Home/Daniel Larison/Yes, There Is Continuity–What Else Is New?

Yes, There Is Continuity–What Else Is New?

No one chanting “Yes we can” was pushing for a change that would stick America’s middle-class taxpayers with additional trillions of new debt in order to fill up the coffers of some of the biggest and richest swindlers on Wall Street.

Where’s the change, in short, between Bush’s TARP-1 and Obama’s TARP-2? ~Ralph Reiland

Obviously, I agree that there are certain obvious points of continuity between the administrations on matters of foreign and financial policy, since I have been saying something of the kind about Obama’s policy views for more than a year. If I had a dollar for every time I saw someone make some stupid claim about Obama’s plans to slash the defense budget, sell out Israel or introduce socialism, I could pay for a considerable part of the omnibus budget bill. However, these points of continuity were obvious before the election, so I do get a little tired of pundits who write entire columns saying nothing more interesting than, “That’s not change–that’s more of the same!” as if this has never been discovered until now. On the day after the election, I wrote a summary of my assessment of Obama in a piece for Culture11:

If you have a high opinion of the Washington establishment and bipartisan consensus politics, Obama’s election should come as a relief. If you believe, as I do, that most of our policy failures stretching back beyond the last eight years are the product of a failed establishment and a bankrupt consensus, an Obama administration represents the perpetuation of a system that is fundamentally broken.

In fairness to Obama, he has never hidden his preference for accommodation and consensus, and those who understand Obama’s political career the best have already discovered this defining characteristic.

This was a distillation of arguments I had made for the entire campaign. Just about everything Obama has done since his inauguration bears this out. One of the more odd memes that has cropped up recently is the sudden recognition by a broad swathe of the media that Paul Krugman is an Obama critic–really, I hadn’t noticed! Krugman railed against Obama as a centrist (which, from Krugman’s perspective, is a mostly accurate description) since the early stages of the primaries, Krugman denounced the bailout plan the first time and has resumed denouncing it in its new incarnation, and yet for the Reilands of the world it is as if Obama’s relative centrism and establishmentarian instincts come as a revelation only recently imparted.

When I pointed out in one of my columns the absurdity and non-credibility of McCain’s attack on the “spread the wealth” phrase in light of his support for the bailout, I am fairly sure that there were not a lot of others on the right who perceived the sheer hypocrisy of it all. They had their lines down cold: Obama was the evil redistributionist, and McCain was resisting the onset of socialism, and that was all they needed to know, because the Plumber had told them so. The possibility that both were acquiescing in a bad policy designed to satisfy the interests of certain large financial institutions at the expense of the public seems to have been lost on quite a few people in the mainstream press. Of course, on this question not only did Obama not make a significant break with the Bush administration, but he and McCain were indistinguishable.

For that matter, based on surveys of public attitudes before the election, there was a significant minority of approximately 30% across all ideological and partisan affiliations that supported the creation of the TARP. So clearly there were quite a few Obama voters who were not bothered by his embrace of the bailout and his vote for the EESA, and perhaps there were more than a few “responsible” center-left “pragmatists” and Wall Street Democrats who saw Obama’s pro-bailout stance as a reason to vote for him. These are the people who welcomed the appointment of Geithner as brilliant. These people were pretty thoroughly wrong, but there were plenty of them–the sort who sneer at populists, whether left or right, and put their trust in technocrats.

There were also quite a few progressives who hated the bailout, but who nonetheless voted for Obama, so whatever they may have expected in the way of “change” they must have understood that rejecting the TARP was not going to be part of it. It is unlikely that these people would have supported McCain had he done the politically and substantively smart thing by opposing the bailout, but then McCain has almost never done the substantively smart thing so we were never going to find out. For that matter, there was significant support on the right for bailing out those whom Reiland dubs swindlers, and there were very few rising national Republican leaders who actively opposed the measure; no one in the Congressional leadership did so. The House backbenchers and a handful of GOP Senators who opposed the TARP were regularly demonized by “responsible” Republican pundits as know-nothings, nihilists and nitwits. Six months later, their opposition, like that of progressives in the House and Senate, appears even more correct than it did at the time.

Where was Reiland’s criticism of this plan at the time, or did he just happen to rediscover his outrage now that it is Obama who presides over and supports the awful policies that Bush, McCain and the GOP leadership all embraced just as readily?

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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