Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Barack Obama’s Political Philosophy

by Fernando Tesón

Bleeding Heart Libertarians

May 21, 2013

(Author’s note: this is a post about ideas, not politics. It is unrelated to current events. It simply examines the philosophical views expressed by our Chief Executive.)

In a number of speeches, the President has outlined his views on the legitimacy of government. Following the Tea Party success in 2010, he resolutely responded to those who attack government. In his words:
The democracy designed by Jefferson and the other founders was never intended to solve every problem with a new law or a new program. Having thrown off the tyranny of the British Empire, the first Americans were understandably skeptical of government. Ever since, we have held fast to the belief that government doesn’t have all the answers, and we have cherished and fiercely defended our individual freedom. That is a strand of our nation’s DNA… But what troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad…For when our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it conveniently ignores the fact in our democracy, government is us. We, the people, hold in our hands the power to choose our leaders, change our laws, and shape our own destiny. (Michigan 2010 speech)
And again recently:
Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave and creative and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted. (Ohio State 2013 speech)
In a sense, there’s little that is new. The President’s view is not necessarily statist in the sense that everything must come from government. He holds the fairly standard view that markets should be robust, but that market failures and other societal needs require government action. His views about the size of government are of course more expansive than that of most readers of this blog, but they are not out of the mainstream: they summarize the standard progressive position.