If you listen to the mainstream media, you’ll hear a lot about the “partisan divide” in Congress, and how “the ideological middle is dead.” Liberals say that the Republican Party has shifted to the extreme right, alienating its own moderate members, with the prime example being House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s recent defeat to a Tea Party-er in his district’s Republican primary. Conservatives blame the Democrats for shifting to the left, to which some liberals counter that the Republicans have moved further to the right than the Democrats have to the left.
It makes sense that people are considered about the political system’s inefficiency, given the recent government shutdown and Congress’ inability to pass legislation (which might explain its 13% approval rating). But this is not due to any ideological divide. In fact, outside of the few minor talking points that the two parties use against each other, the Democrats and Republicans are in agreement about the major issues facing us today, whether this be in the executive branch (Bush vs. Obama) or in Congress. It would be ridiculous to suggest the two parties are identical (on issues like abortion and gay marriage, the parties differ), but the significant overlap should give you pause next time anyone talks about a “partisan divide.” Here’s a convenient list of their common positions:
- NSA Surveillance/Civil Liberties: This is the most obvious one that comes to mind. The same policies that Bush had began under the PATRIOT Act, like warrantless wiretapping by the NSA, have been radically expanded by President Obama, as revealed by Edward Snowden. In Congress, high-ranking Democrats and Republicans have joined together to defend NSA surveillance.
- Drones and Targeted Assassinations: The drone program under Bush ended up killing a total of about 500 people in Pakistan. Though Obama refused to acknowledge the existence of the program for a while, he ended up killing 2,400 people. When a few libertarian Republicans and progressive Democrats in the Senate spoke against the targeted killings, mainstream Republicans denounced them, while mainstream Democrats simply ignored them.
- “Extraordinary Rendition”/Torture: The Guantanamo Bay prison, a relic of Bush’s War on Terror which Obama promised to close during the 2008 election, remains open, now with force-feeding (which the UN condemns as torture) to prevent hunger strikes. Meanwhile, extraordinary rendition (seizing suspected criminals from another country) has been considered acceptable by both parties, albeit with more oversight under Obama.
- US Foreign Policy in Latin America: While Bush removed from power Haiti’s democratically elected President Aristide in 2004 and actively supported the coup in Venezuela in 2002, where democracy is under siege again, Obama supported two violent coups in Honduras and Paraguay. Aside from a small minority of (mostly Democrats) Congress, neither party has made a fuss about the millions in foreign aid and arms sales that keep flowing to military dictatorships in Latin America.
- US Foreign Policy Toward Israel/Palestine: Congress’s top recipients of funding from the pro-Israel group AIPAC include members from both parties. Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, it’s a bipartisan matter that the US must continue to support the Israeli occupation, the blockade of Gaza, and the $1 billion in annual US aid to Israel. Moreover, the US has vetoed UN Resolutions critical of Israel under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
- Environmental Policy: In Congress, Republicans lambast Obama’s “war on coal,” while Democrats push for support for “clean coal.” Both parties refuse to eliminate oil and gas subsidies. While it’s true that Obama has pushed a flimsy cap-and-trade measure recently, and Democrats in general are less inclined to deny climate change than Republicans, it’s important to note that Obama has pushed hydrofracking for natural gas (which may be worse for the climate than coal), approved half of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline for tar sands oil (one of the dirtiest fuels), and allowed BP to “clean” its oil spill with a harmful dispersant.
- Social Security: Neither party will invest the political capital to call for getting rid of Social Security, since it’s a pretty popular program, but they both agree that SS is “bankrupt” or “broken.” Whereas Bush tried to privatize Social Security, Obama has floated a proposal to cut benefits before taking it off the table because of popular opposition.
- Health Care Policy: Similar to Social Security, both parties generally agree that Medicare is going bankrupt. When it comes to Obamacare, partisanship is obviously on display, with Republicans trying to repeal Obama’s signature law 50 times. If you take a closer look at the actual proposal, Obamacare is similar to the kind of healthcare reform preferred by Republicans for decades. The fact that both parties receive millions in campaign funds from pharmaceutical and health insurance companies might explain why single-payer health care (a system with significant advantages) is not considered “politically feasible.“
- Agriculture: Both parties in Congress have supported and continued to pass laws granting billions in agricultural subsidies, most of which go to wealthy farmers. Since both parties (Republicans more so) receive campaign funds from Monsanto, the largest seller of GMO seeds, it’s not surprising that a GMO labeling bill, preferred by 93% of Americans, was handily defeated in Congress.
- Military Spending: Republicans have called out Obama for wanting to cut military spending, but a closer look reveals Obama has actually fought cuts to the military. Under Obama, military spending has continued to go up. Maintaining our $1.2 trillion annual war budget is a bipartisan concern.
- Iraq War: This isn’t one where both parties completely agree, but the similarities are more striking than the differences. Remember that the launch of the war itself was bipartisan. Of course, in the aftermath of the war, Republicans blame Iraq’s instability on Obama’s withdrawal, urging more US action. The Democrats are not engaged in any kind of fundamental critique of the war, however. Obama called it a “strategic blunder,” instead of condemning the war as a crime of aggression, a violation of international law; the Democrats see the war as misguided, but both parties see the war as well-intentioned.
- Free Trade Agreements: Bush touted his commitment to free trade, and his administration ended up ramming through the Central American FTA (CAFTA). This had less to do with trade, and more to do with protecting investors’ rights and patent privileges. As a result, prices for medicines have soared in developing countries and workers’ rights to bargain have been undermined. Now, Obama is pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in which companies can sue governments for pursuing policies (labor, environmental, health) that infringe on their right to profit.
- Education: Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind Act, which emphasized standardized testing and increased federal spending on education, was followed by Obama’s Race to the Top, which evaluates and punishes teachers based on kids’ test scores. In Congress, there’s bipartisan support for charter schools, despite evidence that charters often cherry-pick the best students to improve their rankings.