As Bad as Bush and Clinton Combined

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I think I have figured out the new formula in presidential politics. The current president is essentially as bad as the last two combined. We might call this the "Presidential Fibonacci Sequence."

Bush II was every bit as bad as his father, with the addition of Clinton mixed in. Life under Clinton was like living under Bush I and Reagan simultaneously. Bush the First was so horrible he was like Reagan and Carter were ganging up on American liberty.

Maybe this is a flawed formula, but it does seem to hold in the current case. Let us consider the evidence.

Obama is doing everything that his immediate predecessor did: Subsidizing the bubble economy, ratcheting up the regulatory state, increasing deficit spending year by year, waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, lying about Iran, allowing his minions to commit torture, jailing people without cause, detaining and abusing whistleblowers, spying without warrants on American telecommunications, molesting airline passengers by the millions, and relying on anti-Muslim sentiment to allow for an ever widening war on terrorism.

But at the same time, the Clinton approach to U.S. statecraft is back. Obama has bombed Libya without even claiming it has anything to do with American security. His mass murder in the name of human rights, without the added rationale of protecting us from terrists, is Clintonian to the core. The fact that Hillary goaded both the current president and her husband to conduct such humanitarian atrocities is another nice parallel.

There is also a distinct dash of Clinton in domestic policy, something that might make liberals ultimately view Obama as our "greatest Republican president," as they did Clinton: We have the drive to nationalize industries, especially health care, along left-of-center corporatist lines. Crony capitalism climbs everyday even as free enterprise's good name is being dragged through the mud. We are constantly threatened with new projects of nationalization and economic regimentation in the name of environmentalism and equality, but they rarely materialize quite as anticipated. A new political correctness has reared its head, as Juan Williams was fired for saying Muslims on planes make him nervous – even as the first black president (with a Nobel Prize) fires cruise missiles at a new Muslim country every six months and treats us all like terrorists at the airport.

All the Clintonian rhetoric and policy maneuvering sit atop what could be called Bush's third term. Obama is following Bush's timetable for withdrawal in Iraq – so far – while escalating the war in Afghanistan, and both left and right actually claim that he has signified a move toward restraint in foreign policy.

We have a charismatic Democrat getting away with wars and lies, and the media talking about him as though he is a restrained, thoughtful executive, unlike the last president – while the right calls him a wimp and reckless tyrant at the same time. Meanwhile, the entire war-on-terror and Ownership Society focus of domestic planning – the worst elements of the Bush years – continue exactly as though no crises in Iraq and the financial market demonstrated their inherent unsustainability.

It is indeed the 1990s and the Bush years happening all at once.

Looking at Obama as the simultaneous embodiment of Bush and Clinton might help to explain why everyone is so out of their minds right now. Politics is defined both by the rhetoric of the state and that of the opposition. The dizzying flip-flops on all sides are easier to understand in light of Obama's peculiar style of governance.

Backing up almost twenty years to Slick Willy's first term, the populist right was up in arms about Washington, about Waco, about nation-building and Hillarycare. Then the Republicans won Congress and by the end of the decade, the right calmed down a bit, probably predicting they would soon inherit the imperial executive they had pretended to oppose out of principle.

The anti-Bush movement was, at first, anti-state — in particular, opposed to war, imperialism, and unlimited executive power and corporatism. But after Katrina, the left once again reverted to its old ways, criticizing the administration for governing poorly, as opposed to flexing too much power. The problem was, once again, that Bush was not doing enough.

Today, the anti-Bush peace movement and Tea Party have both subsided, the first group placated by the 2008 election and the second pacified by the midterm Republican victory. They are both also probably simply fatigued from years of protest. I wish they'd both get out in the streets and join forces, realizing they are actually both opposed to power grabs by the same government. But that will, alas, probably never happen.

Yet the anti-Clinton right and the anti-Bush left should recognize that Obama sums up the horrors of both administrations. Instead, these groups are divided, convinced by the government they should fear each other more than the regime. We have the 1990s hysteria about populist rightwingers helping to bolster the police state. Alongside the fear of American patriots is the Bush-era hysteria toward Muslims and crackdowns on antiwar protesters. It is the perfect storm for both fascism and socialism of the American variety.

The right is confused as to whether to support the Commander in Chief or to call for his impeachment. The left wants to defend their beloved executive messiah for partisan reasons, as well as out of general agreement with his domestic politics, but at the same time it is divided on his foreign policy and the supposed gradualism of his socialist schemes.

Conservatives who condemn Obama are called racist, but we know most of them would support him if he were red instead of blue. These are the colors that seem to matter to modern conservatives far more than black and white. Just look at Ben Stein condemning the Libya bombing on Constitutional grounds for an example of the invincibility of partisan quackery. Witness how hysterically almost all Republicans played the race card in defense of conservatives like Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas, and you realize they are fine with anyone on their team, regardless of race (although being Muslim might still be a problem).

Liberals who cheer on Obama are accused of backing a socialist revolution, but in fact they are just applauding an accelerated version of the Bush agenda. Medicare D would have been supported by Democrats if a Democrat had proposed it. Republicans would have called it socialized medicine.

The hypocrisy is more pronounced these days than usual. It makes one's head spin. Are the liberals for presidential wars again? Are the conservatives pretending to be against deficit spending once more? The left supports the TSA now and the right sees it as a police state imposition? When did that happen? And why does the left hate the banks for accepting the bailouts that most of them said were necessary to stop the economy from collapsing?

One thing those of us who love liberty regardless of who attacks it can recognize is that the two statist coalitions in America, the left-liberals and the right-conservatives, are intellectually bankrupt to the core. This should give us hope, because there are limits to what even Americans can swallow in terms of cognitive dissonance. When Sean Hannity is talking about Libya as though it were Kosovo (and as though he cared one whit about the president violating the Constitution to kill foreigners), and Mother Jones is claiming Obama's very Bushian schemes of slaughter can be seen as an "anti-Bush doctrine," we have truly seen American partisanship jump the shark. If Orwell were alive today, he'd probably refuse to write for fear that no dystopian absurdities his imagination was capable of contriving could match real life.

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. He lives in Oakland, California. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.

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