Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thoughts for Obama

Two years ago, I suggested that the Democrats ought to be trying to pull libertarian voters, broadly defined, out of the Republican party--which hasn't provided much for them in recent years. I don't know whether Barack Obama is thinking in those terms or not, but it does look as though he is trying to change the current coalition structure that defines the parties, which could be interesting. How might he do it?

My original suggestion was for the Democrats to come out in favor of medical marijuana, at least to the extent of making it clear that federal law enforcement would be instructed not to target people who were using marijuana in conformity with state law. That not only sends a signal to voters unhappy with the current war on drugs, it also suggests a greater willingness than either party has shown to respect state sovereignty, at least on that issue.

A second possibility that occurs to me is to take advantage of the budgetary implications of Obama's opposition to the Iraq War. If the U.S. pulls out, we will get a "peace dividend"--a whole lot of money now being spent on the war will be available for other purposes. No doubt lots of people, in both parties, will have ideas for ways of spending it.

Suppose Obama commits himself not to let the peace dividend be spent on new projects, or at least not all of it. Suppose, for instance, that he promises that at least half of the saving will be used to reduce the budget deficit. That puts him in the position of the fiscally responsible candidate, which should appeal to conservatives as well as libertarians. And it is a pledge that McCain cannot match, since he supports the war and so is not going to have any peace dividend to allocate.

What other things can he do along these lines? He can't come out for school vouchers without alienating the teachers' unions, which are a major power in his party--although I can barely imagine his doing it when running for a second term, if his position then is strong enough. What about coming out against overreaching by the criminal justice system--no knock raids on the homes of defenseless grandmothers, rogue prosecutors, and the like? Is there some way he could do that without opening himself up to the "soft on crime" charge?

How about property rights? Kelo seems to have been massively unpopular, resulting in a lot of state laws purporting to restrict seizures of private property by eminent domain. Is there some way he could get on that bandwagon? It would pull in libertarians--whom would it offend?



At 12:07 PM, February 14, 2008, Blogger crasch said...

Opposing Kelo would probably not make the environmentalists or "smart growth" crowd particularly happy. You can't build a monorail, after all, without seizing property.

At 1:29 PM, February 14, 2008, Blogger Mike Linksvayer said...

Other ways a Democrat could easily appeal to libertarians with relatively modest moves in the correct direction:

* agriculture subsidies (and corporate welfare generally)
* immigration
* finish realizing end of cold war peace dividend (japan, korea, europe)
* Rollback stupidest parts of TSA/DHS
* internet gambling
* tax simplification (which can be completely independent of flat vs progressive)

At 2:21 PM, February 14, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't build a monorail, after all, without seizing property.

And yet, somehow Disney managed it. :) Perhaps as a more relevant example, all of the Big Dig was accomplished without any property takings.

At 4:14 PM, February 14, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come out against the ban on light bulbs.

Raise the IRA contribution limit.

Or something really bold: repeal the DMCA.

At 6:14 PM, February 14, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Re Kelo ... .

Kelo wasn't about whether governments could seize land for their own use via eminent domain but about whether they could seize land to be turned over to a private owner. Even if it had gone the other way, a government could still have seized land to build a monorail, provided the government owned the monorail.

At 5:33 AM, February 15, 2008, Blogger Steve said...

I believe he was the legislator that mandated that all Illinois police interrogations be videotaped (after some coerced confessions came to light) so maybe that's the libertarian hook.

At 8:17 AM, February 15, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charter schools were mention in an interview with Obama at Politico,

Q: Name some issues where you’ve been willing to stand up against your party, and also take those scars?

A: Well, look, we’ve talked about education. We actually had a roundtable here about what we need to do with the schools. I’ve consistently said, we need to support charter schools. I think it is important to experiment, by looking at how we can reward excellence in the classroom.

Q: Have teacher’s unions been an impediment to that kind of reform?

A: What I will say is that they haven’t been thrilled with me talking about these kinds of issues.

At 10:13 AM, February 15, 2008, Blogger Scott said...

I'm a libertarian, and I'd be offended by him acting on Kelo . If we're going to support federalism, then by all means, let's support it. But we can't complain about federal overreaching and then beg for it when the federal overreaching turns out in our favor.

Civil rights issues are a big place Obama can score some libertarians (which is significant, making up, as we do, 0.0003% of the vote). Fix the Guantanamo debacle, reign in wiretapping, and blunt the drug war.

At 10:33 AM, February 15, 2008, Blogger Joel Davis said...

well a lot of it can be accomplished through rhetorical changes. Clinton and Obama already oppose corporations' ability to defer taxes indefinitely on foreign-generated income, so he could spice it up by phrasing it as "Since we can't stop free trade we can at least stop the tax paying public from funding the deportation of their own jobs." or something along those lines.

Besides just hamming up the fiscal side of his war-opposition as you said, he can attack thinks such as Patriot Act, which he never voted on and can still say he was always against.

He could also have his government transparency projects get a little more "face time" which McCain seems willing to bait him into doing.

At 10:34 AM, February 15, 2008, Blogger Joel Davis said...

to: scott.

not exactly good press for a campaign but you know, every little bit I guess.

At 11:00 AM, February 15, 2008, Blogger happyjuggler0 said...

