(From pre-election 2008. The more things change… und so weiter. – DAR)
In Mr. Babka’s “Why I Don’t Want United Government,” reader Jeff Hebert makes some very interesting comments, including the following excerpt:
I find it very surprising that anyone seriously concerned with libertarian issues would support a Republican President this time around. The Bush Administration has had a sustained, hard push over the last eight years to make the “Unitary Executive” doctrine the de facto law of the land. It’s hard for me to imagine anything worse for our liberties than a chief executive with the powers and privileges of a monarch, and yet that’s exactly what Cheney, Bush, Yoo, and company have been working steadily towards.
John McCain has surrounded himself with people who hold the most extreme neo-conservative views in the party. He’s not just going to be four more years of Bush, he’s going to be four more years of the worst parts of Bush. If the idea of “anything’s legal if the President does it” doesn’t scare you way, way worse than universal health care (plenty of other Western countries have it and yet shockingly their nations have not imploded), expanded union power (ditto), and some changes to the way the FCC works, then I would respectfully suggest that your priorities are way out of whack.
We’ve been witness to a full frontal assault on the concept of separation of powers and the enshrinement of a monarchical executive, largely unnoticed by the vast majority of the country. When asked what he would do with his first 100 days in office, Obama said “I would call my attorney general in and review every single executive order issued by George Bush and overturn those laws or executive decisions that I feel violate the constitution.” That’s exactly what I want to hear.
I certainly agree with much of Mr. Hebert’s characterization of both the Bush Administration and of John McCain. If we were discussing Obama versus a third Bush term, I’d be more inclined to agree as well with more of Mr. Hebert’s reasoning. As matters stand, however, and subject to change on a daily basis, Democrats are likely to increase their control of both the House and the Senate, so the question becomes not which candidate successfully pursuing his agenda poses the greater threat but which candidate is least likely to successfully push his agenda.
I’m no McCain fan or supporter. The man is an autocrat and, from just about every insider report I’ve ever heard, one of his many homes is in Cloud Cuckoo Land. The question is whether giving McCain yet another residence, this time on Pennsylvania Avenue is more likely to perpetuate or worsen Bush’s imperial presidency versus what sort and how much damage is likely to occur in an Obama Administration.
I continue to believe that what genuinely troubles the Democratic Party is not the immense and increasing power of the presidency but merely the fact that it’s not currently theirs to use. I agree with Mr. Hebert that there are worse things than socialized medicine. Perpetual war, for example, springs to mind. Furthermore, as offensive as a return of the Fairness Doctrine would be, it isn’t exactly like John McCain is a staunch defender of free speech. But, whining from progressives aside, there is absolutely nothing I know about Obama to lead me to believe he would be cautious in his use of executive power once it was given to him or, frankly, that he would not pursue a far more leftist agenda than he has so far proposed. Like McCain, he is not a man who tosses and turns late at night fretting with self-doubt.
Speaking of which, does Mr. Hebert really like to hear a candidate promise to “overturn those laws or executive decisions that I feel violate the constitution”? Feel? Okay, so maybe Obama was speaking somewhat informally or imprecisely. But just how does he plan to go about overturning not merely executive decisions but laws as well? Let’s at least hope not by fiat.
The key to winning the presidential election in the U.S. continues to lie in campaigning sufficiently close to whatever the political middle happens to be to wrest away swing state (electoral) votes from your competition. If Obama announced his intention to press for legislation requiring universal “public service” nonmilitary conscription of 18 year olds and a 50% increase in all marginal tax rates, he’d win Massachusetts just the same but he’d lose Virginia for sure and probably Ohio, too. If McCain announced his intention to reinstate the military draft and abolish the Department of Education, he’d still probably win Mississippi and Arizona but lose Virginia and Ohio. Okay, so maybe my examples can be argued, but there are dead certain red states and dead certain blue states and a slowly shifting handful of swing states where the battle will be waged.
But none of that has anything to do with how the winner governs. Politicians all lie. Maybe not all the time but whenever necessary. If McCain really gave a damn about Obama’s lack of experience he sure as hell wouldn’t have picked Palin as his running mate. If Obama really gave a rodent’s hindquarters about change he wouldn’t have picked long-term Washington insider Joe Biden. They’ll both do and say what they believe they need to do and say in order to get elected. Once elected, they’ll do what they bloody well want to do.
Unless another branch of government stops them.
I hesitate to make the next point, but sooner or later it must at least be put on the table. If it is true, and it is, that Obama’s race is a factor in the election, then it is also almost certainly true that Obama’s race would be a factor in Congress’s relationship with his presidency. I don’t know how that would play out and I am not accusing Obama of anything so crass as “playing the race card” either now or should he be elected. I do think, however, that members of Congress will have to weigh one more factor in any decision to oppose or criticize a President Obama and that is whether such criticism or opposition even hints of racial animus.
Perhaps not. Perhaps even raising the issue shows a disconcerting oversensitivity to such matters on my part. Even so, all other factors being equal, I must believe there is a far greater likelihood of a Democratically controlled Congress standing up to a white Republican president than a black Democratic president regardless of the merits of whatever issue is under consideration.
Libertarians aren’t going to get minimal government any time in the foreseeable future, so minimally damaging government is the best they can hope for. Minimally damaging government tends invariably to be government that does the least regardless of how big it already is, so maximal gridlock is the best possible outcome from a libertarian perspective.
But best possible outcomes can be nearly as far removed from ideal outcomes as worst possible outcomes. I haven’t decided to vote for or otherwise support McCain. Far from it, in fact. But I certainly can understand how other libertarians, perhaps reasoning as I have here, might decide that, contra Mr. Hebert’s comments, voting for McCain is the most proactively libertarian thing they can do this time around. Doubtlessly (well, hopefully, anyway), they’ll be holding their noses as they do so.
This much I do know, though. If monopolies and collusive oligopolies really are bad for the general public, then undivided government and political “bipartisanship” ought to be prohibited on antitrust grounds. And that would still be true even if the president and every member of Congress were self-styled “Libertarians.”