Obama and Bush agree on more than you think

The Obama campaign has founded their election strategy upon drawing similarities between Senator McCain and President Bush.  Despite his avowed aversion toward the policies of President Bush, it is useful to examine important arguments made by Senator Obama which are similar and supportive of President Bush’s own policies.

Faith Based Initiatives

In Ohio, Senator Obama announced this year that he plans to increase the Bush initiative of using federal tax money to support faith based organizations such as churches and religious ministries.  Obama's support for this arguable mingling of church and state stands in sharp contrast to his churlish supporters who invoke the "separation of church and state" as a holy grail for exorcising the fundamentalist demon that is Governor Palin.  Much of the Democratic Party base has expressed severe concern that Governor Palin will impose Christian beliefs in public policy.  It seems that Christians will have a fair opportunity to do so under Senator Obama's promise to increase funding of this unique Bush initiative.

Bush Tax Cuts

Senator Obama has recently announced that the Bush tax cuts will not be suspended until the economy improves.  According to Senator Obama, economic times are too precarious to allow taxes to increase -- even on individuals making more than $250,000 a year.  This position endorses a central Bush administration view of economic policy:  Tax cuts benefit Americans and provide a good opportunity for overcoming economic adversity.
Senator Obama explained his new preference for tax cuts in hard economic times to George Stephanopoulos at ABC News:
"STEPHANOPOULOS: So, even if we’re in a recession next January, you come into office, you’ll still go through with your tax increases.

OBAMA: No, no, no, no, no, no. What I’ve said, George, is that, even if we’re still in a recession, I’m going to go through with my tax cuts. That’s my priority.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But not the increases?

OBAMA: I think we’ve got to take a look and see where the economy is. I mean, the economy is weak right now. The news with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, I think, along with the unemployment numbers, indicates that we’re fragile."

Obama suggests that he will not implement the tax increases inherent in allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire. Senator Obama acts as though he believes tax cuts are the most important policy for overcoming economic adversity.  This does not sound like change.  In fact, it sounds a lot like current Bush economic policy.

Wire tapping

This summer Senator Obama voted for a bill that would continue wiretapping procedures vital to the Bush administration's war on terror and a law enforcement campaign of locating enemies within the United States.  The bill provides that wiretaps found illegal by courts at a later date will still be treated as admissible evidence. The bill allows wiretapping to take place without the issuance of warrants.  The legislation is a surprising and robust endorsement of President Bush's domestic surveillance policies.  Senator Obama's vote was an important endorsement to the President's overall agenda on terror and was a noted departure from his common legislative practice of voting "present" when confronted with difficult controversies.  The vote stands as an important feather in Senator Obama's limited bi-partisan political cap. 

The Iraq War

Senator Barack Obama prides himself on taking a long consistent position against the Iraq war.  At an important junctures in the Iraq debate, Senator Obama describes his position as similar to the President's.  In 2004, in the full swing of Presidential election fever, Obama
described his position:
"There’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who’s in a position to execute."

More recently, Senator Obama showed his willingness to resemble the Bush administration in his understanding of the situation in Iraq.  In August 2008, he described the Bush administration surge in Iraq as succeeding "beyond anyone's expectations."  It seems that Senator Obama is comfortable taking President Bush's positions on Iraq at moments that suit his own political designs.
Public Financing for Elections

Senator Obama's current strategy for winning the election resembles at least one key strategy from the Karl Rove playbook -- lots of money.  The Obama campaign has raised close to half a billion dollars for his election.  This comes after reneging on a campaign promise to abide by the public financing formulas followed by the McCain campaign.  Surprisingly the strong financial position of the Obama campaign did not lead to charges from the Washington Post or the New York Times that money is corrupting our political process.  Up until the conventions, Obama had out raised the McCain camp by more than $100 million.  It seems that the money pouring into the Obama campaign is clarifying our electoral process rather than polluting it, as was the case in the Bush campaigns, as the media told it. In this respect, the Obama campaign does resemble the Bush/Rove strategy of elections.

Senator Obama characterizes his campaign as being about change.  On at least five major issues including Iraq and economic policy, Obama has shown himself to be enough of a political chameleon to match President Bush whenever it suited his immediate purposes. Is that what he means by change?

Ben Voth is an associate professor of Communication at Southern Methodist University and director of speech and debate programs.
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