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“Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its Faults, if they are such; because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well administered; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a Course of Years, and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”     Benjamin Franklin,    Final Speech at the Constitutional Convention

May 27, 2008

You Can’t Believe In Limited Government And Want Barack Obama In The White House

by Doug Mataconis

Andrew Sullivan, who has been in the tank for Barack Obama ever since he realized that Ron Paul was pretty much a non-entity, posts about this critique of his support for Obama:

Sullivan, a Burkean by philosophy but a radical by temperament, is the most interesting critic of his former conservative allies, and I’ve learned a lot about conservatism agonistes from reading his blog. He says that conservatism isn’t about solving problems but about recognizing the limits of man’s ability to do so, especially in the form of organized activity called government. His breakdown can’t help stacking the deck: conservatism is modest, skeptical, narrowly focussed on what can be done; liberalism tries, promiscuously, to satisfy everyone’s needs. Sullivan believes that the Republican Party went astray when it forgot its philosophical principles and started throwing more feed at the hogs of the electorate than Democrats. He is, in the terms of my article, a purist rather than a reformist, but his unhappiness with the movement is so great that it’s driven him into the arms of his exact opposite, Barack Obama, who is philosophically liberal and temperamentally conservative.

Sullivan knows that his Oakeshottian version of conservatism is a very hard sell in a country that expects problems to come with solutions, and he seems to acknowledge that its future here belongs with the reformists like David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and Reihan Salam, who are readier than he is to accept that people have a right to want their government to improve their lives, not just to instruct them in the vanity of human effort. I read Sullivan every day, partly to find out how far his disenchantment will carry him in the very strange direction of Obama-style uplift—how long his temperament will win out over his ideas.

To which Sullivan responds:

It’s a little hard to know how to respond to such a perceptive critique. But, yeah, it’s true. Intellectually, I find so much of Obama’s substance domestically to be anathema. (This is not true of his tilt back toward realism and diplomacy in foreign policy, which could be seen as a return to conservative principles after Bush’s Wilsonianism). I haven’t sat through a single Obama speech without ideologically wincing at something. I fear that in the general election, his recourse to liberal tropes will begin to wear thin.

So why do I find myself still longing for him to win?

Because, I can’t see how domestic policy could become more statist and less responsible than the past eight years. Because I want to see such a record punished with electoral defeat for fear they still don’t know what they did wrong. Because I think Obama’s diplomatic skills and public relations brilliance could serve this country very well. And because of what Obama represents in our collective consciousness.

Umm, okay, let’s see how things could become more statist. Increased government involvement in health care to the point where individual choice becomes even more irrelevant than it is today. Increased “social welfare” spending. Increased subsidies to so-called distressed industries. And, oh yeah, let’s not forget the fact that he opposes a free trade agenda that has pretty much defined America since the end of World War II.

Sully goes on:

His candidacy is about renewing what America means to the world and to itself. It is about a collective cultural healing – especially on race. It is about representing the next generation and America’s less domineering but more inspiring place among nations. It is about transparency in government. It is about getting past this brutal cultural polarization for a while. It is about putting reason back into our discourse after the emotional manipulation of the Morris-Rove era. It is about ending torture, restoring Constitutional balance, and adding the power of words, of great words, to restore hope again.

This may sound lofty, but I do not think it is lofty in the way utopian liberalism suggests. It is lofty the way Reagan was lofty and Kennedy was lofty, which transcends ideology. Set apart from their actual achievements in office (on which scale Reagan dwarfs Kennedy), they both recast this country’s self-understanding – and the world’s understanding of America. This shift occurs in the heart, and it is not about promising heaven on earth. It is about being all we can be at this moment in history. It is about us – not policy; our self-understanding – not self-recreation.

Being all we can be ? Is this an advertisement for the United States Army or a debate on where America is headed over the next twenty years ?

Clearly, Sully’s still caught up in the Obama-mania that was sweeping the nation back in February.

Let’s be realistic about this. Barack Obama isn’t going to change the world and he isn’t going to make everything better. In fact, given the fact that he has absolutely no executive experience, it’s quite likely that his first two years in office would be something like the initial years of the Clinton Administration, only more incompetent.

