Does Barack Obama Inspire Buyer's Remorse?

Catching up with libertarians who voted for the president.

Back in the fall of 2008, Reason asked dozens of people—staffers, contributing editors, broadly defined fellow travelers—who they were planning to vote for in the presidential race. Arguably the most surprising result was the baker's dozen of characters (out of more than 40 respondents) who said they were voting for Barack Obama. Some wanted to punish the Republicans, some believed in Hope and Change, some hedged that they would only do so if the election in their state was close. But they did say they'd vote for a guy whose policies have led to what is likely to be a historic shellacking for the Democrats.

Reason intern Armin Rosen caught up with the Obamaniacs to ask three follow-up questions just before the midterm elections: Do you stand by your vote for Obama?; have the policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country?; and what's the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011?

Peter Bagge

1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? I believe I said I'd vote for him if McCain had a chance of winning my home state of Washington, since I regarded him as the lesser of two evils (if utter lameness could be considered an "evil"), and that otherwise I'd vote for Bob Barr. I wound up voting for Barr, and I stand by THAT vote more now than I did then!

2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? Hurt would be putting it mildly. Potentially fatal wounds are more like it. He's leading the same parade down the crapper that Bush had started, only he's quickened the pace.

3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? Kill themselves.

Peter Bagge, a Reason magazine contributing editor, is a cartoonist whose most recent collection is Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations.

Ronald Bailey

1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? As I explained, I voted for Obama to punish Republicans for their terrible policies under Bush. On the surface my vote worked since the Republicans are now at least paying lip service to enacting better fiscal policies and shrinking the size of government. 

2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? For the most part they have harmed the country.

3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? Enact economic growth policies like eliminating the corporate income tax and eliminating all subsidies. The number of truly awful policies enacted by both parties over the past four decades is so great it's hard to know where to start, but it's a target-rich policy environment for killing off bad programs and policies.

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent and the author of Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution.

Bruce Bartlett 

1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? If I only knew what I knew on Election Day 2008 I would certainly vote for Obama again. Knowing what I know since and given only a choice between Obama and McCain, I would still vote for Obama. McCain has not done or said a single thing since Obama became president to make me think he would have been a better president. I discussed this in this column.

2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? On balance, I think Obama’s policies have helped the country—certainly more so than the “do nothing” policies of the Republicans. 

3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? I have no idea.

Bruce Bartlett is the author of Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.

David Brin

1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? Yes, though not for the typical reasons. Obama's top mission, upon entering office, had nothing to do with legislation or garish political actions. It was to end the subornation of the United States Civil Service. Whatever your political persuasion, even if you are a libertarian (and I once keynoted a Libertarian Party national Convention), and even if you despise "bureaucracy" in principle and wish there were less of it, any decent American nevertheless wants the existing agencies and departments to at least function well, efficiently doing their lawful jobs.

Well, almost everyone. If you list the chief effects of the neocon era, endless, debilitating war ranks only number two, and largesse-stimulus to a rising oligarchy was only number three. Task number one was regulatory capture—the use of appointments, bullying, and manipulation to turn agencies and bureaucrats into the direct servants of special interests. This is not paranoia, but rather a standard and recurring methodology. It is why the Democrats, of all people, finally eliminated the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Civil Aeronautics Board, and several other major agencies, because they had been irredeemably "captured."

In contrast, can you name a single agency that was eliminated, during the long span when the GOP owned every branch of government and every lever of power? Why trash it, when you can suborn it? The Minerals Management Agency, the scandal that brought us the Gulf oil spill, is just the iceberg tip of what went on.

I may disagree with Obama on many points. He likes regulation more than I do. But at least he proved sincere about letting the civil servants get back to the jobs we pay them to do. Morale among those men and women has skyrocketed and they are back at work. Whatever your abstract libertarian yearnings, you should be glad of that. After all, you are paying their salaries.

2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? I was afraid that Obama would try for a Canadian-style health care system...or even a kludge like Hillarycare. Instead, he pulled a jiujitsu move and presented a slightly modified version of the Republican Alternative Proposal that the GOP, under Newt Gingrich, presented back in 1993, as their response to Hillarycare. That's the essence of Obama's "socialism." If every portion were in full action now, we'd still have the least socialized health system in the industrial world.

Do I think it's flawed? Sure. Would it have benefited from GOP input and negotiation? You bet. Perhaps negotiation and deliberation will return, someday. Our parents generation did it. But we aging boomers are hopeless. We were sanctimonious twits, back when we were hippies and anti-hippie rednecks. And now were are grouchy sanctimonious "culture warriors" in our sixties.  

