I think some of the ways in which a generic Democratic president differs from a Republican are well-known to informed observers, if they tend to drop out of discussions of the topic. A Democrat will put better people on the NLRB, for example. The composition of the federal courts — not just the Supreme Court, not just Roe v. Wade, but the many important cases decided in the federal courts as a whole — is affected greatly by who holds the White House, and 2012 will be particularly important in this regard. The revitalization of civil and voting rights enforcement, to put it mildly, would not have happened under John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales, the very imperfect civil rights and liberties record of Holder notwithstanding.
On national security, there may be less divergence than one would like, but there still is critical divergence. In one of the recent Paul threads, Alan and SF notes that the Iraq War has had (among its countless other bad effects) a deleterious effect on the reproductive health of Iraqi women. Very true. The problem comes when he attributes these effects to “the permanent war doctrine,” implying that Paul is right to blame both parties equally.
The problem, obviously, is that this isn’t true. It’s not only that Obama has ended the Iraq War when John McCain almost certainly would not have. It’s that the Iraq War happening was contingent on the results of the 2000 election. I suppose we cannot know to an absolute certainty that Al Gore would not have invaded Iraq, but since he opposed the war when there was no political benefit to doing so, it’s the most reasonable assumption. (And, again, let us note that the Iraq War would not have been possible had St. Ralph Nader* not fulfilled his goal of throwing the election to George W. Bush, because after all what’s the difference between a centrist Democrat and a guy who governed to the right of the Texas legislature?) Moreover, unlike some other national security and civil liberties issues, opposition to the Iraq War had a functioning constituency within the Democratic Party. Not only the party’s 2000 candidate for president — Hillary Clinton would almost certainly be president today had she voted against the AUMF. Of Ron Paul’s handful of decent positions, some represent instances of real convergence between the two parties (most notably the drug war.) But the Iraq War ain’t one of them.
*The flirtation of some leftier-than-thous with Ron Paul and his campaign to restore the Articles of Confederation reminds me of nothing so much as Nader’s open letter to the Texas Republicans. Although, in fairness, while the Paul-curious at least focus on the few positive aspects of drowning the federal government in a bathtub Nader openly lauded some of the authoritarian aspects of Texas wingnuttery.