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Some Insights About Barack Obama

July 25, 2008

Because Barack Obama seems likely to be the next President of the United States, I’ve been trying to get a bead on what he really thinks for about the past nine months. In that time I’ve come across some published articles that have helped me do so. Even with the assistance of the analysis I quote in this post, I don’t feel like I have a good idea of what Obama would be like as President. This post is teh best I can do to formulate such an idea.

Everyone and no one knows what Barack Obama’s view of the world is. Virginia Postrel writing in the Atlantic explains:

Barack Obama has brought glamour back to American politics—not the faux glamour-by-association of campaigning with movie stars or sailing with the Kennedys, but the real thing. The candidate himself is glamorous. Audiences project onto him the personal qualities and political positions they want in a president. They look at Obama and see their hopes and dreams.

I think we know is a good listener and has some general inclinations to the left of center. From a New York Times article about Obama’s tenure as President of the Harvard Law Review (seemingly his most significant executive experience to date):

Another of Mr. Obama’s techniques relied on his seemingly limitless appetite for hearing the opinions of others, no matter how redundant or extreme. That could lead to endless debates — a mouse infestation at the review office provoked a long exchange about rodent rights — as well as some uncertainty about what Mr. Obama himself thought about the issue at hand.

In dozens of interviews, his friends said they could not remember his specific views from that era, beyond a general emphasis on diversity and social and economic justice.

I think that there is little objective reason to hope that Obama’s willingness to listen will translate into sensible market oriented liberal policies. From The New Republic relaying an observation of his former University of Chicago Law School colleague Richard Epstein:

Of course, as Epstein points out, Obama’s willingness to listen didn’t necessarily mean he was willing to be convinced. "What you don’t get, alas and alack, out of all this is a change in point of view," Epstein says. "If you ask me whether I had any influence on his intellectual or moral development, I’d say no, not even a little."

Perhaps David Frum has identified the reason that listening doesn’t result in sensible policies:

Obama’s vague language [in his German speech] is the product of an unrealistic mind. He denies the reality of conflict — and flinches from the obligations of self-defense. Obama has risen to power by using a soothing cloud of meaningless words to conceal displeasing truths and avoid difficult choices. His more worldly supporters will quietly whisper that Obama thinks more incisively than his speeches suggest. Let’s hope so. Yet the speech in Berlin should cause us all to wonder: Maybe Obama’s mind really is as foggy as his language.

For good or ill, it seems unlikely that Obama Presidency would result in enacting significant legislative changes, as Virginia Postrel comments writing in her blog:

When voters motivated by charisma disagree with the leader they’ve backed, they support him anyway and possibly even change their minds about the right policy course. When voters motivated by glamour disagree, they become disillusioned and angry.

I would like to believe that Obama Presidency would usher in an era of successful market based reforms as the best means of helping the destitute rather than politically connected interests. Similarly, it would be great for the United States to be loved around the world. Given the above insights, however, those results seem pretty unlikely.


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