Excluding what has already been mentioned elsewhere so far:

As much as I would love for him to campaign on ending drug prohibition, I don't see it happening. With that in mind, I'd like to have him say the Feds will seperate drug "criminals" from the general population and put them in their own separate prisons. These drug prisons should then be treated like guarded medical facilities where their involuntary "patients" are treated to "cure" them of the alleged "disease" they are being locked up "for their own protection" for.

Abolish the FCC and its related laws. Let competition reign without government licenses.

Take all Fed money for education for one year, multiply it by 15, and put it into a new private charitable scholarship fund. Then abolish the US education department and budget. Encourage Americans to follow suit with charitable giving.

Push for a line item budget veto amendment to the US constitution, starting the presidential term that begins after it is passed.

Unilaterally end US tariffs and nontariff barriers to imports. Explain to the American people that we don't need a counterparty to do the same for us to benefit. Dare the EU to follow our example. Line up thousands of economists (easy enough to do) to endorse the measure.

End antidumping legislation. It hurts the American people, and is simply hidden(?) corporate welfare.

Tie all foreign aid to free market reforms. Imagine the gains for freedom in Israel and Egypt, to name but two examples. Even better would be to eliminate such aid, but the press would crucify him for trying to do so.

Withdraw from the World Bank and IMF.

Come out squarely in favor of restoring our eroded second amendment rights, fourth amendment rights, fifth amendment rights, ninth amendment rights (as if), and tenth amendment rights.

Give all nonmilitary federal land to the state it is located in. Give all offshore mineral rights to the state it is nearest to. This can be done and reasonably enforced with modern GPS technology.

Take open bids for new nuclear plant ownership on US military bases that are spacious enough to fit them in and which aren't of course target ranges. This bypasses the NIMBY types that are stalling nuclear power, and is radically better than virtually any global warming "solutions" he is likely to come up with.

At 11:34 AM, February 15, 2008, Blogger Troy Camplin said...

Obama could get libertarians by taking a class or two on basic economics. His and other politicians' anti-economic thinking can be truly incredible at times. Of course, Obama is full of nothing but platitudes, so he's getting all kinds of people who are attracted to his poetics and are too lazy to look up his record. I think the existence of a Cuban flag with a picture of Che Guevara superimposed over it in his Houston office says everything about his policy plans.

At 12:48 PM, February 15, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Scott suggests that libertarians are a tiny fraction of the electorate. That's true if you mean people who think all taxation is theft and want to repeal the war on drugs instantly.

But libertarians broadly defined--roughly speaking, people who want less government involvement than we now have in both economic and social areas--are a pretty large voting block, somewhere around 15% of the total according to some polls reported by Cato a few years back. Those are the people I am suggesting Obama should trying to pull into his coalition.

Dr T says, about Obama:

"I think the existence of a Cuban flag with a picture of Che Guevara superimposed over it in his Houston office says everything about his policy plans."

It would say something if that was his Houston office, but as far as I can tell by the press coverage, the office photographed wasn't part of his campaign organization. I don't know if it was set up by left wing volunteers who wanted so support him or right wing opponents who wanted to smear him--do you?

At 3:45 PM, February 15, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

Unfortunately Obama is pretty strongly in favor of gun control and that is going to hurt him a lot. People seem to forget that well before the election the US Supreme court is going to rule on the DC Gun case, and regardless of how it rules, it is going to be on people's minds because whichever side is ruled against is going to make a stink about it. Obama can only lose votes as a result IMHO.

At 5:34 PM, February 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Obama really wanted to endear himself to libertarians and not go against his own party, he would advocate the Automated Payment Transaction Tax. This way taxpayers would no longer be burdened by the IRS, but the Democrats will have even more revenues for their pork-barrel spending.

At 12:24 AM, February 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

More on Obama and school choice at Kaus Files:

At 3:44 PM, February 21, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama does not oppose withdrawl from Iraq. He would reduce our troops there, but he did not guarantee that we would completely be out of Iraq in five years, according to a debate.

In fact, when the "Iraq Withdrawal Amendment" bill showed up, Obama did not show up to vote, even though he showed up to vote almost all other bills.

He does not have the motive to vote "NO" for the Iraq Withdrawal Amendment because everyone would criticize him supporting the war.

Obama plans to bomb Iran and Pakistan.

Obama is worse than Bush.

At 3:56 PM, February 21, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kelo is pretty good, the people who lost Kelo were not unlike people who could have been organized by Obama.

Really the tax issue is probably tops, it will very likely destroy his candidacy. Back off on some of the tax increases.

At 7:36 AM, March 01, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, IIRC your father wrote a great column titled "Barking Cats" that I think has some relevance to your suggestions. IMO Obama is not likely to support any of the positions you listed, because it is not in his nature to do so. The kinds of people who seek high elected office today as Democrats are generally more interested in power and control than in freedom. If Obama were a more freedom-valuing person he would not likely have run as a Democrat (not that the Republicans are much better on freedom issues, but they are better), and more likely would not have run for high office at all.

I realize that your argument is directed more at the self-interest of politicians than at their beliefs. However, it appears to me that either a plurality of the voting public is indifferent to freedom outside of a few narrow areas, or that many current members of our political class are hostile to pro-freedom ideas to the extent that they will not support such ideas even if it is in their political interest to do so, or both.

At 6:39 AM, September 04, 2008, Blogger red said...

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