It has been a refrain during the exhausting battle for the Democratic presidential nomination that once Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama emerged as the party’s choice, we could finally dispense with the personality battles and get down to nitty-gritty policy differences. Indeed, now that Obama seems to have the position locked up, he and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain will have plenty to argue about. But some might be surprised at the breadth of issues on which they largely agree.
On McCain’s side, this is understandable. With a Republican president experiencing some of the worst approval ratings ever, it’s no shock that the party opted for an unusually centrist candidate. Yet Obama, too, represents a break from Democratic orthodoxy and is reaching out to the middle. This could indicate that on certain policies, something like a national consensus is developing. It at least signals a lessening of the partisan divide that has blocked progress on important changes.
Here are the biggest plots of common ground:
* National security. Surprisingly, given McCain’s reputation as a hawk and Obama’s as a peacenik, they don’t differ much in their ideas about how best to protect the country. Both want to increase the size of the military and provide more training and equipment. Both oppose the use of torture as an interrogation technique, and both would like to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
* Immigration. Lately, McCain has been trying to shore up conservative support by backing away from bills he cosponsored in 2005 and 2006, which would create a guest worker program and provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants; now he says he’d focus on securing the border first. Yet that doesn’t stop him from touting his immigration reforms when visiting states like California, with high populations of Latino voters and many companies that employ immigrants. Obama backs identical goals.
* Environment. The differences between the two on the environment tend to be a matter of degree. They support the same policies, but in general Obama wants tougher (and costlier) regulation. Both want to create a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases -- Obama’s would reduce them to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, while McCain’s would cut them by 60%. Both want more energy-efficiency programs and renewable energy, though Obama would spend more to get them. McCain is a big proponent of nuclear power, an issue Obama has largely avoided thus far.
* Social issues. Of the three biggest issues of the day -- abortion, same-sex marriage and embryonic stem-cell research -- Obama and McCain agree on two. That is, both oppose a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and both would like to eliminate restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell studies. McCain, though, is an outspoken abortion opponent who wants to see Roe vs. Wade overturned and would appoint Supreme Court justices who share that view. Obama is pro-choice.
The two candidates disagree more often than they agree, and are poles apart on Iraq, taxation, international trade, healthcare and gun control, to name just a few issues. Yet there is common ground even in areas of opposition. On foreign policy, much has been made over their dispute about negotiating directly with rogue states like Iran. Yet nuclear nonproliferation is a top foreign policy priority for both. They have different plans to solve the mortgage crisis, but both favor government assistance to help people stay in their homes.
Some might complain that this means voters will have little to choose between in November. We say: Welcome to the middle, candidates. We hope you stick around here once you’re in office, unlike the White House’s current occupant.