Posted by Brad @ 4:20 pm on April 16th 2008

Libertarians for McCain or Obama (and a quickie roundup of my take)

Yes, maybe I will make this its own post, rather than just an add on to this one.

Lately, I’ve been arguing with my co-bloggers a lot on (broadly) the libertarian problems I have with McCain, and, implied, why I think, from my perspective (broadly conservative/libertarian with some areas of more specific emphasis than others), Obama is the better choice. I’ll be, obviously, posting a lot more on the subject, and be a lot more concerted in making that case, as the election wears on. But, it might be worth at least getting myself on record now, not that it’s unclear.

The Libertarian Republican blog makes the case that libertarians should swallow their pride and vote McCain on this one.

It’s a very good case.

I’ll be making my own case for Obama (and against McCain), though given my posting of late it won’t be much of a surprise. But I did want to pass on Doug Mataconis’ take in passing along that LR link:

The election of John McCain as President would effectively destroy the Republican Party as an avenue to achieve any reduction in the size, scope, or power of the state.

Whatever he might be, it is fairly clear that John McCain is no libertarian. He was the chief sponsor of a law that eviscerated the First Amendment in a political campaign contest. He supported the Patriot Act. His one saving grave is that, unlike George W. Bush, he recognizes that torture is not a legitimate tool in the War on Terror.

Beyond that, though, thereís no reason to believe that a McCain Presidency would be any better than a George W. Bush Presidency. And no reason to believe that John McCain has any greater respect for civil liberties.

No, Iím not going to vote for John McCain. And Iím not going to urge anyone else to vote for him.

Doug, who has been pretty sympathetic to the libertarians for Obama argument, is, I think, planning on voting Barr. I think he’s a bit harsh here—or at least a bit underappreciative in noting McCain’s dissents from the bad kind of Republican orthodoxy—but I think he’s roundly correct in not being sold that McCain is any kind of “libertarian” or “paleoconservative” choice. The case was a lot stronger when it was just in the context of the Republican primary (and just among the “first tier” contenders), and for the record I agreed with it then (still do). But we’re no longer in that paradigm.

My main voting issue, as I indicated very early in this blog, is civil liberties. Particularly with the damage this administration has done, particularly in this election, I think the primary concern I have boils down to three things, broadly. How Candidate X views 1. the proper role and function of the Presidency in government, how he views 2. the proper role and function of the government in America, and how he views 3. the proper role and function of America in the world.

I will consider lots of strategic voting arguments, but ultimately, I’m taking the candidate that posts the best predicted return in those three areas.

I’ve yet to be convinced that, in a general between Obama and McCain, I have any reason to vote McCain on any of those fronts (though on at least half of “role and function of the government in America”—the economic half—he is superior to Obama, just not by enough to drown out the other two for me). Clearly, I think, Obama is the far superior choice on 1 and 3. On 2, it mostly comes down to “generic Republican against slightly better than generic Democrat” on economic issues and “generic Democratic against slightly better than generic Republican” on social ones. Given what we can surmise about how they would actually govern, I’d declare 2 more or less a draw. I think McCain’s economic stances are broadly speaking fine (some populist campaign twaddle with a few decent moves on corporate taxes with some great stuff on pork spending that nevertheless is as much a distraction as a critical path), though not very inspired, and I think Obama’s economic stances are generally speaking not fine, though also (in this case, for the better) not particularly inspired, and I also think a President Obama would be much more likely to be interested in emphasizing areas where he could reach out than areas of Democratic orthodoxy. I think McCain’s social stances are not as actively evil as is normal for a Republican, which is more than I can say for most Republicans, and he too would be more likely to be interested in emphasizing areas where he could reach out other than areas of Republican orthodoxy, but obviously, Obama would be such a powerful guy on social liberalism (a lot more powerful than McCain would be on economic conservatism), for a variety of reasons even beyond just his policy stances (which are damn near ideal), that he probably even comes out on top on #2.

