I’m a lifelong Republican – a supply-side conservative. I worked in the Reagan White House. I was the chief economist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for five years. In 1994, I helped write the Republican Contract with America. I served on Bob Dole‘s presidential campaign team and was chief economist for Jack Kemp‘s Empower America.
This November, I’m voting for Barack Obama.
When I first made this decision, many colleagues were shocked. How could I support a candidate with a domestic policy platform that’s antithetical to almost everything I believe in?
The answer is simple: Unjustified war and unconstitutional abridgment of individual rights vs. ill-conceived tax and economic policies – this is the difference between venial and mortal sins.
Taxes, economic policy and health care reform matter, of course. But how we extract ourselves from the bloody boondoggle in Iraq, how we avoid getting into a war with Iran and how we preserve our individual rights while dealing with real foreign threats – these are of greater importance.
John McCain would continue the Bush administration’s commitment to interventionism and constitutional overreach. Obama promises a humbler engagement with our allies, while promising retaliation against any enemy who dares attack us. That’s what conservatism used to mean – and it’s what George W. Bush promised as a candidate.
Plus, when it comes to domestic issues, I don’t take Obama at his word. That may sound cynical. But the fact that he says just about all the wrong things on domestic issues doesn’t bother me as much as it once would have. After all, the Republicans said all the right things – fiscal responsibility, spending restraint – and it didn’t mean a thing. It is a sad commentary on American politics today, but it’s taken as a given that politicians, all of them, must pander, obfuscate and prevaricate.
Besides, I suspect Obama is more free-market friendly than he lets on. He taught at the University of Chicago, a hotbed of right-of-center thought. His economic advisers, notably Austan Goolsbee, recognize that ordinary citizens stand to gain more from open markets than from government meddling. That’s got to rub off.
When it comes to health care, I am hoping Obama quietly recognizes that a crusade against pharmaceutical companies would result in the opposite of any intended effect. And in any event, McCain’s plans in this area are deeply problematic, too. Take drug re-importation. McCain (like Obama) says he’s perfectly comfortable with this ill-conceived scheme, which would drive research and development dollars away from the next generation of miracle cures.
But overall, based on his embrace of centrist advisers and policies, it seems likely that Obama will turn out to be in the mold of John Kennedy – who was fond of noting that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Over the last few decades, economic growth has made Americans at every income level better off. For all his borderline pessimistic rhetoric, Obama knows this. And I believe he is savvy enough to realize that the real threat to middle-class families and the poor – an economic undertow that drags everyone down – cannot be counteracted by an activist government.
Or maybe not. But here’s the thing: Even if my hopes on domestic policy are dashed and Obama reveals himself as an unreconstructed, dyed-in-the-wool, big-government liberal, I’m still voting for him.
These past eight years, we have spent over a trillion dollars on foreign soil – and lost countless lives – and done what I consider irreparable damage to our Constitution.
If economic damage from well-intentioned but misbegotten Obama economic schemes is the ransom we must pay him to clean up this foreign policy mess, then so be it. It’s not nearly as costly as enduring four more years of what we suffered the last eight years.