Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Who is a Libertarian, Redux

In the comments section of a recent post, a poster named Brian suggested that I was not a real libertarian, ipso facto, because I support Barack Obama. Brian's definition of a libertarian seemed pretty good to me: "A libertarian is a person who upholds the principles of individual liberty, smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom." Here's why a vote for Obama squares with that:

Upholds the principals of individual liberty: Advantage, Obama. Here are some of the principals of individual liberty which Obama supports and John McCain does not: a ban on torture, gay rights, separation of church and state, privacy and free speech. Obama isn't perfect in this category (he's against gay marriage and has given qualified support to warrantless wiretapping), but I have faith that his heart is in the right place overall.

Wants smaller government: Advantage, Obama. McCain talks a good game on this front. And I certainly appreciate his work against earmarks and other wasteful spending. But, as Bleeding Heartland points out, the cost of earmarks in 2007 was about $17 billion. The cost of the Iraq war, which McCain wants to both continue and expand, is about $165 billion. And earmarks don't breed new government programs that destroy our civil liberties.

Supports lower taxes: Advantage, McCain. Obama wants to lower taxes for everyone making less than $200,000 and raise taxes for those making over $250,000. McCain wants to lower taxes for the rich, and lower them less than Obama for the middle class. A hybrid plan would be nice, but if these are the only two choices, McCain's is better from a libertarian perspective (even though it's worse for me personally). But beware: One of McCain's top advisers recently said that, if elected, McCain plans to raise taxes too.

Wants more personal freedom: Advantage, Obama. Only one major candidate is pro-choice, against a ban on flag burning and wants to soften drug laws and reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentences.


Brian said...

I don't know this blogger, but he makes a good argument:

There critical areas where the Palin-McCain ticket is superior
October 23rd, 2008 by James Ostrowski

The founders did not trust government so they built in mechanisms to check its power.

All three have one thing in common–they place power outside the sphere of the federal government.

On all three issues, there is simply no question that Palin and her running mate McCain are superior from a libertarian point of view:

1. right to bear arms
2. fully-informed juries
3. federalism–the notion that there are actually strict limits to federal power vis-a-vis the states and localities.

Obama now says he favors the right to bear arms–but he voted against two of the five judges who affirmed that right–Alito and Roberts!

It’s classic Obama–his rhetoric contradicts his record.

Curious said...

I'm so glad to discover there are other libertarians for Obama! I just posted an essay about why I'll probably be voting for Obama.

Making the leap to Obama was probably one of the hardest choices I had to face - and it feels better knowing others have made the same leap.


Anonymous said...

When intelligent Libertarians examine Barack Obama, they see his high intelligence and intellect as an asset - open to rational [libertarian] thinking. Combined this with his background as a civil rights lawyer and constitutional law professor who's favorable to voluntary, free community organization, and who as a Senator, took a daring stand against the Iraq War -- it becomes easy to see that Barack Obama is more "libertarian" than not.

Read Reason Magazine Article: The Libertarian Case for Obama - Seven potential upsides to a hope-monger presidency

Even conservatives and high profile Republicans are favoring Obama.

Economist Article - The rise of the Obamacons

Brian said...

How can a candidate that believes the government's power to tax should be used to spread the wealth around possibly be supported by anyone who is a libertarian? Obama wants to expand the federal government to where it will be involved in all aspects of your life.

His Supreme Court picks alone would set back libertarian goals for a generation.

You really need to study Obama's philosophy more.

There is no logical case that can be made for voting for Obama for those of us who believe that less government and more individual freedom is the answer.

Anonymous said...

The criteria for smaller government probably creates the most confusion. Republicans talk small government but in recent years they have been the ones responsible for the largest increase in government. Some libertarians are seduced by the rhetoric coming from conservatives and ignore the reality. Huge increases in the military don't count as increasing the size of government as long as conservatives say they want to eliminate the Department of Education.

If one is to make limited government their criteria then neither major party candidate would come out very well. It is the nature of politics that when a someone is in power they want to do more with government. The size of government will grow under either candidate (unless they run out of money to do so), but it will most likely grow more under McCain than Obama.

Rather than size of government I'm more concerned about how much control the government has over individual's lives. The two most significant sources of increased government intrusion in the lives of individuals has come from the restrictions in civil liberties related to the "war on terror" and from the agenda of the religious right. In both of those cases McCain comes down on the side of less freedom while Obama is on the side of increased freedom.

A third issue where the two differ is on the drug war. While Obama does not go far enough (although this is partially due to political realities and I hope he will go further once in office), he is far preferable as opposed to McCain. For example, McCain favors continuation of federal raids on those using medicinal marijuana in states where it is legal, while Obama supports and end to this policy. So much for Federalism--this is a policy which Republicans only defend when it convenient to them.

