Barack Obama says a John McCain victory would amount to a third term of the Bush presidency. What he doesn’t say: an Obama victory would, too.
While both nominees love to talk about their big agendas for change, whoever wins will take office with their obligations defined and options constrained by what Bush dumps on their lap.
The focus right now – and probably for many months to come – is the bailout binge aimed at saving our financial system. All told, the government will likely put more than $1 trillion on the line (with hope the money will be recouped down the road).
Then there are the two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The combined cost is fast approaching $1 trillion, too – and both will eat up the time and budgets of the next president.
Then there is also the prescription drug benefit Bush added to Medicare. It carries a projected price tag of nearly $700 billion over ten years and serves as a powerful reminder of how big – untenably big, many experts say – our entitlement programs have grown.
As the candidates debate the nuances of their health care plans or tax cuts, consider:
How can you cut taxes when the government is so deep in the red? The budget deficit is projected to top $400 billion – and that was before the bailout.
How can you expand health care coverage when the country is broke? The federal debt is now expected to top $11 trillion by 2010.
How can you focus on “earmarks” and “waste” when everyone knows they make up a meaningless fraction of the federal budget?
How you tackle spending without a serious discussion of serious cuts to Medicare and Social Security, which account for 43.5 percent of federal spending?
How can you focus on anything but war, when you inherit two conflicts with outcomes that are very much in doubt? (U.S commanders say the war in Afghanistan is going worse then ever and will require many more troops to win.)
A lesson of the Bush binge is the awesome weight of the choice for president. His eight years of surprises shows that you never know exactly what you’re voting for.
He ran as a compassionate conservative who promised to restrain spending and practice a humble foreign policy. Instead, he launched two big wars and oversaw the biggest expansion of federal government in history.