So lovers of freedom are all over the president for three reasons. First, his enormous expansion of the reach of the national government will produce the schoolmarmish soft despotism of apathetic dependents feared by Tocqueville. To some extent that’s undeniably the intention of his “regime change,” but I strongly doubt it will succeed. Even if we agree that the American people are in the mood to have government alleviate their economic anxiety in a big way, tough economic and especially demographic realities put limits on what government can really do at this point. The unfortunate thing is that such “Europeanization” right now deprives America of key advantages. When “the crisis of the social democratic welfare state” hits hard, it will turn out that we were—but are no longer—especially well situated to do what is required to exit from unsustainable programs.
Second, the fear is that Obama doesn’t have a realistic view of what we have to do militarily to preserve our liberty. This fear, although supported by some of his rhetoric, is somewhat exaggerated. The new military budget is too small but otherwise fairly sensible and not a disaster overall. The American global “ground game” hasn’t and may not change all that much. And it’s likely the president, as our vice president said, will soon enough be mugged by some very inconvenient reality in foreign affairs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t respond well. There’s reason for concern here, but not fanatical opposition or despair.
Third, some, with good reason, see tyranny in his cultural elitsim. As Ivan explains with eloquence and precision below, the president has clearly moved us from the “conflict model” of Bush’s Council on Bioethics—where policy options are explored in light of our deep national divisions on fundamental moral issues (such as the humanity of the embryo and the unborn baby) to the “consensus model,” where a unified national position emerges through the informed guidance of scientific experts. Clearly the president’s goal is to marginalize those with moral concerns about the human cost of unconstrained scientific and technological progress, and especially to privatize completely the concerns of the pro-lifers (and those, as Ralph explained, with reasonable concerns about same-sex marriage). Bush’s goal was to promote national dialogue and, when appropriate, compromise among reasonable opposing visions. Obama’s goal is to replace dialogue with sophisticated, technocratic enlightenment and to declare opposition positions unreasonable or “fundamentalist.” Obama’s cultural liberalism, in my view, is the creepiest and most extreme feature of his administration—one that poses a fundamental threat to intellectual freedom and means to ostracize some of our best citizens (such as Ivan and Ralph). The tyrannical potential here, of course, explodes with the nationalization of health care (and the inevitable medical rationing) and education.