Brian--Obama does not believe "the government's power to tax should be used to spread the wealth around." That is a distortion of what he said. Republicans support using the power of government to transfer wealth to a small oligarchy. This represents neither support for freedom or support for capitalism. Obama supports putting an end to this, allowing the free market to work, giving many people the opportunity to increase their wealth in a free economy rather than using government to enrich a smaller number. It is Obama who has the free market position here.

Curious said...

===There is no logical case that can be made for voting for Obama for those of us who believe that less government and more individual freedom is the answer.===

Your right, since there are no true libertarians running in this election, we must simply not vote for anyone. Why didn't I think of that.

Brian said...

Ron, could you please cite a link that would explain how Obama's economic positions are the free market ones.

I could give you several that show his policies are nothing but wealth redistribution.

I heard him on ABC tell Charles Gibson that raising taxes on capital gains was about fairness even though Gibson himself pointed out that government revenue always decreases when capital gains taxes are raised.

No society has ever taken taxes from one group of its workers, and unjustly given them to those who were not working, and ended up assisting the overall growth of that nation's wealth.

Anonymous said...


See here for one example:

Also check the trackbacks in the comments to that post for related articles. There are also numerous posts at Liberal Values on libertarians and free market economists who are backing Obama over McCain.

I'm sure you could point to many articles which claim Obama is anti-market. There's a tremendous amount of misinformation out there which distort his views and give inaccurate accounts of what he said.

Regarding the interview, Obama does not support increasing the capital gains tax out of fairness if this would decrease tax revenue. Your entire premise here is incorrect. Decreasing capital gains taxes does not necessarily result in increased tax revenue. It results in a shift in investment income from dividends to capital gains in order to take advantage of the decreased rate. More investment income is shifted to capital gains so the cut can give the appearance of bringing in more tax revenue, but at the same time there is a decrease in tax revenue from dividends.

How the market is doing affects tax revenue from capital gains far more than small changes in the rate. If the market is going up, tax revenue from the capital gains tax increases if the rate goes up, goes down, or stays the same.

Obama is considering a small increase in the capital gains rate for those making over $250,000 per year as they have benefited disproportionately from the Bush tax cuts. This would be based upon expectations of the increased tax revenue which would likely result, not based on any anti free market views as conservatives are spinning this.

The capital gains tax rate would still be lower than it was under Ronald Reagan, which makes the right wing claims that Obama is a socialist rather absurd. If Obama is a socialist or anti-market, what would that make Ronald Reagan who had even higher tax rates, and who increased taxes while in office?

Hrafn said...


I'd certainly agree calling Obama a libertarian is a stretch on a good day--he's no libertarian--but neither is John McCain.

You assert that "There is no logical case that can be made for voting for Obama for those of us who believe that less government and more individual freedom is the answer," but I could make the same assertion about McCain. The question is a matter of damage control in what we are looking at. I don't believe we can just "keep cutting taxes and pretend that everything will be okay" (as one libertarian for Obama put it)--government is going to take more than that to fix.

Especially with a government that seems to believe it can borrow whatever money it needs and doesn't have.

I don't think Obama is The Answer™, but he is a reasonable choice for libertarians--especially those of us who are focused on libertarian ethics regarding facilities like Gitmo and wars such as Iraq--in this election.

There is also something else to consider: The constant distorting and ignoring of the truth by the McCain campaign. If a message isn't sent, then every election for the foreseeable future is going to use tactics like that. They are going to say that "lipstick on a pig" actually referred to a running mate or a wife, they are going to try and tie people to terrorists with guilt-by-association (this person was once seen in a bar at the same time as someone who is thought to have maybe been a terrorist decades ago!), and we are going to see the politics of fear played out again, and again, and again.

I believe that if libertarians want any hope of swaying future politicians, then we need truth, reason, and discussion to be--if not the forefront (I'm not that naive)--then at least on the table as options for future politicians.

Brian said...

Any of you who really are a libertarian and supporting Obama, please read this article from the Cato Institute:

Bryan Moncus said...

Theres good and bad about both republicans and democrats but that's what makes this such a statist government. I wouldn't enthusiastically support Obama for anything.. not that republicans are any less currupt but until the libertarian party starts seriously denting and more influencing in elections, i see no changing things.

Americans, both liberals and conservatives are drawn to libertarianism. People who are extremely left or right supporters usually get their passion from the libertarian aspects of their respective parties, the rest is comparable to what color jersey your wearing at a football game, the color of your skin, it's what your family votes for.

But this is how the government is increasing in size, you cant be satisfied bargaining. Republicrats are just going back and forth passing the baton every few elections and setting lower standards for freedom every time.

However, its great to see that there are people involved in left wing politics who are moving towards libertarianism. The republican party is also a huge source for new libertarians who've realized republicans weren't what they thought they were.
I say keep voting for libertarians :o