Our kids will be well rid of us. Maybe they can ditch the absurd dogmas and mantras and go back to the American genius for pragmatic problem solving and negotiated solutions. That's when Ben Franklin and Barry Goldwater can stop spinning in their graves.

3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? Triple R&D and make schools teach science. More than half of our GDP growth in the last 60 years came from technological breakthroughs. Jet planes, satellites, pharma, computers, the web...we made new patents faster than others could steal them! We got so rich we could afford huge trade deficits that uplifted Europe and Japan and Korea out of poverty, then Malaysia and Taiwan and the rest, and now China and India! A prodigious feat, accomplished via Wal-Mart! But in order to afford it, we had to innovate.

The War on Science has eviscerated our rate of new creativity. R&D has collapsed. Clearly, sustainable energy will be the next highly profitable wave, but it will be the first one that America doesn't lead.

Congress should restore the Office of Science and Technology Analysis. It should pass full funding of Dr. Regina Dugan's manufacturing initiative, in DARPA, to spend a billion dollars on developing new industrial methods of distributed design, rapid prototyping, and agile manufacturing. A nation that can't make stuff is almost as bad as one that despises science.

David Brin is a scientist and Hugo Award-winning science fiction author whose novels include The Postman and Kiln People.

Tim Cavanaugh

1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? Sure, why not? If we're going to assume there's any information encoded in a vote for a major party candidate—beyond "one" and "zero"—the passage of Obamacare is the only area where we can say for certain that Barack Obama is worse than John McCain would have been. (McCain actually had a pretty forward-looking plan for health care.) On other issues of import to people who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal, McCain would have differed from Obama only on cosmetic details. As I wrote in Reason at the time, my rare decision to vote for a major-party candidate was motivated solely by a Brian's Song-vintage commitment to universal racial brotherhood. And racial issues have moved forward—or at least become less boring—since Obama took office.

2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? The policies passed since President Obama took office have hurt the country. On the other hand, the extremity of some of the Democrats' behavior—most notably the passage of ObamaCare in what was literally a sordid backstairs intrigue at midnight on a Saturday—has been helpful in disabusing both liberals and conservatives of the idea that government is anything other than a criminal force. People are out in the streets of America, protesting not just taxes but spending. That's a rare and heathful development.

3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? Impeach Barack Obama. Denounce masturbation. Practice witchcraft. Dress up like Nazis. Have their security goons make a citizen's arrest of a reporter. Suck a red dildo attached to a man's nose. House poor people in prisons. Institute death panels. Search for the president's long-form birth certificate. Do any or all of these things; just don't pass any new legislation.

Tim Cavanaugh is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

Steve Chapman

1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? Yes. I expected Obama to disappoint me, and my level of disappointment has been only slightly greater than I anticipated. Nothing I’ve learned about John McCain or Sarah Palin in the last two years causes me pangs of regret.

2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? On balance, his policies have done more harm than good.

3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? Adopt a firm rule requiring all new expenditures and tax reductions to be paid for with spending cuts or tax increases. The surest way to contain government is to make Americans pay for all the government they get.

Steve Chapman is a syndicated columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

Craig Newmark

1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? Context: I'm a libertarian pragmatist, history going back around 40 years. Now I focus on governance, not politics. Obama has done great work for our country. The problem is that traditional media doesn't cover that, focusing more on encouraging dramatic disinformation.

2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? Government policy has dramatically improved with the Obama administration, particularly including support for military veterans. That includes educational and medical benefits, and other areas like pay for stop-lossed vets.

3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? Campaign finance reform.

Craig Newmark is the founder of craigslist.

Steven Pinker

1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? Yes.

2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? No one can say, because no one knows what would have happened if a different course of action had been followed. But given that when Obama took office things could easily have gotten much worse very quickly, but were unlikely to get much better very quickly, and in fact things did not get much worse, I’d have to say that his policies benefited the country.

3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? Convene a bipartisan panel of disinterested climate scientists—no green activists, no oil company shills—to present the best current understanding of climate change, and commit themselves beforehand to accepting their conclusions. Then convene a panel of disinterested economists to lay out the options for dealing with the conclusions.

Steven Pinker is Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and the author of The Blank Slate and The Stuff of Thought.

