Barack Obama: The new ‘W’
by Steven Thomma, AZ Republic
He ran as the anti-Bush. Silver-tongued, not tongue-tied. A team player on the
world stage, not a lone cowboy. A man who’d put a stop to reckless Bush policies
at home and abroad. In short, Barack Obama represented Change. Well, that was
then. Now, on one major policy after another, President Obama seems to be
morphing into George W. Bush.
On the nation’s finances, the man who once ripped Bush as a failed leader for
seeking to raise the nation’s debt ceiling now wants to do it himself.
On terrorism, he criticized Bush for sending suspected terrorists to Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba, and denying them access to U.S. civilian courts. Now he says he’ll do
On taxes, he called the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy wrong, and lately
began calling again to end them. But in December he signed a deal with
Republicans to extend them for two years, and recently he called the entire
tax-cut package good for the country.
And on war, as a candidate he said that the president didn’t have authority to
unilaterally attack a country that didn’t pose an imminent threat to the U.S.,
and even then the president should always seek the informed consent of Congress.
Last month, without a vote in Congress, he attacked Libya, which didn’t threaten
Big differences remain between Obama and Bush, to be sure. His two nominees to
the Supreme Court differ vastly from Bush’s picks. Obama does want to end the
tax cuts for the wealthy. He also pushed through a massive overhaul of the
nation’s health-insurance system.
Yet even on health insurance, his stand wasn’t so much a reversal of Bush’s
approach as an escalation. Bush also pushed through a massive expansion of
Medicare by adding a costly prescription-drug benefit – at the time, the biggest
expansion of a federal entitlement since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Indeed,
some of the differences between the two presidents are measured in gray, not
black and white as once seemed the case.
Some of the changes in Obama can be attributed to the passion of campaign
rhetoric giving way to the realities of governing, analysts say.
“He has discovered that it’s much easier to make promises on the campaign trail
than it is to keep them as president,” said Dan Schnur, the director of the
Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.
At the same time, some of the surprising continuity of Bush-era policies can be
tied to the way Bush and events set the nation’s course, particularly on foreign
For example, Obama found he couldn’t easily close the prison at Guantanamo Bay
because he couldn’t find a place, abroad or at home, willing to take all the
terrorist suspects held there.
Among the ways Obama has reversed his earlier promises and adopted, extended or
echoed Bush policies:
In 2006, Bush had cut taxes, gone to war and expanded Medicare, and increased
the national debt from $5.6 trillion to $8.2 trillion. He needed approval from
Congress to raise the ceiling for debt to $9 trillion.
The Senate approved the increase by a narrow vote of 52-48.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., voted no.
“Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally,” Obama
said in 2006. “Leadership means that the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is
shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and
grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership.”
Now, Obama’s on the other side. He’s increased the national debt to $14
trillion, and he needs Congress to approve more debt. Moreover, Obama’s aides
now say that congressional meddling to use that needed vote to wrangle budget
concessions from the White House would be inappropriate and risk financial
What about Obama’s own vote against the president in a similar situation? A
mistake, the White House said.
As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama opposed extending the Bush tax
cuts on household incomes greater than $250,000 a year past their expiration on
Dec. 31, 2009.
In 2007, he said he was for “rolling back the Bush tax cuts on the top 1 percent
of people, who don’t need it.” In a 2008 ad, he said, “Instead of extending the
Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, I’ll focus on you.”
As president, Obama proposed letting those tax cuts expire as scheduled, while
also proposing to make permanent the Bush tax cuts for incomes of less than
$250,000 for a household and $200,000 for an individual.
But he didn’t get Congress to approve that. When the issue came to a head last
December, Republicans insisted on extending all of the tax cuts or none, and
Obama went along lest the tax cuts on incomes below $250,000 expire even
briefly. His final deal with Congress also added a one-year cut in the payroll
tax for Medicare and Social Security.
“What all of us care about is growing the American economy and creating jobs for
the American people,” Obama said. “Taken as a whole, that’s what this package of
tax relief is going to do. It’s a good deal for the American people.”
He said again recently that he wants to let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy
expire, this time on Dec. 31, 2012.
As a presidential candidate, Obama vowed a broad reversal of Bush’s policies
toward suspected terrorists.
Most pointedly, he said he’d close the prison in Cuba and try suspected
terrorists in civilian courts, not in military tribunals.
Last month, he changed course, saying he’d keep Guantanamo Bay open and would
try accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before a military court.
The reversal, said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the chairman of the House Committee
on Homeland Security, “is yet another vindication of President Bush’s detention
policies by the Obama administration.”
Echoing Bush, Obama has also asserted that he has the power to hold suspected
terrorists without charges or trial and that he has the power to kill U.S.
citizens abroad if his government considers them a terrorist threat.
During his campaign, Obama signaled that he’d be far more circumspect than Bush
was in using military power. He did say he’d send more troops to Afghanistan,
which he’s done, and that he’d attack al-Qaida terrorists in Pakistan, which
he’s also done.
But he opposed the Iraq war from the start and said he didn’t think the
president should wage war for humanitarian purposes or act without congressional
approval, absent an imminent threat to the U.S.
“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally
authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an
actual or imminent threat to the nation,” he told the Boston Globe in 2007.
“In instances of self-defense, the president would be within his constitutional
authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has
shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when
it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch. It is always
preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military
On March 19, the U.S. attacked Libya on humanitarian grounds, absent any threat
to the U.S. and without approval from Congress.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/viewpoints/articles/2011/04/