But, Can He Govern As Well as He Speaks?


Watch a slideshow of Barack Obama at Showbox SoDo, Dec. 11, 2007. Photos by Chris Kornelis.

By Brian Harper

Several years ago, a friend from Marseille, France said to me, “Americans are different…they just seem to have this idea that anything is possible. Why is that?”

I couldn’t really sum it up for her then, but I know now. This country has certain characteristics and timeless founding principles that are far less present in the rest of the world. It has been governed, on average, based on center-right principles, consistent with a well-defined and thoughtful constitution; freedom and power are granted to the individual, markets are allowed to make efficient decisions and the government, more than other places, mostly stays out of the way. France, among others, perpetually has stubbornly high unemployment, particularly for the young, as a nasty side effect of having the government inefficiently manage a larger chunk of the pie.

After years of an unpopular war and stubborn administration, the electorate sought something different this year. Not just something different, but the exact opposite. It was commonly, cynically stated that race would be the only reason Obama might not get elected. Fortunately, that was not the case. But race was part of Obama's appeal, and enhanced the contrast between him and the inarticulate, crusty white dude that's been in control for eight years.

This election was less about political philosophy. If anything it was a rejection of a personality and of a governing style, but was it an endorsement of old-school liberal ideology? Obama’s base--the entitled generation-born since 1970, who grew up during the most extended period of relative peace, prosperity and wealth creation in history--didn’t vote for the man with the hope of more unions, high taxes, socialized medicine, and overall bigger government. They voted for the hope of…hope.

So the wedding has ended, and of course amidst all the love and hope will be a honeymoon period. But then what can we actually expect? How will Obama and this new liberal majority actually govern? The answer is that we have clues, but for the most part little idea.

The new administration’s agenda will be limited by a large fiscal budget deficit, so it’s reasonable to expect moderation, in the near-future at least, on massive new spending or tax increases. But fiscal constraints won't prevent the Obama-led Washington from passing liberal legislation such as the “employee free choice act”, big labor’s prize, which will strip workers of the right to decide in private, without intimidation, whether they want to join a union.

We live in an increasingly globalized world, and there’s no going back in that area without self-sacrifice. But Obama is hostile to free trade, and is in fact part of the faction holding up the agreement with Colombia, which is only hurting our producers here. I’m hopeful that Paul Krugman, an unabashed liberal but proponent of free-trade, talks some sense into the man.

On the courts. We are beat over the head with Roe vs. Wade. But what of Kelo vs. New London? In the landmark 2005 case, the “liberal moderates” on the supreme court ruled that it is permissible for government to seize private property to reallocate to other private owners so long as it is in the supposed public interest. Interestingly, it was the conservatives on the court who wrote the dissent on the behalf of middle-income homeowners who lost their homes to the highest bidder. This is a slippery slope to go down. Argentina’s courts began such rulings long ago, and last week, amidst a budget crisis, the government announced the seizure of its citizens 401k-equivalents.

Will we see more such “moderate” decisions by a potentially more liberal court?

For Obama’s base, this is by far the country’s sharpest turn to the left of their adult lifetimes. But at this point, they don’t seem to care. I think they will later.

Regardless, Obama is my president, and I’m hopeful that he governs as well as he speaks.

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