Here Are My Biases

Monday, October 6th, 2008

I’ve gotten quite a few emails and blog comments lately expressing frustration or disappointment or outrage that I haven’t attacked the Obama campaign with the same frequency or thoroughness that I’ve gone after McCain. Of course, when I do attack Obama, I get email accusing me of being in the tank for McCain. But I won’t feign balance, here. I have been far more critical of McCain than I have Obama. No question.

One reason is that I’ve found McCain’s campaign to be nastier, more blatantly dishonest, and more insulting to the collective intelligence than the Obama campaign. When I see Obama campaign commercials lamenting that women make only 70 cents on the dollar of what men make, or that “all of our jobs are going oveseas,” I roll my eyes. But though Obama may be wrong, I at least think he believes his own bullshit. That isn’t nearly as insulting to my intelligence as claiming that because a mostly barren corner of Russia can be seen from a remote Alaskan island, Sarah Palin has the foreign policy cred to be president, or that she’s the foremost expert on energy in the country.

The people angry by my disproportionate attention to McCain’s campaign, though, mostly accuse me of being biased, to which I can only say . . . yes, I am. I don’t think I’ve ever really pretended otherwise. I’ve made it clear on this site that (1) I plan to vote for Bob Barr, and (2) I hope the Republicans get clobbered next month. I am very clearly biased. And not in favor of Obama so much as against McCain. I make no pretense to objectivity.

I’m not sure why, but I guess some people think that in order to prove my libertarian bona fides, I have to have an equal number of posts critical of or supportive of each campaign. I’m not USA Today. You’re reading the very opinionated blog of an openly opinionated journalist.

Obama is a seriously flawed candidate. And yes, Obama united with a Democratic Congress is a scary proposition. But on the issues I cover and that I think are most important this election, Obama is clearly the better choice. Will he disappoint, even on those issues? Almost assuredly.

But we’ve had eight years of a GOP administration, and before that eight years of a mostly GOP Congress. The result has been an explosion in the growth of government that by every measure has been the largest since at least the Johnson administration, and by some measures since FDR. I see no reason why a McCain administration would be any different, particularly given that he has made bipartisanship and deal-making the hallmark of his career (and let’s face it, “bipartisanship” is rarely a case where the parties come together to shrink the government–it almost always results in more government). In other words, the GOP has consistently been worse than the Dems even on the issues where they’re supposed to be better.

The only issue where I’m relatively confident McCain would be preferable to Obama is trade. From taxes to regulation to growth of government–on every other fiscal issue–McCain’s better only on the margins, if at all. This is the guy who teamed up with Ted Kennedy to expand federal coverage of children’s health insurance, who co-authored the worst attack on the First Amendment in my lifetime, and who once tried to ban mixed marital arts because he thought it was icky. There’s nothing in McCain’s record that suggests he’d be any better at promoting limited government policies than Bush. And Bush has been dreadful. I never thought I’d be nostalgic for Bill Clinton.

On criminal justice issues, Obama has at least expressed concern about the soaring incarceration rate, has promised to end federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, and come out in opposition to mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes. Even here, he’s far from perfect (as I’ll explain in an upcoming article for Slate).

Obama has also been critical of president Bush’s expansive view of executive power, his contempt for the separation of powers, and his rather callous treatment of civil liberties in wartime. Obama is also far less likely to get us bogged down in another pointless war. Oh, and he so far has managed to avoid making light of dropping bombs on another country.

Is Obama perfect on these issues? Not at all. He’s not even good on most of them. But again, he’s far better on them than McCain. Moreover, a thorough rebuke at the polls would also go along way toward diminishing the influence of neoconservatives and “national greatness” types from the GOP. The Weekly Standard crowd has been pushing McCain for the presidency since 2000. A McCain victory would give them a firmer grip on power than they already have, and only bolster their influence. A resounding McCain defeat would (hopefully) return the neocons to ivory towers and their offices at AEI, while reacquainting the GOP with its limited government roots. The neocon ascendancy has basically muted the Reagan-Goldwater wing of the GOP. Look at the op-ed pages of the two most influential papers in America–the New York Times and the Washington Post. Who’s still articulating the limited government position? As far as I can tell, only George Will. Maybe Anne Applebaum, but she rarely writes on domestic issues. Every other “right” oriented columnist is a big-government conservative, including Michael Gerson, Charles Krauthammer, David Brooks, William Kristol, and the middle-right Fareed Zakaria.

I don’t think I’ve ever indicated that Obama would be good for libertarians or for limited government. I have no illusions about that. I just happen to think McCain would be a hell of a lot worse.

If that means I don’t fit your definition of a libertarian, or makes you never want to visit my site again, so be it. But spare me the comments and emails explaining how disappointed you are in me. A few of you are also treading perilously close to the line between critical and abusive. I realize tensions run high around the election, but I’m going to start deleting gratuitously insulting comments, and banning the people who write them.

The good news is, I’ve been impressed with Bob Barr, particularly his performance at the reason event a few weeks ago, where he responded in real time to the questions and answers at the first presidential debate. It’s the first time I’ll be voting in favor of a candidate for president instead of voting against all the others.

