Monday, December 29, 2008

Obama impressive so far

I'd be remiss if I didn't applaud Barack Obama's appointments to date. According to PBS Newshour, 'Scientists and scientific organizations hailed the president-elect's choice of top science advisers as a "dream team.'" I just take this an example. More important is Obama's economic team, and on that count most people should be equally impressed, given Obama's leftish background.

There were, or course, many signs before the election that Obama would govern from the centre, but distinguishing between what was campaigning and what was the real Obama was not easy. One key bit of evidence that the real Obama would be a President whom conservative intellectuals could potentially live with was an anecdote in PBS FRONTLINE's "The Choice", which aired in October. It described how the small minority of "right wing" students in Harvard Law grudgingly supported Obama for President of the Law Review and were subsequently satisfied with his performance in that role. Obama was more concerned with producing a top quality product than with serving up red meat for his liberal base, to the point where most of the frustration with Obama ending up coming from campus radicals who thought Obama wasn't delivering on their agenda.

This was almost enough to move me to endorse Obama over McCain. In the end I could not, because although Obama is impressively cerebral and deliberate in his apparent decision making style, the FRONTLINE anecdote was just that, an anecdote, and Obama's official positions on issues like trade and US agricultural subsidies were indisputably inferior to McCain's.

In Canada, we supposedly have our own intellectual politician, one Michael Ignatieff. If the grandstanding populist antics of the nominally "Conservative" Danny Williams in Newfoundland (e.g. expropriating the property of a private firm by simply passing a new bill instead of going before a court to obtain a government-favourable result under pre-existing contracts and legislation) are compared to the corporate-tax-cutting/staunch-refusal-to-expropriate policies of the nominally "Liberal" Shawn Graham in New Brunswick, I dare say that libertarians, and people who are unimpressed with thorough-going populism of other "Canadian Conservatives" like Alberta premier Stelmach or, for that matter, Prime Minister Harper, can quite defensibly find more of a home for themselves in the Liberal party than a Conservative one.

Such is the magnitude of Obama's popularity with educated Americans that Krugman may will be right: Republicans are in danger of becoming the "party of stupid". And I'll be frank, Sarah Palin would do nothing to arrest such a slide. Canada's Tories may be headed in the same direction, not just because of their own tendency to play to the rabble, but because the nomination of Ignatieff and the pursuit of policies like the Green Shift (which didn't quite put them into the "Pigou club" beloved of economists like Greg Mankiw but was definitely in a step in that direction) have raised the policy respectibility of the Liberal brand (a respectibility that was nonetheless greatly eroded by the announced "coalition" with the economically dangerous NDP and Bloc).

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