Andrew Sullivan’s Insight into Obama

Barack Obama has transcended the traditional support for a liberal candidate. He has both conservatives and libertarians seriously considering voting for him. Andrew Sullivan sums up what is different about Obama:

He is not a traditional top-down big government liberal. He’s a pragmatist who believes in finding ways to empower people to run their own lives. No, he’s no libertarian. But his view of government’s role has absorbed some of the right-wing critiques of the 1970s and 1980s. Hence the lack of mandates in his healthcare proposal and his refusal to engage in racial victimology. This nuance is worth exploring. Unlike Hillary, he doesn’t believe he is going to save anyone. He thinks he has a chance to help some people save themselves.

Obama is a liberal for those of us who are not worshipers of big government and who understand why the Democrats became a minority party. Obama can receive support from conservatives and libertarians, and will undoubtedly remain the target of an ongoing stream of attacks from big government liberals like Paul Krugman. Krugman, along with Clinton and Edwards, represent an old fashioned strain of liberalism which has failed and has been rejected. Obama is not a conservative or libertarian as he will use government where needed, without attempting the micromanagement of each individual’s life like Hillary Clinton or resorting to class warfare like John Edwards. Obama represents the liberalism of the future, which understands the classical foundations of liberalism as a philosophy of liberty.

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  1. 1
    daveinboca says:

    Obama is threatening [in a good sense] to get an overarching coalition among small-gov Dems, libertarians, small-gov conservatives and teach-a-man-how-to-fish Kiwanis & Rotarians.

    If he isn’t untracked by the corrupt interest mafias of left & right, he could pull off something like his look-a-like Abe Lincoln did—ONLY WITHOUT A CIVIL WAR!

    I’m afraid, however, that the sirens of the anti-corporate, anti-free trade left might lure him into dangerous shoals.

  2. 2
    Mark says:

    “Obama is a liberal for those of us who are not worshipers of big government…”

    Exactly right. This is something I’ve been blogging about the last few days, as well. As a libertarian, I see Obama as more open to libertarian arguments than any other candidate in either party (except of course for He Who Shall Not Be Named). It’s not that he’s a libertarian, but that his overall goals appear more classically liberal. Since those are the same goals as most varieties of libertarianism, and Obama seems to understand that he does not have all the answers, this appears to make him open to libertarian-leaning arguments. If he chooses an un-libertarian solution, I have faith that it will only be because he thought the libertarian solution wouldn’t work.

  3. 3
    The Charters Of Dreams says:

    well, you want to be carfull here: Obama is the best choice vis-a-via Clinton or Giulani, but only because Clinton or Giulani would likely extend the Bush executive authority power grab, e.g.,

    Clinton calls herself a “government junkie.” She says, “There is no such thing as other people’s children” and promises to work on “redefining who we are as human beings in the post-modern age.”

    Running for President, she’s full of ideas about how to use the power of the federal government. Indeed, she says, “I have a million ideas. The country can’t afford them all.”

    In 2003, she told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “I’m a strong believer in executive authority. I wish that, when my husband was President, people in Congress had been more willing to recognize presidential authority.” She encouraged President Clinton to intervene in Haiti and Bosnia and to bomb Serbia, all without congressional authorization.

    While not as bad as HC, Giulani is clear authoritain: as mayor he was so keen to “clean up the city” and crack down on dissent that he lost 35 First Amendment lawsuits. He fought against any oversight of his activities; he resisted investigations and audits by the Independent Budget Office and the New York State Comptroller.

    Now, as a presidential candidate, he defends the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance. He endorses the President’s power to arrest American citizens and hold them without access to a lawyer or a judge. He thinks the President has “the inherent authority to support the troops” even if Congress cut off funding for the war, a claim of presidential authority so sweeping that even President Bush and his supporters have not tried to make it.

    Giuliani wants power concentrated in whatever position he holds at the time, and Clinton wants the federal government to have vast powers to do good as she sees it.

    Obama is great choice vis-a-via HC and RG, and that’s probably the best reason to vote for him — but is this best reason really good enough (putting aside the question for the moment of who the hell else would we vote for) . . . ?

    Obama is definately a social libertarian — he’s not, however, by any stretch of the imagination, an economic libertarian: Last I heard, on Meet the Press last fall, Barack Obama proposed removing the $97,500 of annual wages cap and tax all wages. This would be the largest tax increase in U.S. history, more than $1.3 trillion in new taxes over the first ten years alone, with significant consequences for taxpayers and the American economy. As bad as that would be in the aggregate, it would be even worse for individual workers. Some 9.2 million Americans would see their taxes increased.

