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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Mr. Right?"


The rise of the Obamacons, by Bruce Bartlett, Commentary, The New Republic: ...A broad swath of the [conservative] movement has been in open revolt against George W. Bush--and the Republican Party establishment--for some time. They don't much care for the Iraq war or the federal government's vast expansion over the last seven-and-a-half years. And, in the eyes of these discontents, the nomination of John McCain only confirmed the continuation of the worst of the Bush-era deviations from first principles.

But it was hardly inevitable that this revolt would translate into enthusiasm for the Democratic standard-bearer. ... There have been a few celebrated cases of conservatives endorsing Obama... But you probably have not have heard of many of the Obamacons--and neither has the Obama campaign. When I checked..., the campaign seemed genuinely unaware that such supporters even existed. But those of us on the right who pay attention to think tanks, blogs, and little magazines have watched Obama compile a coterie drawn from the movement's most stalwart and impressive thinkers. It's a group that will no doubt grow even larger...

The largest group of Obamacons hail from the libertarian wing of the movement. ... Libertarians (and other varieties of Obamacons, for that matter) ... believe that he has surrounded himself with pragmatists, some of whom (significantly) come from the University of Chicago. ...

In nearly every quarter of the movement, you can find conservatives irate over the Iraq war--a war they believe transgresses core principles. ... How substantial is the Obamacon phenomenon? Well, it has even penetrated National Review... There's Jeffrey Hart, who has been a senior editor at the magazine since 1968...; and Wick Allison, who once served as the magazine's publisher. ... Hart ... wrote speeches for both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. ...

But, if you're looking for the least likely pool of Obamacons, it would be the supply-siders. And you can even find some of those. ...

I know what ... the Obamacons are talking about. As a conservative, I share their disgust with a Republican Party that still does not see how badly George W. Bush has misgoverned... But, while I am sympathetic to the Obamacons..., I am not ... ready to join the other side.

Still, I have enjoyed watching the phenomenon, which has the potential to remake the political landscape. It will also produce some of the good comedy that inevitably accompanies strange bedfellows. The blogger Dorothy King, an archeologist and strong conservative, recently outed herself as an Obamacon. This was a culturally awkward position for her. She wondered, "Do I now, as a newly minted Obamaphile liberal elitist, have to serve my guests Chablis? Or would any old chardonnay do? ... Am I even meant to admit to going to the supermarket? Should I pretend to only go to the local Farmers' Market?" There, undoubtedly, will be much more of such dislocation in the months to come. [...read full article...]

In coming months, you'll hear a lot about "the federal government's vast expansion over the last seven-and-a-half years" mentioned in the first paragraph. But, it's important to realize where the expansion has been:

Take, for example, that old standby of conservatives: denouncing Big Government. Last week John McCain’s economic spokesman claimed that Barack Obama is President Bush’s true fiscal heir, because he’s “dedicated to the recent Bush tradition of spending money on everything.”

Now, the truth is that the Bush administration’s big-spending impulses have been largely limited to defense contractors. ...

Also, from the last paragraph, "liberal elitist"? Don't suppose that's the last we'll hear of that. I'll turn it over to Thomas Frank:

Mister Maverick, Meet Da Machine, by Thomas Frank, Commentary, WSJ: I always knew that the 2008 election would become another battle in the culture wars... Republicans are preparing to court the blue-collar vote by casting the election as a referendum on Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, which Mr. Obama represented in the Illinois Senate and where the prestigious University of Chicago is situated.

The ... Washington Post ... announced that "Republicans plan to describe Obama as an elitist" – mmm, novel word, that – "from the Hyde Park section of Chicago, where liberal professors mingle in an academic world that is alien to most working-class voters." Then, like clockwork, out slid the new issue of The Weekly Standard, which lambastes Mr. Obama's neighborhood as an island of upper-class daffiness – a neat trick, considering that Hyde Park's median household income is substantially lower than both the national and the Chicago median.

