Barack Obama for PresidentOctober 28, 2008
I’m a conservative. I’ve spent my money and my time in support of Republican candidates. I also support Barack Obama for president.
Modern conservatism is deeply rooted in ideas and political philosophy, in rational discourse and pragmatism. John Stuart Mill matters to conservatives. Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman matter as well. They matter not only because of their conclusions about the limited role of government power in a free society but because they were aggressive questioners, carefully dissecting problems to uncover potential solutions.
The American version of modern conservatism began as an intellectual revolt against the excesses of government emerging out of the New Deal era. The prevailing liberal view of the time was that government could engineer a more just and equitable society by elevating its role in the day-to-day activities of citizens. Proponents believed the benefits of collective decision making outweighed the increased restrictions on individuals’ liberties that such social engineering required.
The modern conservative movement, through rational discourse and appeals to empirical research in economics, pointed out that reducing these individual freedoms had negative consequences far in excess of the commonly held view. Yes, you could decrease poverty among low-wage workers by mandating a minimum wage, but you would also increase unemployment among the young and those of color. Yes, you could use the power of taxation to redistribute income, but this could dramatically shrink the wealth available to the entire society.
Conservatives used to ask the tough questions and did not accept simplistic solutions. That is why it is deeply disappointing to me, both personally and professionally, that John McCain has run a campaign that is so antithetical to rational discourse about public policy. His campaign has been about glib answers to complex problems. His choice for vice president was political malpractice.
He has catered to a wing of the Republican Party that believes everything will be all right–if only the government gets out of the way. No matter the problem, that is the only acceptable solution. To suggest that research about or thoughtful analysis of a situation might, in some cases, point in a different direction is apostasy.
For these Republicans, simply the act of doing policy analysis must mean that you are a liberal. They know that real Republicans, and real men, don’t need to think things through. I do not respect these people. They have dragged a proud movement that had much to offer our country down into the mud of ignorance.
And yet the reason I now support Obama is only partially due to McCain’s decision to embrace this base form of populism. It also stems from a growing respect for Obama’s thoughtfulness, which reveals itself when he’s faced with difficult questions. I do not agree with all elements of Obama’s tax policy, but I certainly get the impression he has thought about it a whole lot more than McCain.
In a world that will certainly throw many unexpected, unknowable problems at the next president, I don’t really care if I agree with all of their policy decisions. I want a smart, thoughtful person who can adapt his ideas to the facts on the ground. I don’t want someone who retreats to ideology because he cannot–or is not inclined to–think through the complexities of the problem at hand. Barack Obama is not afraid to talk about complicated solutions to complicated problems. He is a skilled critical thinker. John McCain, unfortunately, has not left the same impression on me.
I also believe that Obama will not end up being the orthodox liberal many have warned against or hoped for. He is not from Cambridge, Mass. He is from Illinois. His economic advisers, both formal and some informal, are from the University of Chicago, a school known for its free market philosophy; he also taught there.
The institutions with which you associate, after all, do affect your thinking. That life experience, combined with his inquisitive mind, will lead him out of the liberal underbrush when the House of Representatives inevitably proposes some hard-left legislation. I genuinely believe the people who are likely to be most disappointed with Obama are the far left wing of the Democratic Party.
I will not celebrate when Obama is elected president next Tuesday, but I will smile a little–and hope that my beliefs about him are correct.