Barack Obama for President

October 28, 2008

[The version of this blog post appearing on Forbes.com can be found here]

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.



  1. So, because McCain is incompetent, you go to Obama, a man who stands in firm contrast to conservative ideals and goals? That doesn’t make sense.

    Neither of the two stands for true conservative government, so if you support conservative government, find a candidate for the President who does. Voting Obama just because McCain isn’t the real deal doesn’t send Washington a clear request for conservativism, it tells them that you can be manipulated into choosing the lesser of two evils.

    All they have to do in the future is make that choice more and more superficial, and rely more and more on the nasty negative campaigning. They create static and drown out what people are really asking for and topics that matter.

    Bottom line, neither McCain nor Obama will support a truly conservative government, and voting against your interests is denying the responsibility of being a voter in a free country.

  2. Hi Ron,

    While I do check out your blog periodically, this posting really got my attention. I was a Democrat and now swing Republican. And while I think McCain has been a disaster from a public relations point of view, I think at least he’s somewhat consistent. Obama loves to say what people want to hear and changes his song constantly. Recently, genuine evidence of his Socialist activities and the “spread the wealth” concept give me chills.

    Anyway, I hope all is well with you and your family.

    Tom C

  3. […] Barack Obama for President And yet the reason I now support Barack Obama is only partially due to Mr. McCain’s decision to embrace the basis forms of populism. It also stems from a growing respect for Mr. Obama’s thoughtfulness when faced with difficult questions … […]

  4. […] Barack Obama for President His choice for Vice President was political malpractice. He has catered to a wing of the Republican Party that believes that everything will be all right if only the government gets out of the way. To suggest that research or thoughtful … […]

  5. “Voting against your interests is denying your responsibility in a free country.” There’s a blog topic header 🙂 Isn’t voting in the best interest of our country, even if it is not in our personal best interest, still fulfilling our responsibility? (and I’m not saying that is either Ron’s or your perspective. Just a really interesting quote to consider)

    I was actually very happy with the two choices this year going into the conventions and I can’t recall a more important election. McCain has disappointed me though. I expected a higher discourse that would have led to better debates and discussion in the electorate. Pity that opportunity was lost.

  6. Ah, a semantic glitch. *shrug* That’s what I get for writing too quickly.

    Here I used the term “your interests” as “the interests you hold to be important for the country at a time of voting”. Stu, you’re right, we should vote for who we think would do the best job for the country, not for us personally.

    I’m merely pointing out that the candidate an individual thinks is best for the country is not necessarily the same thing as the one they think “can win” or who offers the lesser amount of evil. It’s not even necessarily one of the “frontrunners”.

    The point there being that if you have found a candidate that represents positions that you think are best for the country, you should vote for that person, whomever they are. You should be voting for, not against, and you shouldn’t “settle” for a candidate simply because the other guy isn’t what you had hoped for.

  7. 1) I find it ironic that a blog that preaches thrift and savings would support a candidate that is promising an unprecedented increase in the government spending and transfer payments, and not support the candidate that has made a career out of fighting unnecessary spending.

    2) Anyone who has actually studied McCain’s economic plan would know that it is very well thought out and actually contains some very good proposals. They include, cutting the corporate tax rate, letting businesses expense technology and equipment expenditures, building nuclear power plants, freezing government spending, and getting the federal reserve out of the bailout business and back into the business of protecting the dollar.

    3) Obama’s “rational policy” discourse has included demonizing corporations, playing class warfare, lying about McCain’s stance on immigration, scaring Seniors about fictional cut in Medicare, constantly bashing George W Bush and promoting this dangerous idea that government is the solution to all of our problems.

    4) Governor Palin’s record in Alaska is very impressive. To conclude that she is a lightweight/populist is short-sighted. She has been placed in an impossible situation over the last 8 weeks. In the future, I believe she will be a force, not only politically, but also intellectually as a contributor to the conservative movement.

    And to argue that her choice catered to a wing of the party that does not believe in thoughtful public policy is ridiculous. Have you looked at her record in Alaska? She implemented real policies that are making a real impact. The policies were well thought out and were based on her understanding of the Alaskan Constitution and her responsibility to the people of Alaska. More importantly, she was successful in getting them implemented. When Republicans were standing in her way, she reached out to Democrats. When she recognized that oil companies were fleecing Alaskans, she reformed the system. When the federal government was standing in her way because of some polar bear legislation, she fought back.

    Where is Obama’s record of actual achievement?

    5) It’s hard for me to understand how a “conservative” could support Obama by hoping that he will be moderate. There is absolutely no evidence of any moderation in his politics when he was a legislator. But as Obama says…we can hope.

  8. tschanel — every independent organization that has looked at the budgets of McCain and Obama has found that McCain’s is more fiscally irresponsible; reckless actually. It creates much larger budget deficits. Is that conservative? That will kill U.S. savings.

    And Palin is a joke….it is actually hard for me to imagine a thinking person defending her choice.

  9. 1) A government controlled by Obama, Pelosi, and Reid is not exactly a formula for fiscal responsibility.

    2) McCain has an actual record of fiscal restraint. And, unlike Bush, he will veto spending bills from Congress.

    3) Obama’s plans, (tax cuts for non-tax payers, his health care plan, etc.) will increase the number of people dependent on the government. This means higher future obligations.

    4) And thanks for your penetrating analysis of Governor Palin and her record as Governor.

    I am still amazed at these people who ridicule her, but then support a man who has achieved nothing of substance.

    She did more in 18 months as Governor than most politicians achieve in a career.

  10. I went to the polls this morning and voted for John McCain. Here’s why. 1. He is seasoned, experienced and old enough to be wise, at least wiser. 2. he has proven that he loves America and will do whatever it takes to help this country. he is selfless in this regard. I find it a most important trait. 3. He has proven, over and over, to be an honest person. 4. He is highly respected by the rest of the world. He will bring that respect to our country again. 5. He is a centrist. who sees government as giving us the tools we need to build our own lives–not a welfare program–not a redistribution of wealth. To me, this is where his campaign failed. He forgot what he stands for. Joe the Plumber? 6. He has a record of fiscal responsibiity–ending pork,etc. To me, the national debt left untended and with continued unchecked spending will bring this country down one day when we are not paying attention. In the end it is all these proven qualities that will help a president get through the policies he believes in. And certainly having some checks and balances on Pelosi,etc. is a very good thing.

  11. Conservatism’s current intellectual chaos reverberated in the Republican ticket’s end-of-campaign crescendo of surreal warnings that big government — verily,

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