Sunday, January 27, 2008

More on Why I Can Support Obama

I wrote last night that I have an odd enthusiasm for Obama even though I disagree with perhaps the majority of his policy positions. The reason for this enthusiasm was, I said, that Obama appears to have classically liberal ends even though he does not wish to pursue libertarian means.

Doug Mataconis at the Liberty Papers picked up on my post, and has some disagreements with it, to wit:

The question is whether there’s anything there that libertarians and classical liberals can admire, or even support.
Politically, the answer has got to be no. Rhetoric aside, Barack Obama is as much of statist as Hillary Clinton. While he seems like he’d be more open to free market ideas, it’s clear from his positions and his rhetoric that he views governments as a force for good, rather than the cause of problems. Yes, he’d be better on civil liberties than George W. Bush, but you can forget about reducing the size of government if Barack Obama is President.

My response is posted in the comments section to Doug's post, and reprinted in revised form below:

Politically, [Obama is] definitely a statist. But the big thing for me is that I view libertarianism as the best means to achieve classically liberal ends (ie, socio-economic mobility, individualism, and legal equality). My point with Obama is that he seems serious about achieving those same ends, even though he prefers different means.

What it comes down to is that Obama's history (which is often overlooked) and rhetoric point to him being willing to consider alternative means to achieving his liberal ends. Similarly, I am a libertarian only because I think it is the best way to achieve liberal ends; if better means for doing so exist, then I will no longer be a libertarian. While I obviously disagree profusely with him on a couple of issues, Brink Lindsey actually expressed this exact sentiment in his response to the Ron Paul newsletter story (available here):

"I’m a libertarian because I’m a liberal. In other words, I support small-government, free-market policies because I believe they provide the institutional framework best suited to advancing the liberal values of individual autonomy, tolerance, and open-mindedness. Liberalism is my bottom line; libertarianism is a means to promoting that end."

I see the divide in this country as being primarily between those with liberal ends, and those who at best pay lip service to liberal ends but ultimately care only about implementing their chosen means (ie, their ends and their means are the same thing). It is identical to the divide between principle and "pu-pu platter partisanship," something I have been hitting on for quite awhile.

Doug acknowledges that Obama is slightly more open to free market principles than Hillary. I don't think it's only a slight difference, though. He is also quite clearly committed to liberal values in the arena of foreign relations and - at least more so than the vast majority of politicians - social and civil liberties. That makes Obama relatively close to libertarianism on two of the three main issue areas, and closer to libertarianism than most Democrats (as well as, these days, many Republicans) on economic liberties and property rights, though by no means close enough.