By Kyle | November 4, 2008
My New York Post (editorial page) colleague Robert George checks in with a thoughtful essay on Barack Obama. I can’t say I agree. I genuinely am mystified why reasonable centrists and conservatives are supporting Obama so I frequently read what they have to say but I find that in virtually all cases the writer gets caught up in a sort of gauzy endorsement of biography and character–“I just like the guy deep down,” seems to be the main argument–as opposed to concrete policy proposals.
I realize a lot of people on the right vote this way too. I don’t. I frequently vote for politicians who don’t share my tastes or come from my part of the country or belong to a similar educational or demographic group. I’m an Ivy Leaguer (possibly even an Ivy League snob) and a northeasterner. I think Bordeaux is better than Michelob, Elvis Costello is better than Garth Brooks and France is a lot more interesting a place to spend a vacation than Florida. I’m an atheist.
Another habit some have in endorsing Obama is that they will choose some inconsequential policy proposal that they agree with and call it a big point in his favor or do the same in reverse with John McCain; the Economist, for instance, endorsed Obama and cited John McCain’s support for a “petrol tax holiday,” an idea so minor that I had forgotten it. Still another–and this one is really disingenuous–is to say they don’t like the campaign McCain has run. Campaigns often get dirtier than pundits would like but I don’t see anything particularly dirty about this one. Barack Obama did indeed pal around with a terrorist and did indeed spend many years in a church where vicious anti-American rhetoric was used. (He then lied about it.)
You could argue these attack ads aren’t major policy points but they are at least true statements. Airing commercials that emphasized Obama’s middle name, likewise, would be perfectly legitimate from a truth standpoint, but McCain has chosen not to do so, presumably on the heretofore unprecedented notion that stating a candidate’s full name constitutes a low blow. (Remember how the Democrats scoffed at “George. Herbert. Walker. Bush”?) Meanwhile, Obama supporters–I again cite The Economist–continue to cite his middle name as some sort of geopolitical advantage. The implication seems to be that Hussein is a name associated with Muslims, therefore Obama is sort of Muslimish–therefore Muslim terrorists will be less antagonistic toward the U.S. Utter nonsense, say I. And if a conservative made the first two points yet drew a different conclusion, he would be denounced as practicing dirty, indeed racist, politics. Here is a particularly fatuous section of The Economist’s endorsement.
Most of the hoopla about him has been about what he is, rather than what he would do. His identity is not as irrelevant as it sounds. Merely by becoming president, he would dispel many of the myths built up about America: it would be far harder for the spreaders of hate in the Islamic world to denounce the Great Satan if it were led by a black man whose middle name is Hussein.
A parallel point was made shortly before David Dinkins was elected mayor of New York City–that the criminals would be less antagonistic because many would take pride in his election. It’s the supply-side theory of crime, if you will. It was of course nonsense then as well. The four years of the Dinkins administration remain ranked nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the category of most annual murders in the history of this city. Obama’s fealty to the left wing of his party, despite his wise but obviously politically opportunistic choice to support last summer’s wiretapping law, means he is likely to take a position toward international crime, or terrorism, that is analagous to the one liberals have always taken to domestic crime–that we shouldn’t be too hard on the criminals because they have legitimate grievances that are partially the fault of the wealthy and powerful. I ask The Economist or anyone else making the point that Obama’s background is a national-security asset: Where is the evidence that people of similar skin color or of similar religion lay down their swords at each other’s feet? Is it in the India-Pakistan dispute? The Sunni-Shia rivalry? America’s inner-city gang wars or the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda or Sudan? Or did you just read this in a fairy tale and suppose that it trumped history?
Moreover, Obama’s campaign rhetoric is not without its dishonorable points. It’s not true that McCain is a Bush clone–the idea was laughable until Obama started repeating it endlessly. McCain has opposed Bush in many notable ways. (I would prefer, in many cases, that that weren’t the case.) And it is certainly not true that he advocates fighting in Iraq for 100 years or that he wouldn’t meet with the prime minister of Spain. These are all just silly bits of campaign rhetoric.
The fact is that Obama vows to massively increase taxes at a moment when that will surely increase the pain and duration of the looming recession. The rich are disproportionately responsible for the direction of the economy. I call it the Patrick Kennedy principle. When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, partly on an absurd promise to stick it to the rich by raising taxes on yachts, young Kennedy discovered the boat-building business in his Rhode Island district took a huge hit and asked the president to reconsider the tax, which he promptly did. When the rich cut back, they don’t suffer as much as the people they employ do.
It is possible, I would argue likely, that Obama will withdraw troops from Iraq in a precipitous and disorganized manner (in order to pay for his domestic programs) that will spell disaster for Iraq, dishonor and a heartbreaking waste of lives for the U.S. military and much chortling and general emboldenment for our enemies overseas. Obama will create the first-ever trillion-dollar budget deficits, in part with a national health care system that, on top of Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security, the country simply cannot afford, especially if a lengthy period of low economic growth ensues. And low economic growth is exactly Obama what is going to cause with his reflexively pro-regulation, pro-tax ideals as well as his belief, again characteristic of liberals, that government should pick economic winners and losers with subsidies for the former and punitive stances toward the latter. To a certain extent America has always been able to simply outgrow its problems with an economy that is dynamic like no other large one. (In part this is because of our rich renewable resource of people, our ability to add the equivalent of a midsized European country to our population every ten years.) This may not be the case going forward. The word Obama repeated so often in debates that it became a shibboleth was “regulations.”
I don’t particularly care who Obama’s father was or whether he can give an inspiring speech. His ideas are, again and again, wrong on substance. His election will reroute the United States economy onto a path much like Europe’s, one of perpetual slow growth, where people simply get used to the idea of not being able to advance much in life. Obama is likely to be an FDR or LBJ type of president, not one in the Clinton mode. The country may never recover from the staggering weight of unncecessary additional government about to be saddled onto it as it has never fully shaken off the horrendous choices of FDR and LBJ.