THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Outraged liberals | Joan Vennochi

In Obama, they see Bush

By Joan Vennochi
December 12, 2010

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WHAT PART of the Bush tax cuts extension do liberals really hate?

The “Bush’’ part.

President Obama’s so-called compromise — tax cuts for the rich in exchange for unemployment benefits — does not make him look like Bill Clinton, the great triangulator. To hardcore liberals, he looks like George W. Bush, the not-so-great decider — minus Bush’s Texas swagger and misguided conviction. It’s not a pretty picture. And, for liberals, that picture has been developing since their supposed messiah took office.

Obama won election by running against the policies of a president who left Washington to the sound of people chanting “na-na-hey-hey-good-bye.’’ Vanquished to Crawford with a 22 percent approval rating, the 43d president of the United States was reduced to cartoon-like status. He was supposed to stay on the ranch brooming brush and contemplating his legacy as the Worst President Ever.

Two years later, Bush is back in the saddle. His book tops the New York Times bestseller list and his job approval ratings are higher than Obama’s. On his book publicity tour, Bush is relaxed and funny.

From the Oval Office to the basketball court, Obama can’t catch a break. When Bill Clinton bit his lip, he felt our pain. Obama’s stitched lip makes us feel his. If Bush is all hat, no cattle, Obama is a man with neither hat, cattle, nor liberal friends, thanks to his embrace of the same Bush-era policies that he denounced.

The Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are now Obama’s. So are Bush’s wiretapping and detention policies. Obama took airport security beyond the Bush-imposed intrusions that require passengers to take off shoes and belts; in the Obama era, passengers submit to graphic body-imaging machines or full body pat-downs.

The health care reform legislation that conservatives demonize as socialism disappointed liberals because it is so far from it. There’s no public option or single-payer system. Indeed, its roots lie in the blueprint drawn up by a Republican governor of Massachusetts. ObamaCare is pretty close to RomneyCare, and a conceptual outgrowth of Bush’s Medicare reform.

Taxpayer-funded bailouts after Wall Street’s meltdown started under Bush and continued under Obama. Both administrations adhere to the theory that some businesses are “too big to fail’’ and many little guys are too small to save.

In the run-up to midterm elections, Obama was still blaming Republicans, and Bush, by default, for the economic mess that refuses to tidy itself up. The prior administration drove the economy into a ditch, he repeatedly proclaimed, and the Bush tax cuts were part of the problem.

With each embrace of a Bush policy reviled by liberals, Obama lost a sliver of his base. But the core stuck with him. The far left agitated but John Kerry rescued him on Afghanistan. House Democrats didn’t like his health care plan, but they closed ranks for the sake of unity. Obama adds glue to the base, by holding out the promise of the Dream Act to the children of illegal immigrants — a policy Bush also supported. Reversing “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ is designed to satisfy his gay constituency.

But now, he wants Democrats to accept the Bush tax cuts as part of a grand economic compromise? For the left, that’s ideological heresy and more.

It rejuvenates what supporters and detractors define as Bush’s crowning domestic achievement.

As a candidate, Obama denounced Bush’s tax cuts as “that old, discredited Republican philosophy — give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.’’ He ran an ad saying John McCain’s support of the Bush tax cuts offended “his conscience.’’

Obama’s conscience is apparently no longer offended by the Bush tax cuts and that offends liberals. It’s their tipping point.

It makes them question their core beliefs and wonder about his. Did they fall in love with the idea of electing the first black president on the assumption that he is as liberal as they are?

Or, maybe they were simply blinded by hatred of Bush.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.