What Obama Isn't


I've followed with interest Andrew's explanations for how a libertarian conservative like himself can get behind Obama, and I think they make a good deal of sense: Given the issues that Andrew prioritizes, I think he ought to be supporting Obama in this race. (Though I also think he ought to support Hillary against a Republican, if it came to that, which I suspect he'd blanch at.) I do wish, though, that he'd acknowledge the sort of trade-offs he's accepting by backing a liberal Democrat, instead of letting his enthusiasm for Obama persuade him that all good things (from his libertarian point of view, at least) might go together. For instance, to a Bill Kristol remark about the liberal "nanny-state impulse," Andrew retorts:

From a conservative perspective, on spending, debt, big government, regulation, which Democrat could be worse [than Bush]?

As Reihan notes in response, it's very easy to imagine a "liberal Reagan," which is what Andrew has (not-unreasonably) argued Obama might turn out to be, being much "worse than Bush" - again, from a libertarian point of view - on most if not all of these fronts. Particularly given the kind of super-majorities that the Democrats might enjoy after an Obama landslide, and the party's leftward turn over the last few years. Nanny-state conservative though Bush may have been, there's still an enormous amount of space to his left on size-of-government issues - just ask the Europeans.

Similarly, I'm growing a little tired of the whole Obama-as-Burkean meme (which, to be fair, originated not with Andrew but with Larissa MacFarquhar). The fact that Obama is thoughtful enough to admit nuances and acknowledge trade-offs is a credit to him, but if being thoughtful and hardheaded is enough to make him a "conservative of doubt" then the word conservative has no meaning whatsoever. The brothers Kennedy, to whom Obama is frequently compared, had a similar capacity to sound more thoughtful and nuanced than the average politician; this does not make them anything other than the liberal Democrats that they were. Obama might turn out to be a liberal Reagan, who moves American politics leftward in a profound and enduring way, or he might be another JFK, better-remembered for his capacity to inspire (and his cult of personality) than for his actual accomplishments. Either way, he's very unlikely to be remembered as a Burkean.

Photo by Flickr user Allison Harger used under a Creative Commons license.