Obama and Romney Are As Different as Two Peas in a Pod

For all the distinction-drawing, the candidates’ visions often sound strikingly similar

“We’ve got two fundamentally different ideas about where we should take the country,” said President Obama at a recent campaign stop in Ohio. The statement was false in the sense he meant it, but true in another. 

Despite its questionable facticity, Obama will be flogging this theme hard until November. The president hammered away at it some more later the same day, when he told a crowd there are “two fundamentally different visions about how we move the country forward. And the great thing about our democracy is you get to be the tiebreaker.”

Mitt Romney says much the same. As he declared after clinching the GOP nomination, he has “a very different vision” for America than the president does. 

In politics, this is known as drawing distinctions. The speaker’s side—whichever one that happens to be—wants a healthy, prosperous America where happy people lead successful and fulfilling lives. This is why it must defeat the other side, which wants only to smash America behind the ear with a tire iron, drag her into a dark alley, rob her blind, stab her with a rusty knife, and leave her for dead. You just can’t entrust a great country like this to people like that.

Yet for all the distinction-drawing, the candidates’ visions often sound strikingly similar. Not long ago one of them said he wants “an America with a growing middle class, with rising standards of living, [with] children even more successful than their parents....This America is fundamentally fair....In the America I see, character and choices matter. And education, hard work, and living within our means are valued and rewarded.” And “poverty will be defeated,” and yadda yadda yadda. Can you tell which candidate said that? Of course not. 

Granted, stump speeches are Nytol in gas form, focus-grouped until every last wisp of originality and daring has been thoroughly expunged. But what about the issues? 

There, too the differences are more marginal than fundamental. Take foreign policy: Both Obama and Romney espouse the centrist approach of the diplomatic, academic, and think-tank establishment. They might differ in tone, but neither of them is going to embrace either the neoisolationism of the Pat Buchanan right or the disarmament pacifism of the radical left. 

In fact, Obama’s approach to the war on terror sounds like something Dick Cheney would admire. As The New York Times noted in May, “Obama [has] preserved three major policies—rendition, military commissions and indefinite detention—that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.” He is using drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists from above—and counting any military-age male in the vicinity as a combatant, even if that male is merely herding sheep.

On the budget and taxes, Romney and Obama are—again—different mostly at the margins. And while those marginal differences can add up over time, neither candidate has proposed a sharp deviation from the current fiscal trajectory. On the few issues where they show genuine disagreement, such as abortion, they are largely constrained by constitutional limits. 

As for health care, conservative pundit Tucker Carlson put it best: "There are only two people in world history who have signed individual mandates into law. One is the president, [and] the other’s the guy running against him." True, the next president might nominate one or more Supreme Court justices. If Romney does so, he could nominate a right-winger like Chief Justice John Roberts, who could overturn the individual mandate on...oops, never mind.

This is why, for all the talk of "fundamentally different ideas," Republicans obsess about Obama’s personal life. It’s why the Obama camp has spent so much time and effort on personal attacks: Romney won’t release all his tax records, Romney keeps money in offshore accounts, etc. It’s hard to crystallize policy distinctions when the positional differences are so blurry. (Those attacks have given rise to what should be the quote of the year: “Apparently I’m supposed to be more outraged by what Mitt Romney does with his money than what Barack Obama does with mine.”)

No, the real split is to be found not so much between the two big-government candidates themselves as in the electorate. And, as is so often the case, de Tocqueville explained it presciently. “Our contemporaries,” he wrote, “are incessantly tormented by two hostile passions: they feel the need to be led and the desire to remain free. Unable to destroy either the one or the other of these opposite instincts, they work hard to satisfy both at the same time. They imagine a unique, tutelary, omnipotent power, but elected by the citizens....They console themselves about being in tutelage by thinking that they have chosen their tutors themselves....In this system, the citizens emerge for a moment from dependency in order to indicate their master, and return to it.”

Or, as Woody Allen put it in "My Speech to the Graduates": "More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where this column originally appeared

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  • Tim||

    News flash: President Romney will keep on spending us into ruin. After he "repeals" Obamacare he will "reform" healthcare and put it all back.

