Is Bush Lurking in Obamaland?

Is Bush Lurking in Obamaland?

By Ruben Navarrette - August 30, 2009

They say the older you get, the smarter your parents get. Likewise, it seems, the deeper President Barack Obama gets into his first term, the smarter President George W. Bush gets.

Hard-line liberals will never accept this. They have too much invested in the narrative of Bush-as-incompetent-dolt to make room for the possibility that the Texas Republican got one or two things right in eight years. Nor do they want to believe that the supposedly more enlightened Obama is emulating his predecessor.

Yet the Obama administration has - on issues both foreign and domestic - adopted as its own some of what the president's supporters refer to derisively as "Bush-era tactics."

In one of the latest examples, the White House decided to continue the Bush administration's controversial practice of rendition, which amounts to shipping terrorism suspects to third-party countries for detention and interrogation. Liberals used to complain that this practice was an invitation to torture and other forms of mistreatment. In fact, former detainees insist they were indeed tortured in some host countries. The administration promises that the State Department will closely monitor how prisoners are treated to ensure they're not abused. And, officials insist, the countries have offered "diplomatic assurances" that they'll be on their best behavior. Still, human rights advocates condemned the decision. They noted that the Bush administration also got "diplomatic assurances" and this didn't stop countries from allegedly committing appalling acts.

And there are more examples of Obama following Bush's lead:

- On Afghanistan, Bush started that war but Obama is dutifully carrying it on. In fact, the president sent an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan this year. That is making his anti-war supporters uneasy, and prompting the media to compare Obama to Lyndon Johnson, whose presidency failed because of the Vietnam War.

- On outsourcing military operations, the Bush administration utilized the private security firm Blackwater, now known as Xe Services LLC, to offset troop shortages. According to recent news accounts, the contractor in 2004 was given operational control over what had been a secret CIA program to kill top al-Qaeda leaders. The program was canceled before any missions were carried out. According to experts familiar with the security company, the Obama administration continues to do a lot of business with Xe. Jeremy Scahill, author of the best-seller "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," said in a recent television interview that the Obama administration has more than $100 million in contracts with the firm for work in Afghanistan.

- On anti-terrorism policies, the Bush administration was criticized by civil libertarians for its lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach to detaining terror suspects. Now Attorney General Eric Holder has said that, should a prisoner intend to harm the United States, "we will do all that we can to ensure that that person remains detained." The Obama Justice Department has also followed the lead of its predecessor in arguing that the 600 prisoners at Bagram air base in Afghanistan (aka "Obama's Guantanamo") may not challenge their detention in U.S. courts. And, it tried to quash a lawsuit challenging the rendition policy and warrantless wiretap program - just as the Bush Justice Department had done earlier.

- On education reform, the administration is pursuing an initiative called "Race to the Top." Its emphasis on greater accountability, more testing, merit pay for teachers, and higher standards mirrors what the Bush administration trumpeted in No Child Left Behind. So it's out with NCLB, and in with RTT.

- Finally, on immigration policy, the administration continues many of the same enforcement measures - workplace raids, deportations, prosecutions - that infuriated those on the left during the Bush administration. And it is doing so for the same reason. Like Bush, Obama wants to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to legalization. The president has suggested that the best way to make that controversial reform more palatable to voters is to beef up enforcement measures.

How's that for "change we can believe in"?

So what gives? Here are three options: Either Obama is learning that being president is much more difficult than running for president, or he's a bigger pragmatist than we thought, or he never really believed President Bush was as bad he made him out to be during the campaign.

And whatever brought them to this point, Obama supporters only have two options: Stand by their man, or their principles.

Copyright 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

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Ruben Navarrette

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