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August 28, 2008

Obama And The Libertarians

by Doug Mataconis

Reason’s Steve Chapman lists some reasons why libertarians should not panic if Barack Obama becomes President:

He’s liberal, but not that liberal. Contrary to the famous National Journal ranking that put him most leftward in the entire Senate, another study found he is really the 11th-most liberal. In the primaries, when Democratic candidates are under the most pressure to veer left, he insisted on hewing closer to the economic center than Hillary Clinton or John Edwards—even when it exposed him to charges that he didn’t support the holy grail of universal health care.

Obama did pander to the left’s phobia about globalization by villainizing the North American Free Trade Agreement. But as soon as he had the nomination locked up, he confessed to Fortune magazine that his NAFTA rhetoric had been “overheated and amplified.”

Organized labor howled about “corporate influence” when Obama hired Jason Furman as his chief economic adviser. Among Furman’s sins is his longtime association with Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who pushed President Clinton to emphasize deficit reduction rather than big new spending programs.

He’s open to evidence. The New York Times recently reported that Obama “likes experts, and his choice of advisers stems in part from his interest in empirical research.” Nobel laureate economist James Heckman of the University of Chicago, who was asked for input on education policy by Obama’s advisers, told the Times, “I’ve never worked with a campaign that was more interested in what the research shows.”

That would be a change not only from more doctrinaire liberals but also from the Bush administration, which has never been exactly obsessed with real-world data. If Obama were a true believer, he wouldn’t care so much about evidence.

Boston College political scientist Alan Wolfe says, “Ideologues don’t need that information, or want it, because they know what they want to do.” Ask yourself: Is there any conceivable evidence that would cause George W. Bush to question the wisdom of tax cuts?

He’s not enchanted with the big-government model. On health care, Obama opposed Clinton’s proposal to require every American to buy health insurance, preferring to offer subsidies and then let individuals decide. He balked when she said all adjustable mortgage rates should be frozen for five years—with Obama’s campaign quoting an expert who said, accurately, that it would be “disastrous.”

He’s far less suspicious of the operations of markets than most people in his party. And when was the last time a Democratic nominee openly worried about corporate tax burdens? Furman has said that if some loopholes can be closed, Obama “would like to cut the corporate tax rate.”

Chapman does raise some good points, and some of the dire predictions coming from Republicans these days about Obama remind me of the things that were said about Bill Clinton when he was running for President in 1992. Yes, things looked bad at the beginning when he tried to ram Hillary-care down our throats, but once that failed he moderated significantly and actually became the Democratic Leadership Council-type President that some thought he would be. For the most part, the Clinton years weren’t any worse than the last eight years of George W. Bush, and there’s some reason to argue that, for liberty, the Bush years have actually been worse.

Will the same thing happen with Obama ?

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  • TerryP

    You make a good point that with Clinton, he moderated after not getting through national health care. The big difference is that Clinton came up against a republican Congress and the mood of the country switching to a much more conservative way. Obama will not have that barrier. He will have a democratic Congress and the mood at this time in the country seems to still be more anti-Bush, which some parlay into anti-conservative.

    Obama will be able to take many terrible partisan policy ideas and walk them right through Congress, including National Health Care. Clinton was never able to do that.

    If there is only one good thing about McCain it is that he is not Democrat. It would at least give a little bit of balance in Washington.

  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis

    What concerns me about Obama isn’t so much the man himself but the people he will bring into office with him.

  • ThomasBlair

    TerryP,

    The Health Security Act (Hillarycare) was introduced on Nov 20, 1993 and spent a year floating around committees and debate before Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell introduced a bill to delay the start of Hillarycare until 2002 and exempt small business. Even with that, the bill died before the 1994 midterm elections.

    The point? It wasn’t that Clinton came up against a Republican congress – the Democrats squashed HillaryCare.

  • TerryP

    TBlair

    The point is that even though Congress had not officially changed over to the Republicans the mood of the country had switched and it was just a matter of time until the elections for the switch to be made. Some of the democrats bailed on Hillarycare because they thought if they didn’t, they would lose their jobs. Many lost their jobs anyway.

    And it wasn’t just about Healthcare. Once it was a forgone conlcusion that the republicans would take over congress because of their Contract with America talk, Clinton didn’t have much choice but to moderate on positions. I doesn’t look like Obama will have to do that with a Democratic Congress ready to do his will and an electorate that is still stinging from the idiotic Bush years and that is not comfortable with the republicans at the moment.

    As I said before, Obama will be able to push through some terrible policy ideas, including National healthcare, because he will have nothing in his way. With McCain he would at least have the potential of slowing down what the democrats want to throw at us.

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  • http://pith-n-vinegar.blogspot.com/ Quincy

    I guess I just don’t see Obama as the type who could moderate himself. His ideas and way of thinking are straight-line “government is good”, a mindset that comes from his roots as a community organizer. He’s shown a total inability to think outside this particular box, and I doubt that’ll change if he gets into the White House.

  • http://www.two--four.net/weblog.php Billy Beck

    “Will the same thing happen with Obama ?”

    …and a Democratic congress? Look out.

    This is going to be an unprecedented disaster. Now, you just watch.

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