  • wareagle||

    The speaker’s side—whichever one that happens to be—wants a healthy, prosperous America where happy people lead successful and fulfilling lives.

    given the author's premise that the two are alike, are we to believe that any Mitt economic policy would have a negative consequence as its desired outcome?

  • RustyJones||

    Well, of course. It's the Broken Window Fallacy. Both Mittens and Obama believe that government spending will help "jump start" the economy. Government spending is always a negative for the overall economy because the money has to come from the private sector through taxation and inflation.

  • Rasilio||

    I don't believe he ever makes that claim of Obama. In fact the sole claim regarding economic policies in the article is here...

    "On the budget and taxes, Romney and Obama are—again—different mostly at the margins. And while those marginal differences can add up over time, neither candidate has proposed a sharp deviation from the current fiscal trajectory."

    No one serious, and certainly none of the writers here at Reason has ever ascribed evil intent being behind either Obama or Romneys policy choices and so no neither of their policies would be designed with the intent of causing negative outcomes however a very fair claim can be made that both would actually result in negative outcomes and that said outcomes would be largely similar due to the similarities of the policies that brought them about.

    So in the end yes if Mitt gets elected we will largely get exactly what we have been getting with Obama whether you consider that to be a good or a bad thing is a matter of personal opinion.

  • Mike M.||

    About the only really good thing that can be said about Romney is that he doesn't despise America and private industry and want to destroy the country that way that Block Yomomma does.

    It's pretty pathetic, but these days it's probably enough. It's a sad testament to just how absurdly low the bar has gotten.

  • John||

    Romney might be held accountable for something. No way would Romney get away with something like Fast and Furious.

    The biggest advantage to a Romney presidency is that he would not have a state run media doing his bidding. And Democrats would suddenly care about civil rights again.

  • Metazoan||

    I agree re: the media. But I might actually miss my obamaton friends' tortuous lines of reasoning to still like their master but not betray their principles.

  • Joe R.||

    If Romney is elected, I'm going to tag leftists like they're bald eagles or dolphins or something. That way they'll be easier to find for the anti-war protests next time a Democrat is president.

  • ||

    Considering that ROMNIAC is just the same navel-gazing self-involved asshole that Obama is, you can't say that. Both assholes couldn't give less of a shit about private industry or "America" and would let the country burn if it self-aggrandized them.

    If you are going to vote--and I don't--and you don't vote for Gary Johnson, then you are flat out a TEAM shill. And no matter how many times you deny that, nothing will make it false.

  • John||

    No Romney will do whatever keeps him in office. The only hope is that Romney thinks doing the right thing will keep him in office. Obama in contrast actually believes in things. He really will let the country burn because he honestly believes in something. Romney, I don't think believes in much beyond it is good to be Mitt.

  • ||

    Obama believes in the cult of himself, John. Nothing else. He's not some zombie socialist from Mars who wants to actively wreck our economic system; he's just an egomaniacal scumbag who has certain constituencies he has to appease, and he'll do whatever he has to to pay off the people he needs.

  • John||

    I used to think that. That is why I thought Obama would sell out and work with the Republicans like Clinton did. But the dumb bastard didn't do that. He honestly seems willing to commit political suicide and take the whole party with him.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Only it won't. It could have, if the Republicans had even a modest amount of cohesion, intelligence and integrity. And I seriously wish they did.

    But their idiocy is going to keep Obama in another four years. The EXACT same way that the DNC kept Bush in another four years.

  • Mike M.||

    You're wrong, and Obama is going to lose. An incumbent president who is tied with his challenger in conditions like these is a dead man walking. To try and compare the state of the country now to what it was in the summer of '04 is simply absurd; there is no comparison at all.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Look I hope you're right about Obama losing, I just don't think you are.

    But it is a completely accurate comparison. No one cares about the state of the country. Obama is hated virtually the same amount that Bush was hated in '04. And the only reason that Bush won in '04 was because the DNC ran someone unelectable. Which is exactly what the RNC is doing now.

