Obamanation! Obamanable! Obamarated! Obamatastic!

Barack Obama

I’ve been an Obama supporter for a long time. There’s no correlation between experience and success when it comes to the Presidency. Our previous least-experienced President was probably Abraham Lincoln. Most experienced? Well, Herbert Hoover ought to be in the running for that; George Bush Sr. as well. Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?

Barack Obama is exactly what he seems: terrifically smart, well-intentioned, utterly free of the personal insecurities that drive far too much of the decision-making in the current administration, and eminently electable. He stands a much better chance of winning against McCain than any other Democratic candidate would have. The canard that he’s light on policy simply confuses a primary-season tactic for a general electoral strategy. There’s no point trying to out-wonk Hillary Clinton, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t done his homework: when the time comes, it’s there in reserve.

I’m not unquestioningly for the Democrat in every election, by the way. It’s just that the Republican Party has abandoned all the principles that ever would have made it attractive to me or to any other conservative leftist.

“Conservative leftist” is not a contradiction, it’s just a description: someone who believes that progressive taxation has proven itself over the decades, and that the major role of government is to step in and regulate situations where individual actors trying to maximize their own benefit would harm everyone’s interests (including, in the long run, their own). In other words, the government’s main job is to prevent game-theoretical dilemmas in which we all lose because there was no one to say “These are the rules, and for society to work, the rules must be honored.”

Some of these rules are easy: don’t steal things, for example. We all understand that even though it would be to any given individual’s benefit to break into houses and steal consumer electronics, it’s better for all of us if nobody does that, because then we don’t have a situation where every homeowner has to pay the individual rate for constant surveillance over their property.

There are lots of rules like that, or should be: don’t poison the environment, even though you can manufacture something more cheaply if you pollute. Don’t put your workers in danger, even though safety measures will cost money. Don’t lie in your SEC prospectus, because even though you might make out like a bandit at the public offering, we’ll all suffer if everyone’s lying about their company’s worth all the time. Don’t chop down those trees, even though you can sell a lot of paper and construction lumber if you do, because it’s the last forest standing in this area of the state. And so on…

The Republican party somehow decided that deregulation and pushing the envelope were inherently good things, and failed to realize that we’d established the envelope for a reason. That’s the “conservative” part of “conservative leftist”: what’s worked in the past should probably be kept. Unregulated industries cost us dearly: the savings and loan scandal (remember that?) was a result of deregulation; the subprime mortgage crisis was probably a failure to regulate in time.

The conservative in me says “Why don’t these so-called ‘conservatives’ get it? Don’t they see that the idea of government regulation should be, well, conserved? That it has worked? That it has a record of successfully preventing fairly obvious problems? That collective action is cheaper than individual action, because of economies of scale?”

Barack Obama gets this. Hillary Clinton does in part, but not in her bones, and she doesn’t understand how to communicate it, how to convince people of it. She’s not going to make this particular kind of change happen, except at a small scale, in areas that she was already paying attention to and where the damage is most obvious. Obama might not succeed either, but at least he understands the task. Yes, Hillary Clinton adopted “change” as a rhetorical strategy when she saw how Obama was using it… but while she has the words, she’ll never have the tune.


Also, he was firmly and publicly against the Iraq War from the beginning, and Hillary… Well, sorry, that’s one vote I just can’t forgive. Judgment when it counts means a lot more than experience.


  1. Good for you, vote for an amateur without an ounce of experience . After all, this is the most important job of the nation, so who cares if he doesn’t have the credentials for the job. Now everybody can be a president. Sorry, he doesn’t get my vote. I have to vote with my conscious and not with “inspiration or hope.”

  2. Pat,

    I wasn’t being figurative when I wrote “There’s no correlation between experience and success when it comes to the Presidency.” I meant it. Seriously: show some evidence of a correlation between those two things. Is there any? History shows little or none, I think. I picked a few Presidents as examples, but could have added others.

    You are engaging in hyperbole a bit, I think: “Without an ounce of experience”?

    He was in the Illinois State Senate from 1997-2004, and the U.S. Senate since then. So he has actually held elective office longer than Hillary Clinton. Before that, he was a community organizer (by all accounts an effective one), and a lawyer. For a decade he taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. He’s managed to put together one of the better-organized Presidential campaigns on short notice, as his opponents are ruefully acknowledging. If you’re looking for evidence of executive ability, you don’t have to look far.

    I’m not sure what you think would be the right “credentials” for the job, since you don’t spell them out. But would Abraham Lincoln have had them? His sole public office prior to the Presidency was one term in the House of Representatives, and even that had ended long before he ran for President (twelve years, to be exact).

  3. I don’t dislike Obama, but I’m not sure about the ‘conservative’ part of your argument. According to his Blueprint for Change, he wants to double a lot of funding and create a lot of new agencies — which means bigger government and … where is the money coming from exactly? Maybe I’m misunderstanding your definition of conservative, but if not, that is the antithesis of it.

    I’m pretty impressed with his campaigning though. One of my friends voted for him in the primary solely because he has a kickass logo and website. As an aside, I think you should adopt this jaunty portmanteau: Probama!

  4. I’m no conservative leftist (or leftist of any flavor, really), but I was living in Chicagoland when Obama won his seat in the U.S. Senate. I recall thinking (and saying aloud to my wife) back then — which was the first time I was aware of his existence — that there was something different about this guy. He seemed intelligent. He seemed honest. He seemed real. In a sense, he seemed to be the polar opposite of what I think of as “a politician” — the polar opposite of Hillary Clinton — and the Democrat most likely ever to get my vote. I can’t really put my finger on it — it’s a “feelings” thing, I guess. But I’d bet dimes to dollars that more people vote by their feelings than with empirical data, so that stuff counts, too.

