Election 2012

A Choice Between Two Different Futures? Or a Choice Between Two Different Parties?

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On the final night of the Democratic National Convention, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made their pitch to America's voters: The theme of the night was choice — not just of candidates, but of governing visions on issues like the economy, deficits, and taxes. "When all is said and done—when you pick up that ballot to vote—you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation," said Obama. "On every issue, the choice you face won't be just between two candidates or two parties. It will be a choice between two different paths for America. A choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future."

But as we've pointed out so many times here at Reason, on so many major issues, the two major party tickets have awfully similar track records.

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, saying "President 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.

The two tickets are not carbon copies of each other, but even where they disagree they are often closer than they pretend to be.

Romney, for example, has proposed to reform Medicare by converting it into a premium support system that relies on private competition. Obama opposes this plan in part because it would "end the Medicare guarantee." But in fact, Romney's proposal would keep government-run, fee-for-service Medicare as an option.

Obama wants to return to Clinton-era tax rates on income earned over $250,000, and Romney wants to lower marginal tax rates. But neither candidate is explicitly proposing to raise income tax rates on the bulk of earners.

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.