  • John||

    I would say the Republicans have actually done a few smart things in the last four years. Not selling out and voting for Obamacare was the first smart thing they had done in years.

    So what you hate Romney, got it. But what were the other choices? Wouldn't Gingrich or Santorum have been worse? What exactly do you want them to do? They don't own the White House or the Senate. All they can do is keep Obama from doing more damage, which they largely have.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Sorry for the delay, had to actually work there for a minute (gasp!).

    What I WANT them to do, is have the cabal at the RNC headquarters pull someone electable out of their stable. It's not that difficult. Then they run some chaff (which is where Santorums and Gingrichs) can come in.

    Basically model their campaign on the DNC's 2008 run, instead of the DNC's 2000 and 2004 run (granted their hands were somewhat tied in 2000.)

    I don't HATE Romney. I hate a lot of his policies, but the main thing is I don't think much of him at all. Maybe you're right, there's probably no iron handed cabal in place in the RNC that actually knows how crap works, and WANTS to have thier guys elected. But there should be.

  • Mike M.||

    Gary Johnson has as much chance of being the president as my fucking dog does, so give me a break with this bullcrap.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    You should vote for whoever best matches your values (if you vote). So I assume that either O or R most closely matches your values Mike (if you plan for vote for one of them)? If not, then why vote for them?

    No snarc involved.

  • Metazoan||

    Because to many people, voting is not purely based on values. I know, I know, that's terrible, so please don't yell at me for saying that. I support Gary Johnson, I do consider values quite important. But I could see how, say, a small businessman might be less interested in taking a "stand" and more interested in simply voting for the candidate who will, at least for now, fuck up his business less. Will that candidate do other terrible things? Probably. But so will the other mainstream candidate. And so these are the businessman's choices:

    1) Vote for mainstream candidate who will not harm his business as much but do other awful things

    2) Vote for mainstream candidate who will harm his business more and do other awful stuff.

    3) Vote for 3rd party candidate, taking a stand, but potentially getting 2, the worst of all.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    That makes sense, except for one thing: predicting what a given candidate will do if elected is extremely dicey. Most of the time when they're talking they're either deluded or just lying their asses off.

    For instance, there is a lot of talk about who each candidate would put in SCOTUS. But we don't really know who they'll nominate, and on top of that the nominee has to make it through the Senate and we don't know what the composition of the Senate will be. Then once the judge ascends to the SCOTUS there's no guarantee how he/she will actually rule.

    The whole thing is like playing 3-card Monte with a bag over your head.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    No one saying he's going to be president. Just that if you don't vote for him you are a part of the problem.

  • ||

    TEAM RED shithead unsurprisingly says he will vote TEAM RED, even though he says he's not TEAM RED. Color me surprised.

  • Mike M.||

    Just out of curiosity, are the guys at Reason who voted for Obama TEAM BLUE shitheads?

  • ||

    Yes. Next question?

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Perhaps just SLIGHTLY less, because they had Barr foisted on them as the LP candidate.

  • R C Dean||

    Walks like a duck, voted like a duck.

    Yup. Ducks it is.

  • Cavpitalist||

    I don't think anyone is a shithead because of who they vote for...

    But Obama 08 was one hell of a better option for libertarians than Romney 12 or Obama 12. Exponentially so.

  • R C Dean||

    Mike, your vote isn't a guess as to who will win.

    Its your opinion on who should win.

    People who believe a vote is wasted unless it is cast for the winner are people who believe the latter, not the former.

  • Metazoan||

    But, playing devil's advocate here, I can see some trace of reasoning. It is not that one votes for the winner (obviously then voting would be entirely pointless), but rather that one votes for a candidate belonging to the set of potential winners.

  • Ska||

    The polling place is between my favorite pizza spot and my home. So if there is an open parking spot when I drive back and forth, I may consider going in to vote for Johnson. Then I can say I was one of 1,500 out of 4,000,000 registered voters in NYC that opted out of the douche sandwich/giant turd choice while still casting a vote.

