Bush vs. Kerry
The choice this year is between George W. Bush and John Kerry. So, let's compare them.
Let's start with economic policy. Under Clinton, total Federal spending fell from 21.4% of GDP to 18.6% (F/Y 2001). Under Bush, it has risen back to 20.2% (F/Y 2004). Source State Department.
Even if we take out the effect of military spending, Bush has still spent a lot of money. If we look only at non-Defense discretionary spending, Bush scores as one of the biggest spenders. In the last 40 years, the biggest increases in real discretionary spending were FY 1966 and 1967, under Lyndon Johnson. That is to be expected. What is more surprising is that the third, forth, and fifth largest increases were 2002, 2003, and 2004: George W. Bush's three budgets. Source: The Republican Spending Explosion. Another was to look at it is to compare the results of the first four years in office for each President. Lyndon Johnson was the most liberal, Ronald Reagan was the most conservative. You would expect that. What's surprising is who is in second place. The second most conservative President was Bill Clinton, the second most liberal was George W. Bush.
Entitlement spending dropped from 10.2% to 10.1% under Clinton and rose to 10.9% under Bush. Source: Congressional Budget Office.
Clinton abolished welfare. Bush expanded Medicare to include drugs. Clinton abolished an entitlement program, Bush created one.
Clinton pushed for and got passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Bush imposed limitations on steel imports, hurting steel uses and our exporters, to gain political advantage in Pennsylvania. Clinton was a free-trader, Bush is a protectionist.
So, on economic matters Bush has governed from the left of Clinton.
Now consider foreign policy. The problems with Iraq are well known. See my essay on Iraq. What's not so well known is that Bush's Iraq policies are just a continuation of Clinton's policies. In Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti, Clinton used the American military to try to create new governments. Ironically, during the 2000 Presidential campaign, Bush criticized Clinton for that. Here is what he said during the debates about Somalia: "Started off as a humanitarian mission and it changed into a nation-building mission, and that's where the mission went wrong. The mission was changed. And as a result, our nation paid a price. And so I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building. I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win war. I think our troops ought to be used to help overthrow the dictator when it's in our best interests. But in this case it was a nation-building exercise, and same with Haiti. I wouldn't have supported either."
This should be considered George W. Bush's version of George H. W. Bush's "read my lips, no new taxes" promise. The interesting thing is that Kerry supports those policies also. He voted for the authorization to use force in Iraq and has argued for sending more troops to Iraq. So, on foreign policy, there's not much difference between the parties.
Overall, Bush is slightly to the left of Clinton and probably Kerry as well.