Monday, July 28, 2008

Randy Balko's Questions for Obama

There were some gems:

— You not only supported the latest federal farm bill, you commended it, stating that it "will provide America's hard-working farmers and ranchers with more support and more predictability." Critics have called that $307 billion monstrosity an orgy of earmarks, corporate welfare, and protectionism. It actually increases subsidies to huge agribusinesses in an era of record grain prices — subsidies that are already crushing farmers in the developing world. The New York Times called it "disgraceful." The Wall Street Journal called it a "scam." How does the "change" candidate justify supporting a bill larded with sweetheart deals for big agribusiness when just about everyone not getting a check from the bill opposed it?

Freakonomics recently had a guest Q&A beautifully titled The Illogic of Farm Subsidies and Other Agricultural Truths. Highly recommended, not just because I snuck in a question that made the cut.

Back to Obama, there were a couple questions I liked less:

— You've expressed support for the idea of a "no fly" zone over Darfur because of human rights abuses. What's happening in Sudan is certainly tragic and abhorrent. But what is our national security interest there? Should we send the U.S. military every time there are wide-scale human rights abuses happening anywhere on the globe? Should we send troops to Myanmar? Uzbekistan? Turkmenistan? Iran? Saudi Arabia?

Sovereignty died in WWII. When Hitler was killing the Jews, we didn't sit back and say, "Oh well. His country, his rules." (Well, we did for a while, and how embarassing is that?) Balko seems to be saying there are too many places to intervene at once, and I agree. But how is that really a critique of acting in one of those places? What, we can't stop one genocidal oppressor, because the others might get jealous? It's like, "you have far too many chores to finish today, so don't you dare start the laundry."

So the general picture Balko paints (libertarian that he is), is that Obama isn't an economic liberal. I'm with him on that, I think libertarians have a few policy positions that are needlessly overlooked by the modern politician. But my worries about Obama's commitment to economic liberalism don't phase me much, because I don't really think we're on the brink of that sort of change. Those libertarian policies that are overlooked are overlooked by every politician. We are on the brink of a few other changes, however. One, towards a pragmatism in foreign policy. Obama, with his eagerness to talk the world (rather than just kicking them out of the G8, say) seems like my candidate there. Also, and maybe I understate this because it seems so obvious, but the overwhelming allure of "first black president" really hasn't worn off for me yet.