    I will then laugh and shake my head when I'm told how important my vote is, or how I wasted my vote, or one of the other predictable lines questioning why I didn't vote for one of the real candidates (as if it matters anyway). I wonder how shitty it feels to be a Republican living upstate and to know that voting is completely worthless. I guess sort of like a libertarian in that regard.

  • Metazoan||

    I tend to ignore politics in this city. I guess I could see it being frustrating to be an upstate GOPer, but hey, now they know how I feel.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    "doesn't despise America" = not a redneck.

  • John||

    Maybe Reason is right. But if there is no difference between the two candidates, then I fully expect Reason to stop covering the election since it doesn't matter who wins.

  • Ice Nine||

    Reading that canard here does get tiresome, doesn't it.

  • John||

    It is just a lazy way to write. Recognizing differences doesn't mean endorsing either one. Reason seems to think that the only way to be different is to pretend both major parties are the same. They are not the same.

  • Ice Nine||

    Someone will soon be chirping "TEAM BLUE" AND "TEAM RED" at you for acknowledging that polemics exist. It's the inevitable mindless spinal reflex reaction any time someone here takes a side in a partisan issue, of which there are many, even to us libertarians. I guess it is supposed to denote notions of really cool independent thought or something.

  • sarcasmic||

    They're different only in what aspects of your life they want to control and dictate to you.
    Both of them, regardless of what they say, despise liberty.
    In that respect they are the same.

  • John||

    In what way does Mitt Romney want to restrict your liberty as President?

    Gay marriage? That is a state issue and Romney can't prevent states from recognizing gay marriage

    The drug war? That is a push

    Republicans are a threat to liberty at the state and local level. At the national level not so much.

  • sarcasmic||

    The word "they" was referring to the parties, not the individual candidates.

    Though was far as Romney goes, he wants to repeal and replace Obamacare.
    What would he replace it with? I dunno, but I doubt it has liberty written on it.

  • Metazoan||

    Technically replacing it could be better, since a repeal would leave us with the 2009 status quo. That's better than the ACA, but then "better than the ACA" is a pretty damn low bar.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Libertycare?

  • some guy||

    Maybe he'll replace it with a law that eliminates Health and Human Services and allows insurance to be purchased across state lines...?

    One can dream!

  • RyanXXX||

    Republicans at the National Level, with some important distinctions, fully support chucking the Bill of Rights to prevent "terrorism".

    But then again, so do Democrats. But the fourth amendment matters, John

  • joeloliver||

    Republicans not a threat to my liberty you say?

    Hi, I'm the Patriot Act, I don't believe we've met.

  • John||

    Good thing the Patriot Act wasn't passed with overwelming support of both parties. And vigorously used by Obama.

    Hi Joe, I am called reality, you might want to check in sometime.

  • joeloliver||

    Republicans not a threat to my liberty you say?

    Hi, I'm the Patriot Act, I don't believe we've met.

  • Serf||

    Obama = Cancer

    Romney = AIDS

    Choose your disease.

  • Metazoan||

    I agree. It might be more accurate to say that, given their statements and from a libertarian point of view, they are equally bad. But they aren't bad in the same way or on the same issues, and that does actually matter.

  • John||

    Saying they are different, doesn't mean they are not flawed. I don't understand why Reason thinks they both must be exactly the same. It is almost as if they are afraid to admit that there are differences.

  • Metazoan||

    Right. Given that there is actually skilled writing here at reason, it shouldn't be terribly difficult to discuss the differences without endorsing one.

  • sarcasmic||

    The point is that the differences are trivial when compared to what they have in common.
    You're the only one using the word "exact". Well, you and the straw man you are attacking that is.

  • Drake||

    They are afraid of offending the cool libertarian-leaning Democrat types (I've never actually met one in the wild). Then they would only be left with us boring fiscal conservative types who grew disgusted with the GOP for not being conservative.

  • RyanXXX||

    Reason is not saying that Republicans and Democrats are the same, John. They are saying that MITT ROMNEY and BARACK OBAMA are virtually the same. Read the quote by Carlson in the article^ and let it sink in

  • Anonymous Coward||

    But if there is no difference between the two candidates, then I fully expect Reason to stop covering the election since it doesn't matter who wins.