    And yes, his logo is *incredible*. Drool.

  5. I’d have to read the Blueprint for Change carefully (and take it seriously as something other than “Blueprint to Get Me Elected After Which I Can Figure Out What Really Needs to Be Done”) before saying how “conservative” it is. I was mainly trying to make the point that there’s nothing inherently more conservative about the Republicans than the Democrats, and that in some ways the Dems are more conservative now, at least by a literal interpretation of the word.

    For example, is Obama’s Blueprint proposing in part to restore functions of government that have been eviscerated over the last eight years? If so, I’d say that’s conservative.

    It would be fair to ask “How can you be for him if you haven’t even read that document?” To which I would answer: “Baaah, campaign documents, it’d be like sitting down to read the scripts of TV commercials :-).”

    All hail the Bagel of Change logo! Probama!

    Mike, assuming it’s McCain vs Obama, which way are you going to go?

  6. Huh. That logo looks absolutely unfamiliar to me. Amazing what one is capable of not perceiving. I can’t imagine that it has not been within my field of vision before.

  7. Not sure, Karl. Here’s my thinking at the moment (subject to change, likely to be incomplete).

    There are several issues around which much noise has been made and about which I have a strong moral opinion (abortion, gay marriage, immigration, etc.). And they tend to be things that fall along party lines. These have been for me the single primary consideration throughout all of my voting years. But I’m starting to realize that of those key issues, most are not life-and-death issues, and so maybe the government should just stay out of those waters. The one that *is* a life-and-death matter isn’t — as far as I can tell — likely to shift any time soon. These realizations are encouraging me to break from vote-with-the-party thinking. This year I expect to vote with a great deal more weight applied to a person’s apparent character and ability to lead a country than to their particular thoughts on specific matters.

    Maybe I’m just ignorant about the way our government works, but I don’t think laws are made or unmade by only one man (thank God!), so is there any real value to putting “our guy” in the top seat if he’s as clueless as, say, our current sitting President?

  8. Another thing to consider is that if those issues *are* going to shift, it probably won’t be because of the President, who after all doesn’t have much legislative power. All he can do is veto what Congress proposes, and then only if the measure doesn’t have enough support to override the veto.

    (Neither McCain nor Obama is clueless, thankfully.)

  9. Right — that’s what I meant by “I don’t think laws are made or unmade by only one man”.

  10. *nod* I wasn’t quite sure how much legislative influence you were attributing to the President (partly because of the relationship between the first half and the second half of your sentence), so I was just putting in a plug for “Darned little, most of the time!” :-).

  11. Hear, hear, Scott!

    Of course, if he goes with public financing, then it’s not clear what we small donors do. The big donors, it’s clear: they buy TV time and produce ads themselves, loosely coordinated with the campaign’s talking points, and meanwhile the campaign can honestly say “We had nothing to do with it! We couldn’t stop them!”

    Ah, the delightful intersection of campaign finance reform and freedom of speech… 🙂

  12. I’ve been a fan for a few years Karl, after reading your Subversion documentation and general writings on OSS. I stumbled on this blog for the first time today, and I’m proud to find out that you’re a fellow Obama supporter.

    I like the “Conservative Leftist” identification, though my own definition varies from yours. I think I’m personally a progressive fiscal conservative, and I think the main goal of government should be to constantly evolve towards more efficient ways of coordinating the populace (without taking away privacy), for the good of all, with the minimum expenditure required. I believe this is possible because of dynamic self-organization systems, that sometimes arise with minimum interference, like much of cooperative capitalism, and the OSS phenomenon itself. There are places where government must intervene for the long-term fiscal good of all though, like anything involving far-reaching external costs (the environment), or areas where gaming the system temporarily benefits the few over the many (false SEC filings, predatory lending, protection rackets, patent trolls, etc.). That’s why I don’t see my progressivism and fiscal conservatism in conflict — I think progressive government action is often the “cheapest” long term method of populace protection, overall. The “Republican” methods over my lifetime, including constant war and badly placed glad-handed deregulation, have certainly proved costly. In many ways current Republicans are the exact opposite of fiscally conservative.

    I think Barack Obama is the one candidate that sees things the same way. Any notion of “conservation” or “progress” should include benefiting and preserving the rights of ALL people — not the rich elite few, over the many under-represented (we can’t all have lobbies, Hillary). Hillary forgets that foreign nationals and businesses sometimes have more ability to contribute to lobbies than real American citizens — lobbies DO NOT represent real Americans, and definitely not proportionally. I was a McCain supporter in 2000 for some of the same reasons, but he sure changed his tune since then, when W forced him to decide that being a warmongering hypocrite is the only way to win in the Republican party nomination. Obama is the only real choice left, so thank goodness he’s a smart one too.

  13. “Progressive fiscal conservative”, I like that one… and it seems like a good descriptor for what you favor.

    Though I’ve always felt that the way we nabbed the word “progressive” is unfair — kind of like how IBM managed to make “PC” mean their particular hardware standard, instead of being a generic term for any personal computer, which it was before. Non-progressives who also believe in “progress” (whatever that means) must be mad every time they hear the word used in the sense we’re using it, and one can’t really blame them. Not to mention its use as a term of art in taxation jargon: “progressive” vs “regressive”. I mean, it’s like calling the two tax strategies “motherhood” and “terrorist” respectively. How is anyone supposed to have a reasonable policy debate with terms like that? 🙂

  14. Oh, by the way Jared, credit where credit is due: I didn’t write the Subversion book. Its authors are Ben Collins-Sussman, Mike Pilato, and Brian Fitzpatrick. (I did write the foreword, but I don’t think that’s what people are going to the book for!)

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