Obama and Bush

Michael Gerson is impressed with Obama’s centrist appointments, seeing in them signs of true statesmanship. He then says that they also reveal some things about the current president:

Obama’s appointments reveal something important about current Bush policies. Though Obama’s campaign savaged the administration as incompetent and radical, Obama’s personnel decisions have effectively ratified Bush’s defense and economic approaches during the past few years. At the Pentagon, Obama rehired the architects of President Bush’s current military strategy — Gates, Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Raymond Odierno. At the Treasury Department, Obama has hired one of the main architects of Bush’s current economic approach.

This continuity does not make Obama an ideological traitor. It indicates that Bush has been pursuing centrist, bipartisan policies — without getting much bipartisan support. The transition between Bush and Obama is smoother than some expected, not merely because Obama has moderate instincts but because Bush does as well. Particularly on the economy, Bush has never been a libertarian; he has always matched a commitment to free markets with a willingness to intervene when markets stumble.

The candidate of “change” is discovering what many presidents before him have found: On numerous issues, the range of responsible policy options is narrow. And the closer you come to the Oval Office, the wiser your predecessors appear.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Bruce Gee

    It would be nice then if Bush would stop apologizing for, seemingly, everything he’s done. He should seek solace in the decisions he’s made (and in the knowledge that he is and has been the Lord’s instrument, not bearing the sword in vain). It’ll take ten or twenty years but I think history will look sympathetically on his many efforts to do the right thing.

    I think however that it is too early to make many comparisons. Much of the comparison has to do with the fact that both men face the same enormous challenges with few options. Liberals now have the power to do…what?–to take a look at their limited options and try not to make their actions look too much like those of President Bush. I expect Gerson will be charged with using too broad a brush to compare the two administrations. Not to be trite, but the devil has always been in the details.

  • Larry

    The candidate of “change” is discovering what many presidents before him have found: On numerous issues, the range of responsible policy options is narrow. And the closer you come to the Oval Office, the wiser your predecessors appear.

    What it really shows is that there is truly only one political party in the United States, the whole election game is a sham and a show, real power always remains in the same hands no matter what happens at the polls.

  • Bruce Gee

    “What it really shows is that there is truly only one political party in the United States, the whole election game is a sham and a show, real power always remains in the same hands no matter what happens at the polls.”

    Larry, now THAT’S what I call using a broad brush!

  • Peter Leavitt

    With these appointments Obama shows signs of understanding that America is basically a center right country. The question now is what are Obama’s genuine core principles. Given his background and moves to the left in the primary and to the right in the general election, it could be that he’s merely an unprincipled politician as opposed to being a statesman.

    Shelby Steele continues to view Obama as essentially a black bargainer who tries to make white folk comfortable as opposed to honestly voicing his own core views. He, also, sees the election as being about race with white liberals trying to exorcise their guilt by voting for and paractically sanctifying Obama.

    For an excellent Peter Robinson recent video interview with Steele go here.

  • Don S

    This goes to the core of past discussions on this blog and others. America is a center-right country, and attempts to veer, through the legislative or regulatory process, too far to the left or the right will be rebuffed, both because of our system of checks and balances, and electorally. Obama knows this. He also knows that Iraq is essentially won at this point, and he doesn’t want to be known as the President who screwed it up.

    The real radicalism in this country is imposed through our judiciary. By appointed, unaccountable judges/justices who have lifetime security. Over the years, we have accorded the judiciary an absolute power of review, and a very expansive interpretation of the “case or controversy” limitations that the founders imposed on them. Because of this, as many of us warned during the election, the real damage Obama will do to this country will be through his judicial appointments. Oddly enough, the American people never seem to pin radical decisions on the judges who render them, and, more importantly, to the political party of the President who appointed them. They just accept the decisions, for the most part, and move on. So, liberals can impose their agenda through the courts, while governing in what appears to be a relatively moderate manner.

  • Pete

    In truth, we’re a center-left country. On issues such as taxes, defense, health care, workers’ rights, social programs, etc., the American public supports the liberal agenda. The Republican Party wins national elections to the extent that it supports these views. Note that I said “national elections.” I am also writing in the present tense.

  • Bruce Gee

    I agree, Pete, mostly. I’m curious, though: I wonder how you would characterize our defense as “center left”?

  • Pete

    Bruce, a center-left defense position rejects, for example, the Bush doctrine of preventive war, which advocates that the US kill now anyone our govt thinks (even mistakenly) might someday be a threat, CIA renditions, torture, and the suspension of habeas corpus. The position also advocates cuts in defense spending. How much and what to cut are up for debate, but the right wing has believed for years that defense is simply off the table when talking about cutting govt spending. What happened to the peace dividend?

  • Don S

    Pete @ 6: You’ve got things completely backwards. Republicans run on a liberal agenda during national elections? Let’s see, what were the issues in the last election? Joe the Plumber, lower taxes, fewer abortions, etc., etc. It’s completely the other way — Democrats win national elections when they run as conservatives. Obama’s main points during the general election were that 95% of Americans would see NO tax increase, he wouldn’t do anything precipitous in Iraq by drawing down forces quickly, he would transfer military assets to Afghanistan to win the war there, he recognized the need to increase drilling and domestic energy production, he would work to reduce abortion, and he didn’t support gay marriage. He also spent the entire campaign whitewashing his past association with radical leftists and emphasizing his Kansas and Christian roots, as well as his associations with conservatives. It strains credulity to think that Obama ran a campaign designed to appeal to the center-left.

