The upcoming U.S. presidential election is a choice between two halves of the same establishment. To be sure, there are real differences in terms of specific economic policies and social issues, but these are all subordinated to a shared set of imperial goals. The unity of purpose in the establishment is best evidenced by the false populism of the Obama administration.

Although Obama masterfully portrayed himself in 2008 as an anti-establishment, non-mainstream candidate, even as someone who transcends politics, an examination of his subsequent decisions shows that he is just a standard establishment Democrat, in the mold of John Kerry. Much like Senator Kerry, he is part of the imperialist mainstream on geopolitical matters, and to the left only on so-called social issues. His economic policies are unremarkable boilerplate 1970s Keynesian statism, and seem progressive only to those who have lost memory of that era.

It was apparent that Obama was an establishment Democrat even before he took office. Shortly after being elected, he announced his intention to nominate Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary, Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Geithner, formerly head of the New York Fed, was a favorite of both parties to lead the bailout of the big banks. Gates was a holdover from the Bush administration, which supposedly had been bungling the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The choice of Clinton as Secretary of State effectively turned the Democratic primaries into a farce, since Obama had distinguished himself from Clinton primarily on foreign policy. Evidently, much of what was said on the campaign was pure politicking. Once elected, Obama fell in line with the establishment from which he had promised deliverance.

On the military and security front, where Obama had postured as an opponent of Bush’s militarism, he now pursued the same general policies as the Bush administration. Shortly after inauguration, Obama backed off his promise to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq in 16 months. Instead, he merely followed the timetable negotiated by Bush (in late 2008) to withdraw all troops by the end of 2011. In 2011, the Obama administration actually tried to keep 4000-5000 troops in Iraq as “trainers” to deter Iran beyond the end of the year, but Iraq refused and all troops were withdrawn. Yes, by the end, Obama was pushing for a longer stay in Iraq than what Bush had negotiated.

Meanwhile, Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, and in 2011, pursued a war of choice against Libya. Unlike the war in Iraq, where the Bush administration at least presented some flimsy evidence that Iraq posed a threat to the U.S., the Obama administration attempted no such pretense. The administration simply demanded regime change as an ultimatum, without even pretending that Libya had threatened the U.S. They reversed the outcome of a civil war, under the cover of a UN-mandated humanitarian mission, following the modus operandi of Clintonian imperialism in the 1990s. Indeed, the Libya affair appeared to have been prompted by Clinton’s State Department, and long-term Clintonite Leon Panetta was soon moved from head of the CIA to Defense Secretary.

The pathetic attempts by Democrats to defend the Libya invasion only highlighted their renunciation of principle in favor of power. Yet how could it be otherwise, when the very symbol of liberal idealism proved to be just another politician?

Obama’s duplicity was further evidenced by domestic security issues. He reneged on his promise to stop holding prisoners in Guantanamo, supposedly because this was impracticable, yet now his administration is fighting to reduce prisoner-attorney contact below what was allowed by the Bush administration, and to make the issue of attorney access decided by military and intelligence agencies rather than the federal courts. This action shows that the continuation of detention at Guantanamo is not reluctant or coerced. This Obama is the real Obama, and the campaigner was just trying to win votes.

The much maligned TSA security theater implemented under the Bush administration was actually enhanced under Obama, with virtual strip searching of passengers. The same liberals who complained that the USA PATRIOT Act infringed on civil liberties now had to endure from one of their own a more egregious affront to our right against unreasonable search and seizure, even after the bogeyman of Bin Laden had been killed. Indeed, the TSA chief Joe Pistole gives the same asinine Bush-era “reasoning” that the fact we haven’t had another 9/11 is justification of current security measures. The U.S. has not become less of police state under Obama; if anything, it is more so.

Shall we look at economic matters? Apart from accepting the TARP bailout, which at least was vetted by Congress, Obama also countenanced the much more gratuitous handout by Geithner called TALF, which bypassed Congress altogether. In fact, we do not know exactly how much money Treasury has given away to various “too big to fail” entities. This in addition to the $1.2 trillion lent by the Fed in late 2008. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was nonetheless re-nominated by Obama. The recipients of this largesse have not been held to account, as banks still have nearly all the powers they had before the crisis, while the taxpayers have been left at a loss. Even the GM bailout, sometimes hailed as a success, left the taxpayers with stock valued less than purchase price.

Obama’s most substantive achievement, health insurance reform, also shows signs of the same institutional timidity that characterizes much of his administration. Originally, the President sought to reform healthcare, recognizing that much of the cost increase is driven by providers rather than insurers. This earned him ire for “blaming doctors,” so he subsequently restricted so-called “healthcare reform” to the issue of insurance. Later, he withdrew the so-called “public option” since it was easily vilified as “socialist,” though a more real problem was that it could not both pay for itself and cost less than private insurance. The liberal promise of something for nothing meets up with hard actuarial reality at some point. The watered down Obamacare offends no moneyed interest. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies are delighted to have more guaranteed customers, and even insurance companies cannot be too displeased, since the same rules apply to all companies and they will not have unfair competition with a government option. If Obamacare increases the cost of insurance, this can be passed on to the consumer.

I make these observations not to persuade people to vote Republican, but rather to transcend partisan thinking. Too many worthy intellects are crippled by the belief that they must fly their flag on a certain mast only because the other side are bigger scoundrels. Worse, the partisans of one side will heap vitriol on those of the opposite allegiance, when in reality the leaders of both parties are working for the same entrenched interests. I will not hurl invective at my fellow slave because I like my master better than his. Instead, I will exhort him to stop choosing between masters.

Before judging Obama too harshly, we must recall that even the most principled person in public office will find that he must navigate through a labyrinth of vested institutional interests. Tampering with these interests can have unforeseen, possibly disastrous consequences on economics and society. While we may complain that our society is unjustly run for the interests of a few, we at the same time have a love of stability and predictability that prevents even our liberal-minded leaders from daring serious reform. How many “progressives” would be truly willing to risk their cushy lifestyle for the sake of their principles?