Some Conservatives Look Beyond the Liberal Label to Back Obama

Yesterday I noted how many conservatives and libertarians are supporting Barack Obama. One reason is that he is of a generation beyond the era of “tax and spend” liberalism and in some ways he looks back on classical liberal views. He’s liberal on civil liberties and foreign policy, with the later becoming much more acceptable to many after the total failure of neoconservativism. While he has liberal values in his economic goals, he often extends his support for free choice to economic matters. Steve Chapman, a conservative writer from Chicago, has described why Obama appeals to many conservatives despite his liberal label:

As liberals go, however, opponents of Big Government could do worse. On economic matters, like the mortgage crisis, he’s more respectful of property rights and free markets than, say, Clinton. His health-care plan rankles many liberals because it doesn’t force everyone to buy insurance.

While Obama has criticized various free-trade agreements, he’s also written that in today’s world, “it’s hard to even imagine, much less enforce, an effective regime of protectionism.”

Some of the positions that get him tagged as liberal confound traditional categories. Among the members of Congress who share his support for withdrawal from Iraq are Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who favors dismantling most of the federal government, and Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, who was secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan.

These days, 20 percent of Republicans say we should bring the bulk of our troops home within a year. They can attest that opposing the Iraq war doesn’t make you a liberal any more than eating nuts makes you a squirrel.

That’s one reason the liberal label may not be quite the ball and chain Republicans hope. If “liberal” is taken to connote gay marriage, socialized medicine and unilateral disarmament, most people won’t find it appealing. But Obama does not espouse those. If it is taken to mean trying something different from the last seven years—or offering a plausible alternative to war, inflation and a housing bust—they will be receptive.

Back in 1980, everyone knew Ronald Reagan was too conservative to win. But when non-conservatives were presented with a conservative who was likable, temperate and occasionally eloquent, many of them found they could vote for him. What Obama has going for him, more than anything, is a quality of calm and thoughtful gravity, which offers a refreshing contrast to President Bush‘s inarticulate defensiveness and McCain’s stubborn pugnacity.

I disagree with Obama’s positions more often than not, but reducing a political leader to the sum of his positions is like judging the value of an artwork by adding up the cost of the canvas and paint. Obama didn’t get where he is by being a liberal like any other. He got there by being a liberal like no other.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    steve says:

    Steve Chapman really isn’t much of a conservative; he’s been harshly critical of the Bushies on many columns.  He doesn’t ever identify his political affiliation (if any) but I’d describe him as an independent with libertarian tendencies. 

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    That better fits the profile of non-liberals who tend to back Obama. The more someone falls in line with the conservative movement (as opposed to having some conservative or libertarian views) the more they have a knee jerk opposition to Obama because he is a liberal Democrat.

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