    I think it bears repeating that Obama is entirely defeatable. So far Obama's refrain against Le Mitt is "Bain Capital, Swiss Banks, Romneycare." If I were running Romney's campaign, I would reply, "I'll own Bain Capital if you own the fact that you've gotten more campaign contributions from Bain than I have. Second, a Swiss Bank account isn't secret if you tell the IRS about it, which is how your media lapdogs found out in the first place. And I repent of Romneycare and all its works. Now let's discuss Solyndra, Beacon Power, Ener1, Afghanistan, NDAA, no-bid contracts, tax cut extensions, Bradley Manning, Thomas Drake, $60 billion weapons deal to Saudi Arabia, Anwar al-Awlaki, Terror Tuesdays, appointments of various lobbyists (including Eric Holder) to offices in the executive branch, and so on, and so forth.

    The fact that he hasn't shows that Mitt's campaign is being run by idiots, limp-wristed candyasses, or he supports the exact same things.

  • John||

    The answer is some of both.

  • John Jackson||

    It's time someone had the courage to stand up and say: I'm against those things that everybody hates.

  • tarran||

    I'm concerned that your 5% Titanium tax goes too far.

  • ||

    It's three percent you idiot!

  • Mr. FIFY||

    But it's racist to compare Mitt to Obama!

    /leftist logic

  • Drake||

    Why? They are both at least half-white.

  • sarcasmic||

    Oscar winning actor Morgan Freeman has declared that the U.S. is still waiting for its first black president as Barack Obama does not qualify because he is of mixed-heritage.

    Making the controversial comments on NPR, Freeman said that even though President Obama identifies himself as African-American, the fact remains that his mother was a white woman from the Great Plains.

    'First thing that pops into my head regarding our president is that all of the people who are setting up this barrier...they just conveniently forget that Barack had a mama, and she was white - very white American, Kansas, middle of America.'

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new.....z20KM14Shs

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I used to like Morgan Freeman, until I found out he's a bigot and a fool.

  • R C Dean||

    Barack Obama does not qualify because he is of mixed-heritage.

    So is nearly every "African"-American whose family has been here more than a few generations.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    White supremacists also express concerns over purity of heritage.

    Funny how that works out.

  • Drake||

    I've met plenty of actual Africans from places like Kenya and Zimbabwe. They didn't look a thing like Morgan Freeman - they were black, not brown, and none of them had freckles.

  • Cavpitalist||

    Also, going solely off of my Army experiences, actual Africans tend to hate African-Americans worse than the klan does.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    What?? Black-on-black racism??? Unpossible!!!!1!e1eventy!!!!!! Only white people are racist!!!!!1!!!!!!ONE!!1NE!!!!

    /leftist thinking

  • some guy||

    So what if he's white. He's still a terrible person and a terrible president.

  • Smurfs Poop Blue||

    ^amen^

  • Mr. FIFY||

    /leftist logic, Drake.

  • SAL||

  • some guy||

    Possibilities:

    1)Obama wins narrowly, Congress remains split. Gridlock for 4 years. Obama finally takes blame for his first term.

    2)Obama wins narrowly, Congress goes full-elephant. Gridlock. Obama finally takes blame for his first term.

    3)Romney wins narrowly, Congress stays split. Gridlock. Everybody looks incompetant.

    4)Romney wins narrowly, government goes full-elephant. This could either be really bad or really good depending on what those pachyderms have learned over the last few election cycles. Is it worth the risk?

    I'll be voting Johnson to increase the Libertarian pressure on both parties. But I think I'll be pulling for scenario #4.

  • John||

    I really think there are a few Dems (Clinton and Rendell most notably) who understand what a disaster options 1 and 2 would be for the Dems. The Democrats are not taking back the house and are unlikely to hold the Senate regardless of what happens to Obama. So Obama won't be able to accomplish shit in a second term beyond get the Dems blamed for everything that goes wrong.

