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Are Obama And Bush Really The Same?

Yale Literature professor David Bromwich has a column in the Huffington Post that's primarily an attempt to push the meme "Bush-Obama Presidency." It does persuasively argue that President Obama has continued many of President Bush's policies in foreign affairs. Much less persuasively, it attempts to make the case for "Obama’s perpetuation of Bush’s economic policies."

I'd find if fascinating to read an argument as to why things like, oh, the Affordable Care Act, EPA regulation of carbon emissions, financial reform, the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, and so on represent more or less the same things George W. Bush did. Sadly, Bromwich doesn't make that case. He assumes, without spelling out his argument, that the extension of the Bush tax cuts represented an actual support for the entirety of the Bush tax cuts, as opposed to bargain for more stimulus. (Bromwich does not explain why, if Obama really wants to make all the Bush tax cuts permanent, he hasn't agreed to just make them all permanent.)

Most of the rest of the domestic portion of the column is dedicated to pointing out that Obama appointed centrist Clintonites to various positions. This may be evidence of a "Clinton-Bush-Obama Presidency," or even a radical argument that all presidents are basically similar because none of them adopt very left-wing policies. But it's not really evidence of significant domestic continuity between Bush and Obama. Perhaps it's not surprising that a literature professor lacks a strong grasp of the historical concept of continuity.

One passage in the column neatly sums up much of the magical thinking that characterizes left-wing opposition to Obama:

In 2011, Summers has become more reformist than Obama. On The Charlie Rose Show on July 13th, he criticized the president’s dilatoriness in mounting a program to create jobs. Thus he urged the partial abandonment of his own policy, which Obama continues to defend.

Wow, Larry Summers attacked Obama's policies! But when you click of the link, you see this:

Lawrence Summers, Obama’s recently resigned chief economic adviser, said on The Charlie Rose Show in July that he found it “dispiriting” that “all of the energy is on the projected deficits…when the problem right now is that the economy is in danger of stagnating from lack of demand.”

That is not Summers dissenting from Obama. That is Summers dissenting from the policy consensus in Washington, which was driven in large part by Republicans. Bromwich's characterization makes sense if you assume that everything that happens in Washington is exactly what Obama wants. That is, indeed, the assumption that many of the critics on the left make. And if that assumption were true, then Summers' criticism of the policy compromises between Obama and the House Republicans would be a criticism of Obama. But I think it's fair to say that Summers does not share that particular aspect of magical thinking so popular on the left.