The mystery of Obamacon-ism

Milton Friedman's son thinks Barack Obama is not so bad. What has the world come to?

Published June 11, 2008 5:12PM (EDT)

What are we to make of the fact that David Friedman, the son of Milton and Rose Friedman, a confirmed libertarian and renowned theorist of "anarcho-capitalism," has outed himself on his blog as a Barack Obama supporter? Is it proof, as Bruce Bartlett writes in the New Republic, of the emergence of a growing coterie of "Obamacons" who are deserting the Republican Party in droves for the Democratic presidential nominee?

Or is it just plain freaky? The spawn of the archdeacon of the church of market fundamentalism supports a candidate, who if not the most liberal senator in Congress, as John McCain would like voters to believe, still resides, by any quantitative measure, on the left side of the ledger. (Voteview, a ranking project created by two U.C. San Diego professors, plugs Obama in as the 10th most liberal senator; 1-5, in order, are Feingold, Dodd, Sanders, Whitehouse and Kennedy.)

In his first post on Obama, Friedman, who teaches law and economics at Santa Clara University, merely confined himself to the lukewarm endorsement that Obama was "pretty clearly the least bad" of all the presidential candidates. After some of his regular readers expressed befuddlement, he responded with a more detailed meditation.

Friedman takes heart, as many libertarians do, in Obama's affiliation with University of Chicago academics Austan Goolsbee and Cass Sunstein, whom Friedman appears to regard as members of a species of left-libertarians who can be counted on not to collapse into a quicksand of socialist totalitarianism.

Obama himself, while obviously constrained by the fact that he is trying to get nominated, has occasionally let things slip that suggest a more libertarian view than typical of liberal senators. At one point he said something mildly favorable about school vouchers, retreating rapidly under pressure from the teachers' unions, and similarly with marijuana decriminalization. His most visible disagreement with Clinton is over her plan to force everyone to buy health insurance. He appears uncomfortable with that degree of coercion, even though he is willing to use the less direct version -- taxation to subsidize the insurance that he thinks people ought to have.

Bush was elected on a pro-market, small government, platform and proceeded to greatly expand the size of government -- and not only in the form of military spending. His view of the legitimate power of the executive branch, including the authority to deliberately violate federal law, I find frightening. Perhaps, if we are lucky, Obama will turn out to be the anti-Bush.

Maybe the most sensible thing that can be said about the hope that some conservatives are investing in Obama is that nothing could better demonstrate the disastrous legacy of the Bush administration than that the son of Milton Friedman is hoping that a black senator from Illinois will restrain government excess. Whether this will help Obama in swing states, I cannot say, but it sure is interesting.

As is the tidbit, learned from Wikipedia, that David Friedman is an energetic member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, where is he known as His Grace, Cariadoc of the Bow.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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