Monday, February 18, 2008

Obama and Change

A friend of mine asked for my thoughts on Barack Obama. I alluded to my opinion in my previous post, but I wanted to expand on it here because some libertarians seem to be warming up to Obama.

My friend also sent me this link to Lawrence Lessig's video on why he, Lessig, supports Obama over Clinton. I will try to address some of the points in that video.

Peace for a change

I agree with Lessig's message that electing Obama would give us the best chance for getting out of Iraq. Being against this war from the beginning, I have been tempted to support Obama just on this issue alone. In fact, Obama's 2002 speech opposing the war expresses some sentiments with which I can agree. In particular, the following
I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances...I don’t oppose all wars...What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war...A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.
I can agree with this attitude, but I don't think it goes far enough. What is Obama's philosophical approach to foreign policy in general? Looking at his foreign policy page, I see a hodgepodge of diplomatic efforts that rely on the U.S. being heavily involved in the affairs of other countries. For example
Obama would offer the Iranian regime a choice. If Iran abandons its nuclear program and support for terrorism, we will offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, and a move toward normal diplomatic relations. If Iran continues its troubling behavior, we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation.
And if the "economic pressure and political isolation" doesn't work? How far is Obama willing to go? And does this policy risk harming the good will we have with the Iranian people?

What about a non-interventionist policy that pulls U.S. troops, money, and influence out of the affairs of other countries? What are Obama's criteria for a "smart" war? I may be cynical, but my guess would be that Obama, like Bill Clinton, will justify bombing foreign countries with rhetorical flash, and his supporters will eat it up.

How much change, really?

A word on this idea of "change." All candidates for president running against an incumbent in the opposite party are for change. They may wrap it up with noble rhetoric like "changing the tone in Washington," but in reality they just want to change who holds the reins of power. I defy you to name a national election in your lifetime in which someone was not calling for "changing the tone in Washington." Bush in 2000 called himself the "uniter". In 1988 George H.W. Bush was running on a platform of a "kinder, gentler America." This from a man who was essentially the incumbent.

Let's call this Orwell's Law: a word's meaningfulness is inversely proportional to the number of political placards it is printed on.

So, I don't think Obama is for "change." Yes, he wants to end the war in Iraq, but that's about as far as it goes. I know he talks about warm and fuzzy concepts of unity and bringing people together, but I'm sorry, I've heard it before.

He is basically running on the same platform that all Democrats have run on for the past 70 years - the continuation of the New Deal. Take a look at the Issues tab on his website and tell me what's different about his proposals? He may not give hard details, but the basic outlines are pure New Deal statism. Almost every bullet item begins with "The Obama program creates..." or "The Obama program increases.." Yes, the details of his plans may be structurally different from some other candidate's, but how is it philosophically different? Quibbling over which department runs a new program or what percentage increase a program should get is not fundamentally different from what we've seen since the 1930's.

The problem I see is that these programs create constituencies and an entitlement mentality that cause domestic conflict. Any new program that Obama creates will be for a constituency that will fight tooth and nail to see it continue or expanded by future administrations. When the inevitable budget crisis comes, lobbying for those programs will increase and pit one set of constituencies against another.

Take Social Security, for example. Anyone who questions the efficacy or financial health of Social Security is deemed an enemy of seniors. Touch it and your political career is in jeopardy. You can say the same for Medicare, Medicaid, eduction, and to a lesser degree the minimum wage, and public funding of the arts.

Take this piece of legislation co-sponsored by Obama himself. Even if this bill is well-intentioned, having the government define a "Patriot Employer" creates a mindset of division and ugly nationalism, and gives future lawmakers more ways to pander to the masses.

By growing the scope of government, Obama is creating more ammunition for future political wars. How many times have you heard the phrase "this next election is the most important in our lifetime"? I think I've heard it in nearly every election since I've been politically active (1988). Why do people say this? Because the federal government has taken on so much responsibility that even slowing its growth is considered to be the end of civilization.


I respect Obama's stance against the Iraq war, and I can understand why people may want to vote for him on this issue alone. But as a libertarian, I am disturbed by his trust in government to solve so many problems. His overall philosophy is still that of welfare at home, intervention abroad.

I fear that many libertarians are getting drawn in by Obama's rhetorical skills. While I find it somewhat refreshing to hear someone passionately express their beliefs with skill, I would hope that libertarians would not get caught up in the religious oratorical flair of a gifted politician.

By the way, I haven't voted since 2000 and would not have voted for Obama anyway. Politics is not the way to solve problems.

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