I was with Sullivan when he support Obama as the best way to protect America from another four-to-eight years of Clintonism, but now we’re down to brass tacks.

It’s time to be logical here, folks. Barack Obama is a Democrat, and one brought up in the years when the Democratic Party drifted further and further to the left.

That’s the kind of President he’s going to be.

If you believe individual liberty and think that corporate profits are something other than a source of revenue for Barack and Michelle to launch their latest scheme, then even thinking about voting for him for a second is a tremendous mistake.

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25 Comments

  1. Doug,

    Contrast Obama’s positions with McCain’s crusade against free speech, his advocacy of essentially eternal war, his support of a bill that made it possible to torture Americans, and his inability to recognize the sheer incompetence of just about everything Bush has ever proposed and Obama is still the lesser of two evils.

    This isn’t to say that Obama will be good…because I certainly don’t believe that (which is why I won’t vote for him). But whereas Obama’s attacks will be on economic policy and McCain’s attacks will be on fundamental human freedoms, I’d rather have Obama because it’s a hell of a lot easier to reverse bad economic policy than it is to reverse the institution of a police state. That’s why it won’t bother me if my vote for Barr helps to cost McCain the election…the guy whose policy is economically ignorant is a hell of a lot better than the guy whose policy is just flat-out evil and wrong. And I think Obama might be smart enough to learn from his mistakes, whereas I believe that McCain never will.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 27, 2008 @ 3:35 pm
  2. UCrawford,

    Well, then I guess I need to get to work on “You Can’t Believe In Limited Government And Vote For John McCain”

    Or, it’s alternate title — “Thank You, Captain Obvious”

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 27, 2008 @ 4:43 pm
  3. Like I’ve said before, instead of voting for the least-worst candidate in the race, I think things will work out better if we vote for the best candidate in the race. To my mind, that’s Barr. Besides which, the GOP’s only real platform this election year was “If you don’t vote for us, you’ll have President Hillary”, which just goes to show how pathetic the Republicans’ ideas were. And obviously that’s not going to happen now, so fuck ‘em…McCain’s not going to be better than Obama, best case scenario he’ll be the same, so why not vote for the best candidate in the race and screw over McCain?

    Comment by UCrawford — May 27, 2008 @ 4:51 pm
  4. What UC said plus

    Because I want to see such a record punished with electoral defeat for fear they still don’t know what they did wrong. Because I think Obama’s diplomatic skills and public relations brilliance could serve this country very well. And because of what Obama represents in our collective consciousness.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — May 27, 2008 @ 4:57 pm
  5. Crawford,

    Contrast Obama’s positions with McCain’s crusade against free speech, his advocacy of essentially eternal war, his support of a bill that made it possible to torture Americans, and his inability to recognize the sheer incompetence of just about everything Bush has ever proposed and Obama is still the lesser of two evils.

    Assault on free speech that Obama supports; while Obama won’t bomb Iran, I don’t see him withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq; and Obama is already demonstrating lapses in judgement.

    I’ll give you torture though.

    Comment by Kevin — May 27, 2008 @ 5:02 pm
  6. Easy decision for limited government folks – vote for Bob Barr.

    Comment by Ken H — May 27, 2008 @ 5:12 pm
  7. Kevin,

    Obama is already demonstrating lapses in judgment.

    Dude, he’s a Democrat…of course he’s got crap judgment. :) That said, I still believe that Obama is capable of adapting and learning from his mistakes. John McCain, on the other hand, has over the last eight years regressed into a stupid old power-obsessed man who’s unlikely to learn a damn thing from his many errors.

    And, like I said, I’m not voting for Obama anyway…I’m voting for Barr, mainly because he’s the only candidate in this race who I think is worth a vote.

    I’ll give you torture though.

