THE PLANK JULY 19, 2009
One of the most tiresome forms of opinion commentary is bad-faith advice to a political figure from a writer who is utterly opposed to his ideological goals. Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch of the libertarian magazine Reasan offer up a classic of the genre in Sunday's Washington Post. The basis of their advice is that "Barack Obama seems to be driving south into that political speed trap known as Carter Country," a questionable premise that they even more questionably blame on his economic policies rather than a global economic calamity effecting nations headed by left-wing, right-wing, and centrist government alike.
Gillespie and Welch assert, "The key to understanding Obama's predicament is to realize that while
he ran convincingly as a repudiation of Bush, he is in fact doubling
down on his predecessor's big-government policies and perpetual
crisis-mongering." Funny, if Obama really were following in Bush's footsteps, you'd think that the few remaining defenders of the Bush legacy might be at least somewhat favorably disposed toward him, rather than railing hysterically against him. (Now, it's true that from the libertarian perspective, Obama is fairly similar to Bush. It's likewise true that, from the perspective of a die-hard Lyndon LaRouche supporter, Obama and Bush are also peas-in-a-pod, both ignoring LaRouche's prophecies about the gold standard and the British monarchy and the like.) Everybody who's involved in American politics in either party understands that there's a massive difference between Obama's policies of making the tax code more progressive, attempting to expand health coverage while controlling costs, and limiting carbon dioxide emissions, on the one hand, and the Bush agenda which promoted diametrical goals.
As for their advice, Gillespie and Welch shockingly urge Obama to abandon the platform that he ran on:
What are his options? First, stop doing harm. Throwing money all over
the economy (and especially to sectors that match up with Democratic
interests) is the shortest path to what Margaret Thatcher described as
the inherent flaw in socialism: Eventually you run out of other
They proceed to urge Obama to admit that he's to blame for massive budget deficits, and then to follow Bill Clinton's example of scaling back his goals (really a restatement of their first piece of advice.) The former seems like questionable political advice, especially since CBO analysis show that Obama's policy changes are not responsible for increasing the long-term deficit. It is the rare political strategist indeed who advises his client to accept the blame for something for which he bears no responsibility whatsoever.
The last is hardly more persuasive -- Obama thinks the economic cricis, global warming and the health care system pose massive threats to America's well-being, but he should stop trying to address them because his approval rating has fallen to 57%.
But this is the sort of absurdity you get when people write opinion articles pretending to offer sympathetic political advice to a politician whose goals they abhor. If the Libertarian Party ever wins the White House, I promise not to write columns advising the president to raise taxes on the rich, expand health care coverage and start regulating assault weapons.