Bush Wasn’t a Conservative and Obama Isn’t a Liberal

Americans need to stop picking the politicians they support based on how those politicians self-identify. Each of us needs to know what values we hold, and when all the evidence shows that the guy claiming to represent those values doesn’t, give up the party line.

Conservatives are supposed to be for limited government—both in size and centrality of power—restrained foreign adventuring, and economic liberty. In the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2011, the Independent Institute warned repeatedly against the terrorist attacks being used as the premise for vastly expanding the size and scope of government power—as such crises have historically been used to do, as chronicled in Robert Higgs’s brilliant Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government.

Michael Barone dismissed such warnings in the Wall Street Journal, confidently declaring that since Republicans held both the House and the Presidency, runaway government would not be a problem. The Republican House, of course, proceeded to grant the Republican Executive unprecedented budgets and powers, quadrupling the size of the federal government under their “Conservative” watch.

Likewise, conservatives figured they could “trust” a Republican to tell them the truth about things like imminent threats, and provided full support for expansionary wars. The supposed conservative in the White House was also the first Republican president to support the federal department of education, bringing on “No Child Left Behind.”

The entire litany of non-conservative positions and acts under President George W. Bush could not fit in a Beacon post.

Modern-day liberals are supposedly in favor of peace and civil liberties, especially those protected by the First and Fourth Amendments, and to be defenders of the economically disadvantaged.

And thus was Barack Obama brought to power, promising peace and preemptively awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, heralded as the great liberal hope.

As well detailed many places, President Obama has built upon the Bush war-mongering legacy and unleashed new terrors in far-away lands. Civilian and military deaths continue galloping—about three times as many Americans dying in Afghanistan, and just never mind about what’s going in the “liberated” Iraq. With more than 300 drone strikes under his watch, as compared against 52 by Bush, President Obama has been responsible for more than 2,000 deaths by drones, including 290 civilians, 64 children and 4 Americans. (One of the Americans, 16 year-old Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki, may or may not have been involved in terrorism, but former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs brushed aside any suggestion that the killing was unjustified, declaring that he “should have had a more responsible father.” Sins of the father, indeed.)

On the civil liberties side, it’s hard to find the liberal behind President Obama’s facade. Warrantless wire-tapping, surveillance, capturing and storing every single email and phone call indefinitely, are alive and prospering under the current administration. And he’s certainly no defender of free speech. As with drone strikes, President Obama has set a new record in this area as well: going after whistle-blowers:

The Obama administration has charged five people with leaking — more than the governments of all other presidents combined. He has sent a clear message to all those in the federal government — source journalists with information and you will be silenced and even jailed.

And the economically disadvantaged? Still here, no better off than when he came into office.

Mr. Bush was given a pass by conservatives who either thought an extraordinarily dangerous world required extraordinarily extra-Constitutional powers for the presidency, or who viewed him as a nice guy who could be trusted.

Mr. Obama is similarly being given a pass by liberals who like his rhetoric on gays or abortion or something. But the plain fact of the matter is he’s not a liberal. He demonstrably believes he can do whatever he wants, and that his motives and ability to do as he believes must not be questioned.

The problem with personality politics—giving a politician a pass based on what he says or how “nice” he is, vs. holding elected officials accountable to the Rule of Law—is that it leads to where we are getting uncomfortably close: tyranny. Mr Obama is increasingly acting as above the law and angry when challenged. In a 5 year-old, it’s annoying. In the person holding the most powerful office in the world, it’s scary.

2015 marks the 800th anniversary of “The Great Writ,” when a group of nobles decided they weren’t going to take such behavior from the king anymore. I suggest we not wait two years. Let’s rein in this office now, learn our lesson, and stop delegating our freedoms to those who talk prettily.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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Beacon Posts by Mary Theroux
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