    You’re too kind :) Seriously, though, I think that the torture thing should be the absolute redline. As horrific as many of the presidents we rag on are, none of them have openly advocated the use of torture on detainees (perhaps in private, but never publicly). Lincoln didn’t do it. LBJ didn’t do it. FDR didn’t do it. Essentially, Bush publicly renounced the American tradition of respect for human rights…and McCain has backed that position. That should tell you all you need to know about how badly the GOP needs to get destroyed in this coming election. I’ve always been able to hold my nose to vote Republican as long as they showed at least a grudging respect for our civil liberties because they were usually right on the economics…now they’re almost completely in the wrong on both civil liberties and economics so there’s no reason not to let them get creamed in 2008. Otherwise they’ll never figure out how badly the Bush Republicans have wrecked their party.

    It’s kind of like going out drinking with a buddy who likes to run his mouth when he’s drunk…every once in awhile he crosses a line and you’ve just got to let him get knocked around so the consequences of his actions will sink in :)

    Comment by UCrawford — May 27, 2008 @ 6:46 pm
  8. Kevin,

    while Obama won’t bomb Iran, I don’t see him withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq

    Still better than McCain, who wants to bomb Iran while staying in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Not that he’d actually do it, however…the military hasn’t got the resources to deal with the consequences of what would happen if we did. Iraq and Afghanistan would erupt almost overnight and the generals realize that even if McCain doesn’t.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 27, 2008 @ 6:51 pm
  9. While my vote will likely go to Barr, if I had to choose between McCain and Obama this election I would likely choose McCain for the one sole reason of having divided gov’t. McCain flat out sucks but giving the democrats the reins of the Presidency and the Congress might be even worse. What would be there to stop them from pushing every single socialist program they can think of down our throats? Wars are easier to end then gov’t programs. When was the last time we got rid of a gov’t program. Whenever a gov’t program fails in its mission we expand it, we don’t make it smaller or get rid of it.

    As far as punishing the Republicans, that is all well and good, but what about punishing the Democrats for doing nothing about the war, patriot act, etc. over the last couple of years. Instead we will be rewarding them by giving them the Presidency and the Congress for doing nothing that got them supposedly elected in the last four years (like getting us out of Iraq, ending the Patriot act, etc.). They are as worthy of being punished as the Republicans are.

    About the only way to punish them both is to vote for divided gov’t or for another party.

    Comment by TerryP — May 27, 2008 @ 7:15 pm
  10. TerryP,

    The country survived the two years with a Democratic Congress and Clinton in charge…I think we can make it through Obama and the Dems if it came to that. I’m just sick of the direction the Republicans have gone in, I’m sick of the fanatical religious right and their racist, socialist bullshit, and the Libertarian Party is finally running a candidate worth voting for. So as far as I’m concerned, Election Day 2008 is simply McCain’s day in the barrel.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 27, 2008 @ 8:03 pm
  11. lawlz x 10. you once wrote an article here titled “Why this libertarian is voting for Obama”. jesus dude do you even know who you are?

    Comment by oilnwater — May 28, 2008 @ 2:51 am
  12. you too, UC,

    “I’m just sick of the direction the Republicans have gone in, I’m sick of the fanatical religious right and their <<>>”

    having trouble remembering keeping consistencies straight?

    Comment by oilnwater — May 28, 2008 @ 3:06 am
  13. ah the <<>> erased the important part of the quote “racist, socialist bullshit”

    Comment by oilnwater — May 28, 2008 @ 3:07 am
  14. also mccain’s legislative history, as anyone knows, is quite generous to your beloved immigrants, especially before he entered the 2008 and became a little more afraid of speaking about it. he is quite famous for being one of the most compassionate GOPs, for lack of a better word, towards this strata of the demographic. you should love that.

    Comment by oilnwater — May 28, 2008 @ 3:11 am
  15. “Let’s be realistic about this. Barack Obama isn’t going to change the world and he isn’t going to make everything better. In fact, given the fact that he has absolutely no executive experience, it’s quite likely that his first two years in office would be something like the initial years of the Clinton Administration, only more incompetent.”