    My point still stands — most of the social liberal agenda has been imposed on this country, not democratically, but by court edict.

  • Peter Leavitt

    In 2006 when the Dems took back the House, Rahm Emanuel, who led the effort, found candidates who were opposesd to abortion, homosexual marriage, moderate on economic issues, and strong on defense.

    Another issue that Obama hedged on was oil drilling. Just now with his appointments he has clearly moved to center right positions, especially with those of Gates for and Marine General Jones for the National Security Council.

  • http://uncouthruminations.blogspot.com Carl Wicklander

    It is interesting to see that so many of the policymakers and pundits for the Republican Party (Michael Gerson is only one example) of how the two major parties are increasingly irrelevant. These people are bending over backwards to praise Obama and every appointment he comes up with. A month ago the thought of a President Obama sent people into fits of fear and trembling. Now he is being praised from the Right because even they can see that, despite Obama’s primary race rhetoric, he will be little different from President Bush.

    Throughout 2007, during those endless Republican candidates’ debates, Hillary Clinton’s name was bandied about as if the devil himself had a realistic chance of becoming the next president. Now that it looks like she will be the next Secretary of State, arguably the most important position after the office of the president, everyone from “The Weekly Standard” to “National Review” is touting their praises of how Hillary will make a great Secretary.

    This is because the people Obama is nominating (and retaining in the cases of Petraeus, Odierno, and Gates) represent change that is nothing more substantial than party affiliation. Our elections are not so much of a scam, as Larry @2 suggests, but they are plays of masterful deception.

  • Peter Leavitt

    In the above I meant Gates for Defense.

  • James

    I knew it! I saw this coming! The same thing happened after Woodrow Wilson took office in the wake of Teddy Roosevelt.

    Despite his being very critical of TR’s policy decisions in his campaign for president, Wilson ending up adopting TR’s policies in practice simply because, when put to the test, his idealist alternatives wouldn’t work in the situations he inherited. We’re seeing he same thing here with Obama.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Pete, in the global scale of things, from the outside looking in, America tends to be a centre-right country, but with an extra-ordianary individualist vein, which sometimes belie its general political stance.

    Anyway, that is this non-American’s pov.

  • FW

    #8 pete

    hard to see how opposing torture and rendition and the eviceration of habeus corpus as “leftist” positions. OUCH!

    maybe this is a confusion of the classic use of the term “liberal” which used to mean something akin to libertarian (our founders were liberals in that sense), versus leftists who in many ways look indistiguishable to me from far rightists.

    my point: I dont see alot of substantive difference in means or goals of communist or authoritarian/fascists. And I do see them not having issues with torture etc etc……

  • FW

    all the media is engaged in some considerable orwellian post-modern word games. “enhanced interogation techniques” being the stand in term for torture. you will look in vain for american journalistic references saying that americans have actually tortured. yet the same exact methods used by other countries (most notably the nazis) are always clearly called torture in that context.

    It is notable that MANY generals and retired generals firmly have opposed and have spoken out against torture. They can hardly be characterized as leftists or even doves or dovish.

    also to be noted is the fact the the most useful intelligence we have gotten from suspected terrorist prisoners is from one who, when he was not tortured,decided that what he had been told about americans was false, and on that basis decided to fully cooperate.

  • FW

    a society that sticks to it´s principles even under duress is probably far safer than a society that will sacrifice it´s principles for expediency or pragmatic reasons. any disagreement here?

    If a ruthless man was holding information that could save my family, and my torturing him could potentially obtain information that would save the lives of my family members…. I would not favor torturing that man even then.

    so why ever would i support my government doing that.

    anyone here who disagrees with that?

    and if the quibble is over what could be considered “torture.” imagine possible methods being used on your wife or child, innocent or not, and you being the one required to inflict those methods. what would you be willing to do? especially if your loved ones were not afforded an attorney or due process before you were asked to torture them.

    i would be interested to here contrary views on this.

  • FW

    some people simply did not listen to or believe what obama stated quite clearly during the election campaign.

    I am not at all surprised. what he has done so far has confirmed EXACTLY what i thought he would be like when I voted for him.EXACTLY. no surprises whatsoever.

    Obama seeks out and welcomes men and women with strong opinions who disagree with him. He will have robust policy debates. and these will be respectful ones with no sniping or jockying for position or domination on the part of his staff. there will be no turf battles.

    Obama will run his administration much like he ran his campaign. he will be calm and will not let immediate issues distract him from is longer goals.

    He will deliberately govern from where he perceives the center to be. what will make this substantively different from being crassly political, is that there will be “no sudden moves”. not even to reverse a decision or course that appears at that moment to be attracting flack. yet he will give in to those who oppose him strategically. Reagan did much the same thing. This is called the art of politics properly done. politics is NOT a dirty word. there are bad politics and good ones. and politics IS about the art of compromise. compromise also is not a bad thing…. it does not always mean yielding principles in favor of pragmatic immorality.

    we should refrain from using words as clubs to beat people up and feel free to be more nuanced and put the best construction on things.

    I am trying hard to never judge someone´s motives….

  • RhetoricProf

    (BTW, I was putting the best construction on your post when I said you were naive.)


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