Or maybe you don’t remember it quite like that, which would be a good thing because Obama is actually pulling an FDR by casting his interventionist predecessor as a free marketeer. The truth is “the Bush team has spent more taxpayer money on issuing and enforcing regulations than any previous administration in U.S. history,” notes economist Veronique de Rugy in a January 2009 Reason magazine piece. “The number of pages added to the Federal Register, which lists all new regulations, reached an all-time high of 78,090 in 2007, up from 64,438 in 2001.”

But what’s worse than fueling the “Dubya as de-regulator” myth is that despite all his “Wall Street versus Main Street” fulminations, Obama, like Bush, has enforced a “too big to fail” policy that, as economist Russell Roberts points out in his indispensable breakdown of the financial crisis, allows Wall Street to win big by making risky bets with other people’s money. The refusal to take the “crony” out of “crony capitalism” may be the most troubling parallel between the two presidencies.

Looks like we got what Obama warned voters about on the 2008 campaign trail — a third Bush term.

Ted Balaker is a producer for Reason.tv, where he creates various kinds of videos, including documentary shorts, Drew Carey Project pieces, and the Nanny of the Month series. Balaker is also a Reason Foundation policy analyst and co-author (with Sam Staley) of the book, The Road More Traveled. Balaker’s written work has appeared in many publications, including Investor’s Business Daily, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.