While Barack Obama, winner of the Democratic Party’s nomination, would never win the nomination of the Libertarian Party, there are many libertarians who do back Obama. Others at least are finally seeing through the Republican propaganda which claims that they are pro-freedom and Democrats are universal supporters of big government and even socialism. Steve Chapman is not likely to be thrilled by any Democratic nominee writing, “Anyone partial to free markets, restrained government, fiscal discipline and light taxation approaches a Democratic nominee’s economic platform with trepidation, expecting one fright after another.” Still he finds several 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. 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.”
Doug Mataconis responds:
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 ?
As Bill Clinton said during the primary race, voting for Obama is a gamble. My bet is that Obama will not only be better than George Bush but will also be better than Bill Clinton, both from a liberal and a libertarian perspective. This assumes that by liberal one does not mean old-style big-government liberals as obviously Obama cannot please both Hillary Clinton-style Nanny State liberals and libertarians simultaneously.