'Not President Bush'

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, October 16, 2008; 11:48 AM

Debating in the shadow of a financial collapse and a presidency that has been found wanting, Republican presidential candidate John McCain made his most dramatic attempt yet to distance himself from his party's leader last night.

"I am not President Bush," McCain told Democratic candidate Barack Obama during the final presidential debate. "If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago. I'm going to give a new direction to this economy in this country."

But at last night's debate on domestic policy, Obama repeatedly tied McCain to Bush's dismal legacy -- particularly his economic policies.

"When President Bush came into office, we had a budget surplus and the national debt was a little over $5 trillion. It has doubled over the last eight years. And we are now looking at a deficit of well over half a trillion dollars," Obama said. "So one of the things that I think we have to recognize is pursuing the same kinds of policies that we pursued over the last eight years is not going to bring down the deficit. And, frankly, Senator McCain voted for four out of five of President Bush's budgets. We've got to take this in a new direction, that's what I propose as president."

After McCain's not-Bush retort, Obama continued to press his point: "The fact of the matter is that if I occasionally have mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people, on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush.

"Now, you've shown independence -- commendable independence, on some key issues like torture, for example, and I give you enormous credit for that. But when it comes to economic policies, essentially what you're proposing is eight more years of the same thing. And it hasn't worked. And I think the American people understand it hasn't worked. We need to move in a new direction."

McCain, for his part, ticked off his differences from Bush: "It's very clear that I have disagreed with the Bush administration. I have disagreed with leaders of my own party. I've got the scars to prove it. Whether it be bringing climate change to the floor of the Senate for the first time. Whether it be opposition to spending and earmarks, whether it be the issue of torture, whether it be the conduct of the war in Iraq, which I vigorously opposed. Whether it be on fighting the pharmaceutical companies on Medicare prescription drugs, importation. Whether it be fighting for an HMO patient's bill of rights. Whether it be the establishment of the 9/11 Commission. I have a long record of reform and fighting through on the floor of the United States Senate."

And he concluded with another dig at the current president: "My friends, as I said in my opening remarks, these are very difficult times and challenges for America. And they were graphically demonstrated again today. America needs a new direction. We cannot be satisfied with what we've been doing for the last eight years."

Steve Benen blogs for Washington Monthly about this morning's new campaign ads. McCain's starts off: "The last eight years haven't worked very well, have they? I'll make the next four better." Obama's ad shows footage of McCain saying: "I voted with the president over 90% of the time -- higher than a lot of my even Republican colleagues."

Playing Politics

R. Jeffrey Smith writes in The Washington Post about the "at least 303 out-of-town trips by senior Bush appointees meant to lend prestige or bring federal grants to 99 politically endangered Republicans [in 2006], in a White House campaign that House Democratic investigators yesterday called unprecedented in scope and scale.

"Federal law prohibits the use of public funds or resources for partisan activities . . . but the agencies involved said most of the trips were paid for by taxpayer funds, according to the draft report released by the Democratic majority of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. . . .

"A July 2006 White House e-mail said that as the elections got closer, officials would have to participate in at least five 'recommended events' per month. The message went to the appointed liaisons at 18 departments and agencies, who sometimes functioned like political commissars, enforcing discipline and rallying top appointees to the cause."

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