At first I thought this had to be a mistake. True, there is a clique of professors in Hyde Park who are "alien" to working-class interests, as I know from having lived there for 15 years. Those professors are conservatives, however: members of the University of Chicago's law and economics departments who have given that institution much of its world-wide fame.

Their hostility to the working class is not to be doubted. They have dreamed up ways to get the New Deal ruled unconstitutional. They have railed against labor unions and higher minimum wages while cheering lustily for Nafta and grotesque pay inequality. At this very moment, in that diabolical neighborhood of Hyde Park, the university is setting up a lavishly funded Milton Friedman Institute in order to better worship the greatest free-market evangelist of them all. ...

But these professors get a pass when Hyde Park's "academic world" comes under fire. These are intellectuals conservatives love; indeed, if the GOP ever was the "party of ideas," as many insist, those ideas pretty much came from Hyde Park. What the culture warriors mean is something much cruder... Stereotype, meet cliché: Professors plus liberalism equals "elitism."

Maybe it will work. But first our Republican friends should know something... The distinguishing characteristic of Hyde Park's ... is its longstanding defiance of the Chicago machine. Over the years, the neighborhood stubbornly insisted on sending a series of independents and clean-government types to be its representatives in Congress and on the City Council. ...

The machine hated them... It gerrymandered Hyde Park to dilute the neighborhood's vote... Abner Mikva, whom Hyde Park sent to Congress in the 1970s (he is now an informal adviser to Mr. Obama), later wrote of his own introduction to the Chicago machine when he tried to volunteer in 1948:

"Who sent you?" the committeeman said. I said, "Nobody." He said, "We don't want nobody nobody sent. . . . Where are you from, anyway?" I said, "University of Chicago." He said, "We don't want nobody from the University of Chicago in this organization."

And now, 60 years later, comes John McCain to embrace the same noble sentiment. Apparently he has seen a glimmer of promise in that stale hate and is ready to pick up where the machine left off. Some maverick.

Then again, why shouldn't he? His party embodies the motto of Chicago politics – "Where's mine?" – even better than the machine's patronage army did 50 years ago. ... [...read full article...]

One part of this will be, as has already started, to claim that Austan Goolsbee, one Obama's economic advisors, is not part of the "grand Chicago intellectual tradition," i.e. that he is one of those elitists who wants to regulate your life and tell you what to do rather than one of the Chicago "intellectuals conservatives love." Brad DeLong is having none of that:

Yesterday I felt obliged to strongly dissent from Greg Mankiw's claim that Austan Goolsbee, in endorsing his boss Barack Obama's position on the regulation of investment banks, had sold his share of the grand Chicago intellectual tradition for a mess of political pottage. Mankiw wrote, of Austan:

Greg Mankiw's Blog: George Stigler rolls over in his grave: Remember when the University of Chicago used to be the intellectual center of the deregulation movement? No more. A reader alerts me to this news: "Investment banks that obtain Federal Reserve Bank loans during a financial crisis should face much closer regulatory scrutiny, a key economic adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama said. Austan Goolsbee, an economics professor at the University of Chicago and one of Sen. Obama's closest advisers on economic issues, said the senator believed strongly in enhanced regulation of any financial institution that has access to the Fed's discount window..."

This claim of Mankiw's seemed to me to be (i) simply wrong in its understanding of the Chicago tradition on financial regulation, as I argued yesterday, (ii) wrong in its analysis of why the Federal Reserve believes it needs authority to both lend to and regulate non-bank banks, as ... argued yesterday, and (iii) wrong in its misidentification of the source of the push for enhanced regulatory authority--which comes not out of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party as a partisan issue but out of the Federal Reserve as a technocratic issue. This last is, I think, especially important: getting financial regulation right to deal with financial crises is not properly a partisan or ideological issue, and nobody should try to make it one.

What's the Obamacon thing all about? I think I'm missing something there.

    Posted by on Wednesday, June 11, 2008 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (56)


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