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Obama as the Anti-Bush

In a column headlined "George W. Obama," Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl writes on Sunday that Obama is behaving like George W. Bush in trying to take advantage of a crisis to ram through his ideological agenda.

Also in Sunday's Post, White House correspondent Michael D. Shear writes in an opinion piece that Obama's constant use of the word "responsibility" creates a risk "that the word -- and the president who deploys it -- may suffer from its overuse, especially if 'responsibility' moves from reassuring to lecturing, from calming to hectoring, turning this young new president into the father-knows-best figure that kids tune out."

But what both essays overlook is how much the Obama presidency has turned out to be, at heart, all about fixing the mistakes of the Bush years and addressing the issues he overlooked -- and how Obama stresses "responsibility" to telegraph an agenda that is the antithesis of the Bush approach.

Redressing the errors of the last eight years has become so central to the Obama presidency that, despite his efforts to foster bipartisanship, he hasn't shied away from blistering critiques of his predecessor's legacy at the key moments of his presidency.

Remember, for instance, his inaugural address, in which he said it was time "to set aside childish things," and called on Americans to "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

And the main theme of Obama's address to Congress last month was, as I wrote at the time, Exorcising Bush's Ghost.

"[W]e have lived through an era where too often short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity, where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election," he said. "A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations -- regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

"Well, that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here."

Diehl supports his argument with several analogies such as this one: "Just as Bush promoted tax cuts as a remedy for surplus and then later as essential in a time of deficits, so Obama has come up with strained arguments as to why health-care reform, which he supported before the economic collapse, turns out to be essential to recovery."

But when it comes to their substance, Bush's tax cuts really don't have a lot in common with Obama's health care plan. Indeed, Bush's tax cuts, primarily for the wealthy, were arguably never appropriate, while health reform has been an urgent need for decades, and certainly no less so during an economic crisis. It's nearly impossible to find any serious thinker who supports the status quo for health care; and it's only slightly easier to find one who will argue that Bush's tax cuts were a good idea, ever.

Examples of Bush's irresponsibility -- and that's exactly the right word -- are legion, starting with those tax cuts but, of course, also including the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, the occupation of Iraq based on faulty assumptions, the sanctioning of anti-terror policies that inspired rather than deterred terrorism, the punting on such key issues as climate change and health care -- and a complete failure to anticipate the financial crisis born of massive deregulation. Obama is taking a dramatically different course in all those arenas.

By contrast, it's precisely in the places where Obama really is acting like Bush -- such as his vague bank bailout strategy, his slowed-down Iraq pullout and his assertion of some specious executive powers -- that he seems on the shakiest ground, responsibility-wise.

The Obama as Bush metaphor gets another backer this morning in The Post, with opinion columnist Robert Kagan writing: "President Obama's foreign policy team has been working hard to present its policies to the world as constituting a radical break from the Bush years....

"When it comes to actual policies, however, selling the pretense of radical change has required some sleight of hand -- and a helpful press corps."

But the facts generally demonstrate that -- with a few exceptions -- Obama has already taken, as Bridget Johnson conveniently writes for The Hill this morning, a "sharp turn on foreign policy."

Consider how in just seven weeks, Obama has renounced torture, is reaching out to Iran and Syria, and has made it clear that he may abandon Bush's proposed missile-defense bases in Eastern Europe -- just for starters.

Meanwhile, Washington Post opinion columnist Robert Samuelson has harsh words for Obama, primarily because he won't raise taxes enough.

"Obama is a great pretender. He repeatedly says he is doing things that he isn't, trusting his powerful rhetoric to obscure the difference. He has made 'responsibility' a personal theme; the budget's cover line is 'A New Era of Responsibility.' He says the budget begins 'making the tough choices necessary to restore fiscal discipline.' It doesn't."

Samuelson's biggest concern is the looming deficit, and he is upset that Obama isn't raising taxes, eliminating all farm subsidies, and cutting Social Security and Medicare for the wealthy, for starters.

"Like many smart people, he believes he can talk his way around problems. Maybe. He's helped by much of the media, which seem so enthralled with him that they don't see glaring contradictions. During the campaign, Obama said he would change Washington's petty partisanship; he also advocated a highly partisan agenda. Both claims could not be true. The media barely noticed; the same obliviousness persists. But Obama still runs a risk: that his overworked rhetoric loses its power and boomerangs on him."

