By Justin Sink - 04/25/13 09:00 AM EDT
Striking parallels are emerging between President Obama and former President George W. Bush as the pair converges Thursday in Dallas for the dedication of the Bush presidential library.
Though Obama ran in 2008 as the antidote to the administration under Bush, defined by unpopular wars and economic strife, the challenges of his second term mirror those of his predecessor.
Obama is also engaging in a second-term battle with Congress over immigration reform that covers the same issues as when Bush unsuccessfully sought legislation in 2006.
The president will have an opportunity to reflect on those similarities Thursday in his remarks at the Bush library, which houses more than 43,000 artifacts, 70 million pages of paper records and 200 million emails. Obama, Bush and the other three living former presidents, including Bush’s father, will be in attendance.
Asked to reflect on his predecessor’s term in an interview with NBC ahead of the ceremony, Obama said he now realized that the presidency was “a humbling job.”
“There’s no doubt that anybody who takes on this job has a greater appreciation for the challenges involved,” the president said.
On terrorism, Obama has described the fight against al Qaeda as an “ongoing obligation” he shared with Bush. And while he was critical of Bush’s methods as a candidate, he has copied many of the previous administration’s techniques since entering office.
Obama sought to close the Guantánamo Bay detainee camp opened by Bush, but has been unsuccessful. He’s also withdrawn forces from Iraq, a process that had been started already under Bush, and added troops to the fight in Afghanistan.
The president has continued — and in some examples strengthened — the use of warrantless surveillance and military detentions used by Bush, and has been reticent to declassify information. On Tuesday, the White House opted against sending a witness to a Senate hearing on its drone program.
A poll conducted earlier this year by The Hill found that Americans believe Obama is no better at protecting civil liberties than Bush.
White House officials acknowledge the parallels between the two presidents.
“There is a commonality of experience that the president believes binds them together,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. “The responsibilities of the office are the same.”
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told The Associated Press this week that the war on terrorism binds Obama and Bush.
“The basic similarity is these are the only two presidents that have governed in a post-9/11 era where the principal threat to the United States comes from terrorism,” he told the AP.
Obama was the anti-war candidate in the 2008 Democratic primary and was harshly critical of Bush’s policies.
But as president, he has at times praised the previous administration’s work.
He credited the death of Osama bin Laden “to many people in many organizations working together over many years — across two administrations.”
As a senator, Obama supported Bush’s immigration reform effort but has been blamed by some for the bill’s collapse in 2006. Obama voted for an amendment to the guest worker program opposed by the bill’s lead sponsor that some saw as a poison pill.
As president, he will seek to fight off similar efforts in the coming debate.
“There is a sense of Groundhog Day to this,” Peter Wehner, the former director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, told Newsweek.
The similarities between the Bush and Obama presidencies extend into other domestic policies. Both championed the expansion of federal medical benefits — Obama with his signature healthcare reform law and Bush with his Medicare prescription drug plan. For both presidents, the costs and controversies surrounding implementation serve as a persistent drag.
Moreover, both presidents have suggested reforms to Social Security as a solution to the nation’s persistent debt crisis.
Bush’s privatization plan died swiftly with progressives in the Senate. Some liberal senators, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have promised a similar fate for Obama’s budget proposal, which would trade slower interest rate growth on benefits for new taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
While Bush and Obama’s political philosophies could hardly be confused, the circumstances of their time — and the limited toolbox available to the president — are reflected in the similarities of their choices.
In a speech at the unveiling of Bush’s official portrait last year at the White House, Obama acknowledged that his time in office had given him “a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the presidents who came before me — including my immediate predecessor.”
“That’s why, from time to time, those of us who have had the privilege to hold this office find ourselves turning to the only people on Earth who know the feeling,” Obama said.