    That is why I am pretty ambivalent about who wins. Obama winning could end up making a 2008 like defeat look like a best case scenario for the Democrats.

  • #||

    One other factor is SCOTUS. Though obviously roberts whimped out when it came to the plate, it scares me that this current court is one vote away from thinking outright gun bans are constitutional and that the FEC banning books is also constitutional. Team red judges create their own problems, but the 1st and 2nd amendment being shredded are pretty big.

  • #||

    though you are right john. If Obama loses, then he becomes a martyr in the history books to a racists america. If he wins, he will be completely ineffective his 2nd term, team blue hacks will start turning on him as the next election approaches to limit the then upcoming winning 2014 GOP year, and Obama will go down as a disaster.

  • Gladstone||

    Well it did work out in the end for Harry Truman.

  • Juice||

    In scenario 4 all you're going to get are stupid social conservative bills on abortion, the gays, and the muslims.

  • joeloliver||

    now now now, I wouldn't be so quick to limit it just to those minorities... I think we'll get TSA patdowns on long road trips, and TSA patdowns at McDonalds, and drones everywhere... etc. How is this different from scenarios 1 and 2?

    It's not.

  • Dr. Thaddeus Tingleberry||

    Obama is Saruman, Romney is Sauron.

    Obama is K Street, romney is AIPAC.

    Obama is disastrous foreign policy made by the Israel Lobby.

    Romney is disastrous foreign policy made by Israel Firsters who brought you such wars as Iraq I and such position papers as "A Clean Break: How to Write Policy Papers for a Foreign Government and Claim Accusations of Dual Loyalty are Per Se "Anti-Semitism" without Really Trying."

    It's nice to have this perpetual false choice, eh?


    http://www.motherjones.com/pol.....ie-factory

    http://america-hijacked.com/20.....e-neocons/

  • Dr. Thaddeus Tingleberry||

    Richard Perle should have been hung for treason.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Clean_Break

    That he wasn't, tells you how American "foreign policy" is more-or-less hijacked by Likudnik Neocons.

    And fortunately for them, the MSM is too terrified of the "anti-semite" smear to ask the obvious question: Why would Romney's foreign policy advisors be so overwhelmingly right wink, pro-Likud, chickenhawk Jews?

    Naturally - no one's going to ask the question too loudly - never mind how many people might die later, one doesn't wish to have to prove thinking Richard Perle, Douglas Feith et al. are both traitors and dangerous intellectual midgets isn't 'the same' as 'hating Jews'.

    It's totally natural for Romney's foreign policy advisors to look to have been hand picked by Tel Aviv...

    Go back to sleep.

  • Ryan60657||

    November's Obamney choice: Big Government or Bigger Government

    Would you like a giant turd sandwich, or a giant turd sandwich with bacon?

    My wife and I will be voting for Gary Johnson. No turd sandwiches for either of us.

  • Alex the wolf||

    I don´t know why reason keeps saying that Obama and Romney are the same, this nonsense is just being repeated here over and over again as a matter of faith, not reason by the way. Above all, Obama takls all the time about fairness, fair share and all that bullshit all the time (never provides a definition) He wants to raise taxes, he wants to keep Obamacare (whatever Romney wants to put in place is surely less socialized) thinks that the private sector is doing fine, the problem is there aren´t enough teachers, is totally pro public unions and thinks the constitution is "outdated". Romney is not perfect for sure but has some remarkable lines like "if you want free stuff vote for the other guy"

  • joeloliver||

    And tell me, in practice, how has Obama's first term differed from the previous president with the R after his name???

  • Alex the wolf||

    Is W running?

  • Juice||

    Tucker Carlson put it best: "There are only two people in world history who have signed individual mandates into law. "

    Tucker Carlson may have put it "best" but he put it wrong. Individual insurance mandates exist in at least as many countries as Japan, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

  • KriegsEA||

    The Incompetent Fool vs the Competent Destroyer.

  • tee shirt pas cher||

    Mitt Romney says much the same. As he declared after clinching the GOP nomination, he has “a very different vision” for America than the president does.

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