    Actually- isn’t this a good thing? About the only anti-liberty things that Clinton accomplished were the assault weapons ban and Waco…not that either of those things were good, mind you. But my point is that the incompetence of the first two years of the Clintons destroyed universal healthcare for 15 years, and led to the period of 1994-2000, which was for the most part the most libertarian period in recent American history. A few months back, Cato and Reason both published a graph that showed that the Clinton Era was the first time in recent American history where the percentage of Americans who received more from the government than they gave went down. Under Bush, that percentage hasn’t just gone up, it’s now reached something like 60%.

    Comment by Mark — May 28, 2008 @ 4:31 am
  16. oilnwater,

    Immigration’s one of the issues where I’m somewhat supportive of McCain. And he’s more publicly supportive of free trade than Obama. It’s not enough to overcome the other baggage, however…the man’s sponsored some of the worst legislation in U.S. history.

    I know that you’re under the impression that I’m looking for a perfect candidate, but I’m actually not…I recognize that politics is about tradeoffs and that it’s a matter of weighing plusses and minuses. Currently Barr’s the only candidate to my mind whose plusses outweigh his minuses.

    having trouble remembering keeping consistencies straight?

    I have no idea what you’re saying here. I’ve always been pretty clear about what I think of the religious right of the Republican party. I’ve also been pretty clear about what I think about the racists who’ve become prominent in the Republican party (and they’re not exclusive to the religious right or the neoconservatives). Overall the GOP is a mess right now and with a very few exceptions I’m not a fan of it at all. But I recognize that long-term they’re still the best bet for pushing some of our ideas, as long as they can get back on track.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 28, 2008 @ 5:55 am
  17. Mark,

    Assault weapons ban was under Bush 41.

    And let’s be clear about one thing…the biggest reason socialized medicine failed under Clinton was because he put Hillary in charge of the project and she alienated everyone else who worked on it by acting like…well, acting like herself. The Democratic Congress was quite supportive of her efforts until they found out she was a miserable shrew who had no interest in working with others unless they gave her everything she wanted and she didn’t have to give them anything, plus she had a tendency to throw others under the bus publicly for simply disagreeing with her. That was the clearest indication of why she’d have been a horrible president…she’s utterly unsuited for any leadership role because of her personality.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 28, 2008 @ 6:00 am
  18. UCrawford – it’s not really relevant to my broader point, but the assault weapons ban was passed in 1994 under Clinton (part of the violent crime bill of 1994). It had a 10 year sunset provision that expired in 2004, leading to all sorts of panic that we’d face hell on earth in August 2004. Oddly, this did not happen.
    Anyways- yeah, you’re absolutely correct about why socialized medicine failed in 1994. But that’s my point- sometimes incompetence in government is a good thing (not always, of course).
    But those two failures were instrumental in creating the 1994 elections, which then paved the way for the closest thing we’ve had to libertopia since, well, Coolidge.
    My hope is that by electing Obama over McCain (I will, BTW, be voting for Barr no matter what), we will at least start to wind down the Iraq war. If Obama tries to go too far on the economic front, he will be swiftly punished at the polls just like Clinton was in 94.
    Also- I want to point out that a good chunk of Obama’s core supporters are less populist than most other Dems; it’s Clinton’s supporters who are the real protectionists on trade and economics. If Obama pushes the envelope too much on economic issues, he may face a backlash from his personal base.
    Either way – we’re in agreement that Barr is better than Obama and that Obama is less bad than McCain.

    Comment by Mark — May 28, 2008 @ 7:21 am
  19. oilnwater,

    lawlz x 10. you once wrote an article here titled “Why this libertarian is voting for Obama”. jesus dude do you even know who you are?

    You’re being disingenuous. Remember the closing paragraph of Doug’s original post?

    Does this mean I would vote for Obama in November if he’s the nominee ? No, and, frankly I probably wouldn’t. I also won’t vote for John McCain. But the Democrats deserve to have their best candidate as their nominee, and they deserve to have the Clinton machine destroyed, and if I can help in that process I am happy to.

    I think he’s being perfectly clear in the post that his vote “for” Obama was simply a vote to damage Hillary, because she’s an even worse option than Obama.

    Now, I can’t speak for Doug, but if I had to put money on it, I think he’ll probably be voting Barr/Root in November.

    oil, you have plenty of legitimate reasons to disagree with us here, there’s no need to resort to poisoning the well. When you mischaracterize his position regarding his primary vote for Obama, you attempt to invalidate his post here, even though you know full well that Doug does not in any way support Obama’s politics, DESPITE voting for him in the primary.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — May 28, 2008 @ 8:26 am
  20. oilnwater,

    Before you talk about something I wrote, I suggest you read it.

    Here’s the link, come back when you’re done:

    http://tinyurl.com/yvdewg

    Back ?

    Good, because now you can see that I voted for Obama in February because the Republican primary was over by the time it came to Virginia and because voting for him was the best way I knew to contribute to the political death of Hillary Clinton and her husband, which I considered then, and now, a good thing.

    As things stand right now, I’ll be voting for Barr/Root, and that would be true regardless of who the Democratic nominee was.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — May 28, 2008 @ 9:33 am
  21. Mark,

    Whoops, sorry, I confused the law with the executive order signed by George H.W. Bush in 1989.

    http://www.commondreams.org/cgi-bin/print.cgi?file=/headlines04/0910-21.htm

    As for Obama, I’m slightly optimistic he’ll wind down the Iraq War before an economic crisis hits. I have no such illusions about what McCain would do. But yes, we agree that they’re both worse choices than Barr :)

    Comment by UCrawford — May 28, 2008 @ 10:53 am
  22. This may sound lofty, but I do not think it is lofty in the way utopian liberalism suggests. It is lofty the way Reagan was lofty and Kennedy was lofty, which transcends ideology. Set apart from their actual achievements in office (on which scale Reagan dwarfs Kennedy), they both recast this country’s self-understanding – and the world’s understanding of America. This shift occurs in the heart, and it is not about promising heaven on earth. It is about being all we can be at this moment in history. It is about us – not policy; our self-understanding – not self-recreation.

    I think you missed something important here. When he talks about Kennedy and Reagan, I’m with him. There was, from what I’ve read, as well as from what I’ve heard from my 90-year old grandmother in the case of Kennedy, a cultural change that came with Kennedy and Reagan. Aside from their blunders, they were better presidents than many (and better than all of the recent presidents, in my opinion). They inspired people to believe that they should contribute something and/or take back the control that they once had over their lives. Granted, the era of feel-good politics was short-lived, but at least it was there.

    With Obama, there’s the same sort of cultural change going on. When Sully talks about the shift being about self-understanding, I take it as meaning this: the change from a more libertarian-minded national awareness to one that is more socialist-minded. Where once the people as a whole, or at least a pretty large minority of them, may have believed that their lives should be their own and they didn’t owe anything to their neighbors and that their neighbors didn’t owe anything to them, now it seems as though the people as a whole believe that their lives belong to the state and that they owe something to their neighbors and that their neighbors owe something to them.

    To me, this is more dangerous than any elected politician could ever be. After all, even if some politician did become so abusive of our rights that we forcibly removed him, what kind of person would we replace him with? Odds are, someone who is considerably more leftist than the politicians that we have now (once the people have the taste of free money why would anybody expect them to act differently when given the opportunity to start over again?).

    Comment by Justin Bowen — May 28, 2008 @ 9:53 pm
  23. I do not understand why so many flock to Sen. Obama, who will have had just three years and 10 months of Senate experience come Election Day, when so many said four years ago that then-Sen. John Edwards, who had two years’ more experience, was unqualified.

    Comment by Peter Orvetti — May 29, 2008 @ 4:02 am
  24. fine.

    Comment by oilnwater — May 29, 2008 @ 5:14 am
  25. Peter,

    I’m not one of those who flocked to Obama, but if I had to guess about why people seem to like Obama more than Edwards, I’d say that it probably has more to do with Edwards coming off like a disingenuous ambulance-chaser (which is what he was before he ran for office). Also, Edwards tended to demonize his opponents, where Obama doesn’t…particularly in regards to business. Simply put, a pure populist message (which is what Edwards uses) doesn’t fly these days, so the appeal of that message is very, very limited. Didn’t have that much to do with Edwards’ experience level at all.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 29, 2008 @ 8:27 am

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