Obama Is Clintonian on the Deficit

Here's Rand Paul (via Matt Welch) saying Clinton was preferable to Bush:

Imagine this—what if there had never been a President George W. Bush, and when Bill Clinton left office he was immediately replaced with Barack Obama. Now imagine Obama had governed from 2000 to 2008 exactly as Bush did–doubling the size of government, doubling the debt, expanding federal entitlements and education, starting the Iraq war–the whole works.

He says Republicans would never have given Obama the free pass they gave Bush, and calls the inconsistency “inexcusable.” But follow Paul's alternate universe to its next logical step: After Obama-as-Bush left office, what policy would 2008’s new president have engaged in?

That illustrates what Paul leaves unsaid: The vast majority of deficit spending since January 2009 was baked into the cake long before Obama arrived – rising health-care costs, the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the bank bailout, and above all, the recession. On top of that came $801 billion for the thoroughly bipartisan extension of the Bush tax cuts, and $787 billion for the stimulus.

So, of the approximately $4.1 trillion in debt we've racked up since Obama’s inauguration, a mere $787 billion (17 percent) can be attributed solely to Obama’s agenda. The rest would almost certainly have occurred under any new president, liberal or conservative, confronting 2009’s realities. What Paul won’t acknowledge is that, given the hand he was dealt, Obama’s fiscal restraint has been impressive – certainly superior to Bush. Possibly even Clintonian.