But of course, #1 and #3 aren’t even close. McCain has made it a point to note to not just Republican grassroots but to me that he isn’t much interested in putting much daylight between himself and current Bush thinking on the role of the executive in government (and in our lives). Obama has given signal of exactly the opposite. The choice on the imperial executive matter (and all that it entails, including torture and police statism) isn’t even close.

And on #3, of course, as any of our commentators can note, it’s not just Iraq, but McCain is an advocate of a neoconservative national greatness Republicanism that I find very actively vile. I would trust him more than Bush, just because I think he’s a better and smarter person than Bush, but the differences between the kind of American power McCain would like to exert (or be open to exerting), and the kind Obama would make it a point to exert (or not exert), again makes this one not even close.

So what you’re left with are some holes in the paleoconservatism case for John McCain that you could drive a truck through, and with Obama, just the generic “tax and spend liberal” quacking about economic stuff. And, given the particular salience of 1 and 3 in this election, and the kind of Presidency required to get us substantively and mentally past the Bush years, I’m not moved much by regular quacking about generic economic Democraticism (and it’s not like electing generic Republicans has done economic conservatism any favors).

All that said, I have to describe myself more as “strongly leaning” Obama than as an actual Obama supporter. I’m still kicking around the idea of Bob Barr, and would like to see where that goes, and I could still be theoretically persuaded that John McCain represents ENOUGH of a new direction from Republican orthodoxy that he could shift the party in some significant and positive way. Thinks like tapping Mark Sanford versus generic horserace VP could go a long way with me (as could, for instance, actively reaching out to Paul and Barr voters). But something that indicates he’s interested in charting an actual course for conservatism rather than, again, generic stuff coupled with a mostly strong desire not to teach Republican dogmatists, but to not piss them off too much so he can get elected or, once elected, govern (and, 18 months in, start worrying about get reelected). I’ve not exactly been given reason to be optimistic on that front, though.

But that’s me. There are of course different, i.e. wrong, points of view.

1 Comment »

  1. While I sympathize with you about civil liberties, I think you’re overlooking two critical parts of the equation. Divided government and the SCOTUS.

    If Obama or Hillary take the cake they’ll very likely be joined by a Democratic Congress. While I am pissed off as hell by the GOP in Congress, the Democrats would have the opportunity to really screw the pooch controlling both the Executive and Legislative branches. Look at the disaster that was the opposite with Bush. Divided government is government which can’t screw it up too badly.

    The Supreme Court is one other worry I have. I would really not have Obama or Clinton appointed justices. If McCain were to take the Presidency, there’d be an almost historic opportunity to sway the court in the right direction (hehe).

    I’m as libertarian as it gets. McCain is wrong (or at least not as right as Obama) on a number of issues. Civil liberties, social policy and other similar issues are his weaknesses, but he’s not really that bad.

    For me, McCain is vastly superior to Obama on a number of issues. Trade is a big one. I despise the pandering and protectionist spirit of Obama and Clinton greatly. McCain is a free-trader in nearly every respect which earns him a huge number of brownie points in my book. It is so easy for politicians to sway towards protectionist spirit, but McCain has had the balls to stand steadfastly with a free trade policy position. McCain is vastly better on guns than either of the other candidates. Fiscally he seems to be trending towards spending cuts, which rocks. Obama and Clinton are truly scary with their spending ideas. With a Democratic congress, such horrible expansions of the government are possible.

    The difference between you and me Brad is simple and clearly cut: I place a high portion of my decision on economic issues, where McCain is light years superior compared to the Democrats. Additionally I don’t think McCain is a threat to civil liberties or increased executive power. He’ll be bookended by a democratic congress, which will hopefully limit his ability to steal freedoms and rights for the sake of ‘security.’

    Simply put, it’s a judgment on the two halves of libertarianism: social versus economic. At this stage of the game with these candidates, I trend to place economic above social, so McCain is clearly my man.

    Comment by Cameron — 4/16/2008 @ 7:54 pm

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