    Obama’s tax increase would saddle the United States with the highest marginal tax rate in the world — higher even than countries like Sweden. Studies based on the WEFA macroeconomic model, a metric developed by economists at the Wharton School of Business and employed widely by Fortune 500 companies, suggest that they would cost the United States as much as $136 billion in lost economic growth over the next 10 years, and as many as 1.1 million lost jobs.

    Obama’s tax increase would saddle the United States with the highest marginal tax rate in the world. In exchange for this economic catastrophe, we would gain surprisingly little in terms of Social Security’s finances. Even completely eliminating the cap, without allowing any additional credit toward benefits, would result in only eight additional years of cash-flow solvency. Rather than beginning to run a deficit in 2017, Social Security would continue to run a surplus until 2025. That’s very little gain for so much pain.

    Next there’s Obama’s plan to increase dividend and capital gains taxes that is clearly out of step with global tax realities. Virtually all of the 30 major industrial nations provide relief for capital gains and dividend taxes. Indeed, a dozen major nations have capital gains tax rates of zero percent. And if the current dividend tax cut expires, the United States would have the highest dividend tax rate among major nations.

    Second, Obama proposed special tax breaks for seniors, which would take 7 million more elderly completely off the tax rolls. But that would inject a very unfair element of age discrimination into the tax code. Old folks are already taking young folks to the cleaners in terms of federal fiscal policy. Obama would make the injustice worse, yet he had the chutzpah to claim in his tax speech: “It’s time to stand up to the special interest carve outs.”

    Third, Obama proposed a new payroll tax credit, but the tax code already has a huge program designed to offset the payroll tax—the Earned Income Tax Credit. Adding a new low-income tax “cut” on top would result in millions of people who already don’t pay any income tax getting an added $500 check from the government. That’s not tax policy, that’s simply looting from the people who do pay the federal tax bill.

    Perhaps he doesn’t really mean any of this, i.e., it’s all just crass political pandering using the tax code to bait votes . . . let’s hope so. If any of this is enacted after Obama becomes president, reminding ourselves that he was better than Clinton or Giulani will be our only source of comfort…

  4. 4
    Steve J. says:

    or resorting to class warfare like John Edwards.

    Or like Warren Buffett:

    BUFFETT: Yeah. The rich people are doing so well in this country. I mean, we never had it so good.
    DOBBS: What a radical idea.
    BUFFETT: It’s class warfare, my class is winning, but they shouldn’t be.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:


    I wouldn’t go as far as to say, “If he chooses an un-libertarian solution, I have faith that it will only be because he thought the libertarian solution wouldn’t work.” He’s not a libertarian, and he will choose many non-libertarian solutions. The difference is that his solutions are more likely to incorporate free market ideas than either Clinton or Edwards.

    Charters of Dreams,

    Agree that Obama is not an economic libertarian but you greatly overstate the effects of his positions on taxes. He is not advocating eliminating the Social Security cap. He has discussed increasing it, with a donut hole to exclude income from the current cap (around $100,000) to $200,000. Clinton has also discussed such plans but prefers to avoid saying something controversial by saying she will have a commission review the issue after she is elected. We saw how well that type of idea worked out with HillaryCare. Like the other Democrats Obama is speaking of rolling back Bush’s tax cuts, but those tax cuts are designed to increasingly give the bulk of the benefits to those in the top 1%.


    I don’t see that as Warren Buffett resorting to class warfare. I see Buffett as taking on class warfare as practiced by Bush and other Republicans. Bush and Edwards are just mirror images of each other. We need an end to class warfare by both ends.

  6. 6
    Mark says:

    I have no illusions that Obama is a libertarian on economic policy. I fully expect that he will rarely, if ever, take anything resembling a libertarian position on such policies.

    The point I was trying to make though is that he understands that the vast majority of Americans of whatever ideology (including libertarians) have relatively similar goals, just very different ideas of how to achieve those goals. As a result it strikes me that he will likely give a seat at the table and a fair hearing to any group that shares those goals but has different ideas on how to achieve them.

    Libertarians currently have a seat at the table with Republicans only on tax and trade issues, and that seat is becoming smaller by the day. In other words – we get a seat at the table only when we can bolster policy decisions to which the Republicans are predisposed. With Obama, I get the feeling that libertarian arguments (as well as all sorts of other groups’ arguments) would get a fair shake right from the beginning, and would actually have an opportunity to influence the final policy.

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