Julian Sanchez

1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? I didn’t actually vote for Obama—I’ve never voted—though I voiced a preference that he win, or more precisely, that the Republicans lose. I certainly don’t now find myself wishing McCain had won, but I don’t know that I’d have as strong a preference either way if we had a do-over. So...meh? Let’s say “just barely” on the grounds that John McCain could still die in the next two years.

2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? I doubt they’ve made a huge difference either way. The stimulus will probably end up being a wash. Obviously the really big policy, health care reform, hasn’t kicked in yet, and it remains to be seen whether it will in its current form, but I don’t know enough about health care policy to be confident about the valence of the net effect relative to our current not-particularly-free-market system. On the civil liberties and executive power issues I track, he seems mostly to have kept continuity with Bush policies, which I regarded as harmful—and in some cases, like state secrecy and assassination, seems to have managed to actually make them worse. I suppose insofar as their continuation across presidents of two parties sets a bad precedent, we can call that an additional harm.  

3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? The objectively most important thing? I have no idea. In the corner of the wonkosphere I pay attention to? I’d like to see them follow through on the long-overdue reform of electronic surveillance law proposed by the Digital Due Process coalition. I’d also like a pony.

Julian Sanchez is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at Reason magazine. He blogs at JulianSanchez.com.

John Scalzi

1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? Yup. Obama's been pretty successful in doing much of what he hoped to do despite being confronted with monolithic opposition on the Republican side of Congress and marginal competence at best on the Democratic side, so I've gotten my vote's worth so far. I'd like to have seen him do more, but please see above, re: monolithic opposition/marginal competence. Beyond that, even if I had been disappointed in Obama to date, I don't imagine McCain would have done better, and the idea of a prideful ignorant like Palin being a septuagenarian's heartbeat away from the presidency still gives me the twitches. I'm happy with my vote.

2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? I think by and large they have benefited the country, but the problem is the benefit has been in keeping the country from being worse off, not having it become noticeably better. It's easy to criticize the president for the economy, et al. standing still because it's hard to appreciate the effort that's required to keep it where it is. People want to see their lives get better, not stay at the same crappy place for years, and they don't want to hear that the real world alternative to that same crappy place is being further down in the shit. So that's Obama's row to hoe.

3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? See above: The economy still needs work. Please work on it. 

John Scalzi is a science fiction author and president of Science Fiction Writers of America. He blogs at http://whatever.scalzi.com/

RU Sirius

1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? Against McCain? Sure, why not?

2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? I view that as unanswerable...a) Because it's too soon, b) Because the country may be beyond benefiting, c) (and sorry Reason-types I don't mean poverty organizations and unions. I mean people with real power ... the finance oligarchs, corporations, the various intelligence and military protection rackets, the prison-industrial complex).  

3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? Take Ibogaine.

RU Sirius is Editor of h+ (www.hplusmagazine.com), the Transhumanist magazine, and an occasional contributor to 10 Zen Monkeys. His most recent book is Everybody Must Get Stoned: Rock Stars on Drugs.

Dave Weigel

1. In 2008, you told Reason.com that you were voting for Barack Obama. Do you stand by that vote? Yes, Obama was the best of the four options on my ballot: Nader, McKinney, Obama, McCain. All we need to know about whether McCain could have guided us through the crisis comes from the weeks around the collapse of Lehman, when according to everyone present McCain was erratic and unsure of what to do and say. He voted for the bailout, as did Obama, but Obama seemed to understand why he was doing so.

2. Have the federal policies and laws passed since Obama took office benefited or hurt the country? I'm very disappointed by Obama on civil liberties and disappointed but not surprised by domestic policy. I don't actually have a problem with the size of the stimulus—let's spend big when the economy is tanking and cut bigger when it recovers—but it's pretty clear that the infrastructure spending was too random to do good. I actually think that the GM rescue worked, and was not a step towards total and eternal government control of the economy. Health care reform sucked, but I'm increasingly convinced that this is because we have the worst of all possible worlds—a big government that doesn't work. You can have a big government that acts quickly, or you can have a small government that acts quickly. But this situation where we have a massive government that operates based on the compromise that can attract Ben Nelson and Olympia Snowe is a bigger problem than anything the people in government believe. 

3. What is the first thing that the new Congress should do upon taking office in 2011? Our system is built for maximum intrigue and infighting—by system, I mean Congress and the media—but I'd love to see a tax-cut extension compromise passed immediately.

Dave Weigel is a political correspondent for Slate and a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

This column first appeared at Reason.com.




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