Yesterday's DOMA decision, the recent decisions on the Voting Rights Act, and the abortion standoff in Texas illustrate where the two parties are farthest apart. Namely, social issues. The two parties could not be more different in terms of views on women's equality, civil rights, gender equity, religion, immigration, diversity or other hot button issues. The Republican Party is the party of straight white Christian male supremacy, pure and simple. That's how its always been and that's how they want to keep it. The Democrats embrace the whole of the American people. Democrats want everyone included. The difference is stark and glaring. Furthermore, Republicans are on the losing side of this argument as their constituency ages and declines in number. In contrast, the Democrats are growing. So if you think there are no differences between Obama and Bush on gay rights, civil rights, women's equality, you name it, you're completely clueless. The two parties are far apart and in direct contrast on these issues. Democrats know they are winning on these fronts, so they are happy to highlight them.
Perhaps one could include climate change as an issue that defines differences as well. Republicans don't even believe in it. And healthcare could be an issue that defines differences as well, albeit mystifyingly so. The ObamaCare plan is the Republican healthcare plan of 20-years ago: private insurance within a personal responsibility regulatory scheme. That's why Mitt Romney adopted it. Its just too bad for him a black guy did the same thing and the GOP let their racism overrule their commitment to big business.
But when folks say the two parties are essentially the same, they are talking about things other than social issues. For example, the national security state. Both parties are in strong support of a large military-industrial complex, vast military and intelligence powers, and expansive powers for law enforcement, prosecutors and prisons. There are, of course, minor differences here an there. For example Iran: Both parties support regime change in Iran, but one is in a hurry to go to war while the other will go to war more tentatively. But neither party supports a policy of containment. On keeping American military assets deployed around China, agreement. On continuing a vast defense budget, with a few trims here and there, agreement. Israel, agreement.
Take trade policy. Both parties are fully in support of free trade agreements. Both parties routinely vote for and advocate agreements that favor multinational corporations. The differences you find between Democratic leaders and Republican leaders on are minor. The general thrust is always in the same direction on both ends of our political leadership spectrum.
Take education policy. Both parties support the expansion of charter schools at the expense of heavier funding for public schools. And for teaching to the test. Name one Democratic national leader or state leadership that has acted differently. Of course, there is some debate over the amount of school budgets, but essentially they're both moving in the same direction.
But most of all, in economic policy, the two parties are in largely in agreement. Both parties favor a low tax, lightly regulated economy with a focus on low inflation and minimal deficits. There is some disagreement about where tax rates ought to be and how much money to print, etc. But these are usually only difference of a few points here and there. There is some disagreement about regulation: Republicans want zero and Democrats want light regulation. But neither party is in favor of heavy European-style market regulation and industrial planning. Nor is either party in favor of heavy government intervention reduce unemployment and income inequality. The parties squabble over these things with heavy vitriol for political reasons, but if you step back and look at the big picture the differences between them aren't all that vast. As the president has said, 20 years ago he would be a moderate Republican if you just look at his policies. It is only because Republicans have gone so completely batshit that he looks liberal in comparison.
Both parties are largely funded by wealthy people and therefore are beholden to their interests. The difference is that Democratic rich people are not bigots and warmongers. Consequently, the differences between the parties on social issues is vast. But on other things, the general policy direction of the two parties is largely the same with the differences being minor yet consistently overstated.