Party or Vision?

President Obama accepted the nomination of his party this evening and in doing so posited the theory that this election, more than any other in a generation, will be about two different paths, not just about two different parties.  It’s a good line to toss out to those who already agree with you, but the facts don’t really add up when looking at it closer.

In reality, the two major parties are not as far away from each other as they would like to lead on.  Both parties play on division that looks to set large groups against each other in order to get their vote without having to really work hard for it, but at the end of the day there is really little else to differentiate them.  Let’s take a look at some examples of what I mean.

Romney passed a Massachusetts health care overhaul with a mandate, subsidies for regulated private insurance, and an expansion of Medicaid. Obama passed a national health care overhaul with a mandate, subsidies for regulated private insurance, and an expansion of Medicaid.

Barack Obama pared back Medicare payments by $716 billion over the next decade. Romney has promised to repeal those cuts, but Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee Chairman and the GOP’s vice presidential nominee, included those same reductions in his own budget plan, which was passed by a majority of Republicans in the House.

Shortly after taking office in 2009, President Obama passed an $800 billion stimulus. In the aftermath of President Bush’s $150 billion 2008 stimulus, Romney insisted that a second stimulus was needed, and later gave qualified praise to Obama’s stimulus, saying that it will “accelerate the pace of the recovery,” just not as much as if it had been designed differently.

Romney has praised the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the president who passed it,sayingPresident Bush and Hank Paulson said, ‘We’ve got to do something to show we are not going to let the whole system go out of business.’ I think they were right.” In 2009, Obama begged legislators in Congress not to scuttle the program.


A major part of the Democrats’ message this week is the argument that a Romney presidency would return us to the era of President George W. Bush. But what happened during the Bush years? Record spending, record debt, a slew of civil liberties abuses, a failed and expensive war on drugs, an impossibly complex immigration system and shameful treatment of immigrants, and a new health care entitlement in the form of Medicare Part D. And what did a change in White House power bring? Record spending, record debt, a slew of civil liberties abuses, a failed and expensive war on drugs, an impossibly complex immigration system and shameful treatment of immigrants, and a new health care entitlement in the form of ObamaCare. A clear choice? If so, it’s less a choice between visions than a choice between parties.

Bush enacted the Patriot Act, Obama and the Democrats have renewed it every time they had the chance.

Both administrations have supported and made use of unwarranted wire-tapping.

Both administrations have supported the use of torture.

Both administrations have continued to hold ‘enemy combatants’ at Guantanamo Bay without bringing them to trial.

Both administrations heavily support corporate welfare.

Neither administration has been particularly pro-choice, they both work to take choices away from US Citizens, just in different areas.

And for some more let’s hear from David Swanson just six months into this administration’s governance.

There’s Dubya now, still rewriting laws via signing statements. Still creating and destroying laws with executive orders. And still violating laws at his whim. Imagine Bush continuing his policy of extraordinary rendition, sending prisoners off to other countries with grim interrogation reputations to be held and tortured. I can even picture him formalizing his policy of preventive detention, sprucing it up with some “due process” even as he permanently removes habeas corpus from our culture.

I picture this demonic president still swearing he doesn’t torture, still insisting that he wants to close Guantanamo, but assuring his subordinates that the commander-in-chief has the power to torture “if needed,” and maintaining a prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan that makes Guantanamo look like summer camp. I can imagine him continuing to keep secret his warrantless spying programs while protecting the corporations and government officials involved.

If Bush were in his third term, we would already have seen him propose, yet again, the largest military budget in the history of the world. We might well have seen him pretend he was including war funding in the standard budget, and then claim that one final supplemental war budget was still needed, immediately after which he would surely announce that yet another war supplemental bill would be needed down the road. And of course, he would have held onto his Secretary of Defense from his second term, Robert Gates, to run the Pentagon, keep our ongoing wars rolling along, and oversee the better part of our public budget.

Bush would undoubtedly be following through on the agreement he signed with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 (except where he chose not to follow through). His generals would, in the meantime, be leaking word that the United States never intended to actually leave. He’d surely be maintaining current levels of troops in Iraq, whilesending thousands more troops to Afghanistan and talking about a new “surge” there. He’d probably also be escalating the campaign he launched late in his second term to use drone aircraft to illegally and repeatedly strike into Pakistan’s tribal borderlands with Afghanistan.

If Bush were still “the decider” he’d be employing mercenaries like Blackwaterand propagandists like the Rendon Group and he might even be expanding the number of private security contractors in Afghanistan. In fact, the whole executive branch would be packed with disreputable corporate executive types. You’d have somebody like John (“May I torture this one some more, please?”) Rizzo still serving, at least for a while, as general counsel at the CIA. The White House and Justice Department would be crawling with corporate cronies, people like John Brennan, Greg Craig, James Jones, and Eric Holder. Most of the top prosecutors hired at the Department of Justice for political purposes would still be on the job. And political prisoners, like former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and former top Democratic donor Paul Minor would still be abandoned to their fate.

In addition, the bank bailouts Bush and his economic team initiated in his second term would still be rolling along — with a similar crowd of people running the show. Ben Bernanke, for instance, would certainly have been reappointed to run the Fed. And Bush’s third term would have guaranteed that there would be none of the monkeying around with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that the Democrats proposed or promised in their losing presidential campaign. At this point in Bush’s third term, no significant new effort would have begun to restore Katrina-decimated New Orleans either.

If the Democrats in Congress attempted to pass any set of needed reforms like, to take an example, new healthcare legislation, Bush, the third termer, would have held secret meetings in the White House with insurance and drug company executives to devise a means to turn such proposals to their advantage. And he would have refused to release the visitor logs so that the American public would have no way of knowing just whom he’d been talking to.

During Bush’s second term, some of the lowest ranking torturers from Abu Ghraib were prosecuted as bad apples, while those officials responsible for the policies that led to Abu Ghraib remained untouched. If the public continued to push for justice for torturers during the early months of Bush’s third term, he would certainly have gone with another bad apple approach, perhaps targeting only low-ranking CIA interrogators and CIA contractors for prosecution. Bush would undoubtedly have decreed that any higher-ups would not be touched, that we should now be looking forward, not backward. And he would thereby have cemented in place the power of presidents to grant immunity for crimes they themselves authorized.

If Bush were in his third term, some of his first and second term secrets might, by now, have been forced out into the open by lawsuits, but what Americans actually read wouldn’t be significantly worse than what we’d already known. What documents saw the light of day would surely have had large portions of their pages redacted, and the vast bulk of documentation that might prove threatening would remain hidden from the public eye. Bush’s lawyers would be fighting in court, with ever grander claims of executive power, to keep his wrongdoing out of sight.

The existing differences between the two parties are mere quibbles, the visions are marketing deceptions, designed to keep you focused on them as a means to divide the country so much, to keep us at our throats so we can’t see what is really going on.  Had Bush been elected to a third term, there would have been little difference between what we would have gotten and what we have.  Except of course that the Democrats would be the ones deriding the president instead of the Republicans.

Vision?  No, it’s about party, pure and simple.  So go ahead and vote for the party you support in November, but don’t delude yourself into thinking that vision has anything to do with it.

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