Obama and Libertarians from Steve Chapman
Steve Chapman of Reason looks at Obama and the prospects of Big Government. His premise is to look at Obama objectively and ask if libertarians should "fear" an Obama Presidency. Whether libertarians view the matter as Chapman does is another matter. But he does, nonetheless, make a case in favor of Obama...as many libertarian thinkers have.
Personally, I've been little warmer to Obama than McCain from the get-go for a variety of reasons, some of which Chapman cites.
As polls tighten, it's clear that the bases and their true believers will not decide this election...and that's almost always the case that they don't. That mushy group of 20-25% (guesstimate) or so of voters who do not lean toward either party will decide. This group is made up mainly of truly moderate centrists and libertarians of varying degrees. Depending how you strictly one defines libertarian, the percentage of the total voters can be anywhere from 9% to 15%. Part this group will vote for Bob Barr. The other will vote for the main two. So, it's safe to say that perhaps as much as half of the this 20-25% of voters will be split between Obama and McCain depending on their personal views and priorities. How will they split?
After admitting that Obama's economic plans will naturally look bad to any libertarian-minded person at first glance and showing a variety of examples of this affinity (arrogance? naivete? care free attitude?) for a variety of highly questionable and potentially wasteful/harmful interventions, Chapman finds the bright side and shows that it's not as bad as some would think when looking at the stereotypical base who follows him: (emphases mine)
But saying a Democrat believes in big government is like saying that Chicago winters are cold—true, but inadequate. Some winters are more bone-chilling than others, and some Democrats are worse than others. There are grounds for gloom with Obama...But there are some reasons to hope he will be less bad than most:
—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....
—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."
Yes, some of those points are refreshing. I recall watching that moment when Obama said a freeze on ARM rates would be "disastrous". I actually sighed with relief and felt a little more optimistic. I thought to myself: "He knows....deep down, HE KNOWS!". Thank God. He won't be as much a bull running through a room of china as some would fear. Moments like that one are some of salient ones that libertarian minded people parse through to get the real picture and then cling to with hope. We get the impression that he feels that self-imposed leash that people have when their foundations are grounded in a good respect for basic economics. His connections to and heeding of many economists at the University of Chicago are also a good sign. He shows that he prefers tweaks and fundamental nudges to large scale command and control policies.
Of course, the last component that helps is the democratic process and the possibility of grid lock. Will Obama go against his party on key issues as Clinton did? There's reason to hope so.
Says Doug at the Liberty Papers:
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.
If Obama as President does indeed shed some of his "Leftishness" and perform at or near the best-case-scenario of a Democratic market-friendly liberal...sorta like Clinton and perhaps better...there's reason to feel comfortable.
The question is, will libertarian-minded people (and centrists) see it this way in enough numbers to make the difference for Obama? We'll see. The other areas where McCain is clearly not like Obama works in Obama's favor for these voters.
Beyond that, would Obama, if this all more or less comes to pass as I describe, do a better job of changing the Democratic standard than Clinton did? Looking beyond Clinton's campaign rhetoric and concentrating on the actual large scale policies he enacted, it's sadly clear his policy legacy has faded since his departure...even though boasting about economic results from his tenure continue.