By Dan Froomkin  |  March 9, 2009; 1:35 PM ET
Categories:  Looking Backward , Opinion Watch  
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Comments

So President Obama hasn't parted the waters after seven weeks in office? What is he waiting for, Throw the Bum Out!!!!!

Though the "(e)xamples of Bush's irresponsibility....are legion", and accrued over eight years, the new President has failed if everything isn't undone in seven weeks?

He has a lot on his plate and is still assembling his senior staff. At the same time that some worry that he is taking on too much, others are disappointed that he hasn't done enough. He cannot win, that much is clear, but I accept that he has set upon changing the Bush blunders. At least he has gotten us started in the right direction.

We elected President Obama to undo past mistakes, give him time to do the job we tasked him to do. I know Washington will never listen, but be patient. Those outside the Beltway see that the new day has dawned and that it is only dawn. By the day's evening, I believe we will be walking on dry land through the parted seas.

Posted by: walterzz | March 9, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Frankly...given the mess he walked into...I'm surprised he hasn't resigned...the bush gang sat on the sidelines and let the economy totally collapse, or took an active role in it's demise...It will take years to undo the damaged that Bush and company did to this nation...that's assuming that the situation was not already beyond repair. There is not a single of our economy, foreign policy, environment, health care...and so on that escaped damage....and the new President is faced with having to deal with every problem left behind all at once...

Posted by: constwkr | March 9, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse


Have the Washington Post "essayists" not received the memo that the carnival of stupidity is over?

No one is impressed with your cretinous ignorance, except, perhaps the Wall Street Urinal.

Posted by: motorfriend | March 9, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

"Obama said he would change Washington's petty partisanship; he also advocated a highly partisan agenda. Both claims could not be true."

Hmm.. it seems Mr. Samuelson enjoyed Karl Rove's article so much last week that he decided to incorporate strawmen into his own editorials. Hey Robert: explain how advocating for an agenda stoops to the level of "petty partisanship". Any Democrat advocating for a Democratic agenda is engaging in petty partisan politics?

I swear it's getting harder to tell the conservative hack politicians apart from the conservative hack journalists. That reminds me - Dan, you better jump from this sinking ship soon before your neocon coworkers start drilling for oil in your office desk.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 9, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

The Obama-bashing in the Post is predictable and embarrassing.

Posted by: tryks | March 9, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Bush got the benefit of the doubt over and over again as he systematically dismantled the constitution and destroyed the economy. Obama has been in charge for barely over two months and it's carp, carp carp, including Maureen Dowd blathering about Michelle Obama's bare arms, and Peter Baker dangling the word "socialist." The only people who make any sense at all are Froomkin, Dionne, Krugman, Eugene Robinson, and ... occasionally, to my enormous surprise, Kathleen Parker. And sometimes Brooks and Friedman, though no matter how right he may be now about the economy, Friedman is forever stained in my eyes by his cheerleading for the Iraq war.

The WaPo and the NYT could save themselves a lot of money in these troubled times by laying off Krauthammer, Gerson, Dowd, and a whole bunch more talking heads, who are doing nothing to inform the ordinary citizen at this time of crisis, just passing buzz and cliches round and round and feeding the noise machine.

Posted by: herzliebster | March 9, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

The continued sad transformation of the once smart and independent Post of the 70's into the house organ of The Village continues.

Thanks Dan for resisting the trend.

-- stan

Posted by: Stan_Krute | March 10, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

I think you misread Samuelson's column - he NEVER advocates for higher taxes only reduced spending, which is why I always have found him to be intellectually dishonest. Here's the key phrase in his article that might have made you think he was advocating for higher taxes.

"As a society, we should pay in taxes what it costs government to provide desired services. If benefits don't seem equal to burdens, then the spending isn't worth it. (Exceptions: deficits in wartime and economic slumps.)"

What he's really saying here is that we should cut those benefits - "spending isn't worth it". You can always find a situation where some "benefit" isn't worth it. He never says "raise the burden" - it's just not in his nature.

I am stunned by how "obvious" these folks are being with their push-back and how out of touch they are with the American public.

Posted by: mihager | March 10, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

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