What, Bush is better?
Interestingly, disregarding final impacts, Bush outpoints Obama as proficient chief executive: his administration corralled more effective staff that enacted more initial agenda (all but privatizing Social Security). Bush (or Cheney or Rove) elevated ruthless operatives, topped with this historic breakthrough: empowering the overbearing Cheney into autocratic prime minister. Unlike Obama's rough equivalence, the ham-fisted Rahm Emanuel, Cheney the grizzled hack knew how to smack down Congress and Washington with imperial abandon. Why else does cantankerous, lawless, neo-con thinking rule to this day, at home and abroad, casting truth-telling Snowdens as enemies of the state?
In contrast, Obama failed to secure hardnosed hotshots to enact his far more ambitious promises: major, systemic reforms plus countermanding eight years of abuses. Recall Obama's instructive, painful opening months when top picks stumbled and fell. Thus, prizes went to Hillary at State (nod solely to politics, not diplomatic expertise), Summers and Geithner on money (yikes!), a dim, yes-man attorney general, and a weak V.P. diametrically opposed to Cheney.
Most telling about his Peace Prize mentality abroad, Obama is the only president to carry over a Defense chief from the other party, despite pledges to curb warfare and militarism. That turned out well. Domestically, Obama broadcast his amateur legislative status when relegating his signature health care to the breathtaking tomfoolery of Congress. He compounded the fiasco by never clarifying his hills to die on, if any. What historic American reform shone forth after a monumental default to the snakepit on the Hill? Did Reagan, Bush I or Clinton White Houses even think to forfeit so much hard-earned power? Not on your life.
What, Bush more honest?
Bush was also more forthright when first campaigning than Obama. Except to play down nation-building, Dubya foretold his devilish plans, on taxes, deregulation, scope of government, and grievous trade-offs between "security" and "freedom." Bush-Cheney lied relentlessly when war-making, and on the Libby-Plame affair, yet Obama in the big picture looks the greater hypocrite. If anything, the status quo, especially across banking, energy, military and lobbyist leverage, is more entrenched now than in 2008. That will explain, when Obama's negatives descend near Bush's, that people don't much distinguish a powerful, wicked failure with catastrophic judgment from a wimpy, more likeable failure who didn't fight to leverage huge political capital.
That Obama's learning curve is broken emerges in his current befuddled optimism: about Congress (yes, worthy partners all), or economics (the audacity of re-hawking Summers), or Russia (my buddy Putin). I think I can, I think I can. That adds to his woeful past record of getting snookered by reckless generals, like promoting nutcase Gen. McChrystal or backing Gen. Patraeus' costly, doomed surge, with prescribed thresholds. Afghanistan wobbles like bombed-over Iraq, and drone excesses only cement our infamy as hated invaders.
Obama boasts one asset Bush can't match: no cadre of power brokers elevated this long-shot, a distinction on par with status as first minority president. Unlike Dubya and Reagan (handpicked governors to launch White House runs), or JFK (paternally-anointed senator, then president), or Bush I (riding a family dynasty), Obama's personal ambition let him do it his way. Alas, his lousy outcome undermines the democratic spirit of rugged individualism: the self-driven, self-made guy performed little better than party hacks raised up by power elites.
Celebrity popularity contest
Today's stalemate defines governance as gamesmanship that worships the status quo. Or regression, measured by Speaker Boehner's eye-opener: judge us by what we repeal. Structural gridlock gets punctuated with a four-year circus of campaigning, fundraising, and media hype, spewing forth more TV celebrity politicians. Indeed, politics now mimics TV, with duplicative shows and stars every season that produce crude popularity galas: who's the lesser bonehead, who comes across as "genuine," who inspires more fire-breathing zealots.