Obama=Bush?

| Tue Mar. 10, 2009 10:13 PM EDT

I cannot wrap my head around this op-ed by Jackson Diehl in Sunday's Washington Post. The theme? President Obama is starting to look a lot like President Bush:

The Bush administration pushed through the USA Patriot Act in October 2001 by suggesting that opponents didn't want to stop another al-Qaeda attack. In his first news conference, Obama suggested that congressional opponents of the stimulus package "believe that we should do nothing" about the economic emergency...

So Obama hasn't strayed far from Karl Rove's playbook for routing the opposition. But surely, you say, he's planning nothing as divisive or as risky as the Iraq war? Well, that's where the health-care plan comes in: a $634 billion (to begin) "historic commitment," as Obama calls it, that (like the removal of Saddam Hussein) has lurked in the background of the national agenda for years. We know from the Clinton administration that any attempt to create a national health-care system will touch off an enormous domestic battle, inside and outside Congress. If anything, Obama has raised the stakes by proposing no funding source other than higher taxes on wealthy Americans, allowing Republicans to raise the cries of "socialism" and "class warfare."

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. Yet as he convened his "health care summit" at the White House on Thursday, the stock market was hitting another 12-year-low; General Motors was again teetering on the brink of insolvency and the country was still waiting to hear the details of the Treasury's proposal to bail out banks. George W. Bush might well be asking: Is the president taking his eye off the ball?

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You can make an apt comparison between the rhetoric of the two men, and in Diehl's argument that similarity is the premise for his conclusion that Bush and Obama have more in common than we would all like to think. But such a leap in logic is, at best, a stretch and, at worst, an attempt at being incendiary just for the sake of being incendiary.

Diehl is correct: Bush and Obama's wars are wars of choice, and their language is similar, but Bush's war wasn't necessary; Obama's battle to reform health care is: The U.S. will spend the equivalent of 17 percent of the GDP (about $2.4 trillion) on health care this year—much more than the $634 billion Obama wants to jump start his health care effort. The Iraq war has run up nearly a trillion dollars in direct costs, and has indirectly bled $3 trillion from our economy.

So, as in substance, the two issues differ in cost, but that leads me to wonder why Diehl would put a rhetorical question in Bush's mouth—Is Obama taking his eye off the ball? His evidence of this is that the Dow has tanked, GM is failing and Tim Geithner is dragging his feet in revealing his plan to bail out more banks. Which of these three are at least in part related to health care costs? Mainly the Dow and GM, because American companies are spending ever more on health care every year. Fixing health care will only benefit those companies by freeing up more capital for them to invest in the private sector. Instead of drawing false connections between the two men, Diehl might have done well to give us the answer to his ridiculous rhetorical question: No, Obama is not taking his eye off a ball Bush never wanted to look at in the first place.

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