Friday, June 13, 2008

Conservatives for Obama?

"If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism."
Ronald Reagan, interview with Reason magazine, 1975.

An intriguing article by Bruce Bartlett in The New Republic suggests that there may be more support among conservatives for Democrat presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama than might be first suspected.

This came via Andrew Sullivan, one of the more prominent bloggers to have gone from being a Republican supporter to an Obama supporter.

It is well known that there are a lot of conservatives unhappy with the Bush administration and the Republican Party, and their unhappiness remains with John McCain. These include supporters of the Libertarian Party led by former Republican Bob Barr, or those still supporting Ron Paul's ongoing campaign for the Republican nomination. The gist of this unhappiness is, as Bartlett observes, "they don't much care for the Iraq war or the federal government's vast expansion over the last seven-and-a-half years."

But Obama? He is criticised by some conservatives for being the most liberal senator in Washington, Jimmy Carter Mark II, a high taxer, an elitist etc.

The gist of the points made in Bartlett's article are:

  • Withdrawing from Iraq and scaling back the PATRIOT Act are key goal of libertarian conservatives, and Barack Obama has always been the candidate most committed to the first and far more likely than McCain to do the latter;

  • He comes across to some as the first Presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan to really believe in the independent capacity of Americans to initiate change for themselves. Whether this would in fact be true in an Obama presidency is another matter, but frankly people still debate that about Ronald Reagan, to decades after his presidency (see e.g. Sean Wilentz, The Age of Reagan). The point is that, like Reagan, he can rhetorically convey a faith in the better instincts of Americans that doesn't sound like calculated pandering to an interest group or particular constituency;

  • His election could trigger a purge at the top of the Republican Party. It took the Democrats over a decade to move from where they were in the Jimmy Carter days to a more centrist and electable position with Bill Clinton. Conservatives like Larry Hunter believe that its time for the same thing to happen to the Republicans: Obama has the potential to "scramble the political deck, break up old alliances, and bring odd bedfellows together in a new coalition."
  • From Hunter again (my favourite quote): he views the Republican Party as a "dead, rotting carcass with a few decrepit old leaders stumbling around like zombies in a horror version of Weekend at Bernie's, handcuffed to a corpse." Unless the Republican Party is thoroughly purged of its current leadership, Hunter fears that it "will pollute the political environment to toxic levels and create an epidemic that could damage the country for generations to come."
The parallel to Ronald Reagan is the most interesting one. Reagan's is the most electorally successful, yet enigmatic, presidency of the last three decades. The interest of libertarian conservatives in Obama may be emblematic of a new set of divides from those forged during the Reagan era (conservatives versus liberals), to ones between personal freedom and state control.

If Obama can get US troops out of Iraq, repeal some of the more obnoxious attacks on civil liberties over the last eight years, and actually get some control over the budget deficit, then there's a bit there that libertarian conservatives could like. If his Presidency was in fact 'Jimmy Carter Mark II', the Republicans may come back in 2012 with a better candidate. After all, both Obama and Hillary Clinton were better Democrat candidates than John Kerry was, and that's seen in the primary votes they were both able to attract.


For those outside the U.S. who are unaware of just how much Barack Obama has moved from a Presidential candidate to a pop-culture phenomenon, check out this advertisement for a KIA car dealership:

No comments: