The Obama Watch

Simply a Statist

Figuring out Barack Obama's place on the political spectrum.

By 8.5.10

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One of the simplest ways of measuring political ideology is the famous baseball diamond. The bottom corner is labeled "Statist" while the other vertices, going clockwise, are "Left," "Libertarian," and "Right." The lower-left and lower-right sides of the diamond measure Personal Freedom and Economic Freedom respectively. Bill Kristol is about halfway up the first base line, Lindsey Graham is somewhere near the pitcher's mound, Tom Coburn is hugging the Green Monster, Ron Paul is in far center field, and so forth.

Where does that put Barack Obama?

I found myself asking that question the other day after reading something mind-bending. The Obama Administration wants to add e-mails to the list of records the FBI can peruse without a warrant or court approval. In fairness, the content of the e-mails would supposedly remain private. But the feds could access information like the name of the sender, the time of the sending, and other information like Google searches.

All this is curious because, as leftists gleefully sang in the streets for most of 2009, this isn't the Bush Administration anymore. According to the MoveOn.org storybook, George W. Bush was a psychotic fascist who rode roughshod over our civil rights in the name of prosecuting an endless war. Barack Obama was supposed to be the savior who would dissolve the mortar of the police state with hope and change on day one of his presidency. Instead, it looks more like he's riding roughshod over our civil rights in the name of prosecuting a different war.

The great civil liberties revolution that Barack Obama promised during the campaign died shortly after Barack Obama was inaugurated. Early on, the Department of Justice went to court and fought to continue the Bush Administration's practice of indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without a trial. The DOJ also asserted a "states' secrets" doctrine that allowed the government to withhold national security information for virtually any reason. Guantanamo Bay, considered a scab on the American spirit by most progressives, remains open for business. Oh, and a little resolution called the Patriot Act was renewed this year.

Civil libertarians spent most of the Bush Administration conjuring up images of government spooks listening in on phone conversations and FBI agents kicking down library doors. Obama seems determined to extend that power to the internet as well, the final frontier of unfettered capitalism. The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 gave the president power to shut down portions of the internet and the secretary of commerce unrestricted access to internet communications. The FCC is hammering out a way to give itself regulatory power over the web. It's statism for the digital age.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. In March, 2008, New York Times columnist Jeffrey Rosen wrote a column called "A Card-Carrying Civil Libertarian." Cooed Rosen, "If Barack Obama wins in November, we could have not only our first president who is an African-American, but also our first president who is a civil libertarian."

For those of us on the right who had grown jittery about the Bush Administration's vast claims of executive power, Obama's election had a (very slim) silver lining. If nothing else, we thought, an Obama Administration would pay more heed to our civil liberties. What a naïve and fatuous assumption.

Back to the baseball diamond. Where do we place Barack Obama? The answer seems to be squarely in the statist corner, perhaps somewhere behind the catcher, so far back that the fans seated in the first row behind home plate could touch him. The man doesn't seem to have an ounce of economic or personal freedom in his body.

It's sometimes hard to understand the philosophy of someone like Dennis Kucinich, who lovingly trusts the government with his money but not his civil liberties. But with Obama, it's coldly, calculatedly, simplistically logical. He trusts the state over the individual in every aspect of American life. Period.

This administration just rammed through a bill forcing everyone to purchase health insurance. Its bureaucrats are hard at work on a campaign to make Americans less fat. Its ideological peers in Congress just passed a financial reform bill requiring government diversity czars at every major private bank. Its Department of Justice has gone after, among other targets, a school district in New York because a male student was being bullied for dressing like a girl.

The president doesn't seem to believe the private sector deserves any breathing room. There's no nook or cranny of American life that's beyond regulation.

It's been written that we live in a post-constitutional age where serious checks on the federal government, like the Tenth Amendment, aren't respected. That's not entirely true, but to the extent that it is, our only defense is leaders with limits. If the Constitution doesn't check the growth of government, then our statesmen must check their desires to grow government.

Barack Obama doesn't have those restraints. That's why it's so crucial we elect leaders who will limit his statism.

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About the Author

Matt Purple is The American Spectator's assistant managing editor.