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141 Responses to “Here Are My Biases”

  1. #1 |  Thomas | 

    I’d agree on the policy issues portion, but I think you are a bit off Radley on McCain having the nastier campaign. I have seen him actually call people off things and say this needs to stop, while Obama is either ignorant or gives tacit approval of dirtier plays by his supporters. They are building a cult of personality and Obama is going along for the ride. That frankly scares me.

    I do agree with Steve Verdon that I don’t believe he believes the story he is selling, he is just a politican like any other.

    Terrorific, I don’t know where you live, but having worked in the beltway I have experience with ‘Liberals and Democrats’ who have turned away and walked away from a conversation with me only based on where I worked. Without of finding out what my personal politics were. Granted I don’t say this is true of all of them, heck or even most folks I ever met, but I did have it happen on few different occasions. Prejudice exists on both sides of the aisle.

    In the end I’ll be voting Barr.

  2. #2 |  Bill | 

    Aaron, excellent post. Let me put forth an argument for a ban on abortion from conception that is consistent from libertarian principles. Not sure it’s exactly MY position, but you asked for one, so:

    If we can agree on the idea that human life begins somewhere between conception and birth, then we encounter the difficulty of determining just where on that continuum that life becomes “human”–and that is probably not possible, given that there are philosophical, scientific and religious components involved which we’ve been arguing about for decades.

    So, do we grant the benefit of the doubt to the woman seeking the abortion, or the fetus? You raise the issue of justifiable homicide, but the fetus has no intent to do harm to the woman, and of course it wouldn’t be homicide until the fetus reaches that undefined point at which it becomes human. And if the woman’s life is in danger, then it becomes a matter of balancing two lives; further, the intent of abortion when the mother’s life is in danger isn’t to harm the fetus, but to save the mother.

    But in an “optional” abortion, if the fetus is at the point of being human, it loses its life, whereas a woman who must carry the baby to term suffers inconvenience, discomfort and some risk (though abortion also carries risk). If you had to make the choice as to whether or not an abortion should be permitted, and then be placed in the position of either the fetus or the pregnant woman, without knowing which role you would play beforehand, which would you choose? Shouldn’t the one whose life is on the line be given the benefit of the doubt?

  3. #3 |  dsmallwood | 

    Sydney, #93
    i’m at a loss …

    abortion=murder
    reasonable disagreement

    i like political discourse, but if you say that people who have had an abortion are murders, you’re gonna need some thick skin. some of those people may not want to ‘debate’ with you.

  4. #4 |  brooks | 

    Thomas,

    don’t you remember the steady stream of lies the mcCain campaign ran in ads on campaign stops in september? even die-hard conservatives were calling them on it, to no avail. demonstrably false claims about obama’s “sex-ed” legislation implying he was a perv or worse, and the outright lies on the Bridge to Nowhere? obama’s obviously not the perfect candidate, but the distortions he ran here and there simply couldn’t compare.

    i’m voting barr myself come november, but i thought it was pretty obvious the mcCain camp got desperate after their palin ‘bump’ faded.

  5. #5 |  nobahdi | 

    I wonder what Radley’s record is for number of comments.

  6. #6 |  Danno49 | 

    For those of you libertarians who happen to be pro-life (I am also), I offer this website which I have offered here before:

    Libertarians for Life –> http://www.l4l.org/

    From the front page:

    To explain and defend our case, LFL argues that:

    1. Human offspring are human beings, persons from conception, whether that takes place as natural or artificial fertilization, by cloning, or by any other means.

    2. Abortion is homicide — the killing of one person by another.

    3. One’s right to control one’s own body does not allow violating the obligation not to aggress. There is never a right to kill an innocent person. Prenatally, we are all innocent persons.

    4. A prenatal child has the right to be in the mother’s body. Parents have no right to evict their children from the crib or from the womb and let them die. Instead both parents, the father as well as the mother, owe them support and protection from harm.

    5. No government, nor any individual, has a just power to legally “de-person” any one of us, born or preborn.

    6. The proper purpose of the law is to side with the innocent, not against them.

  7. #7 |  brooks | 

    Danno49,

    “persons from conception”? simply declaring it does not make it so. how would LFL argue that an undifferentiated embryo, for instance, meets any of the prerequisites for personhood? and — especially given your statement on cloning — how does this argument avoid the obvious reductio of granting rights to all healthy somatic cells in your average human being, all of which are potential persons given cloning technology? should blood donation or surgery be considered assault? specifics, please, and no hand-waving.

  8. #8 |  The Confabulum » Blog Archive » My Darn Maverick Tendencies | 

    […] UPDATE — Radley Balko hits a related note: […]

  9. #9 |  Big Chief | 

    I’m a voter in a Battleground state (Ohio). I’m voting for Barr. I don’t think Barr will win, but I certainly don’t believe it’s a wasted vote. A wasted vote is a vote for someone I don’t believe will follow the constitution.

    Aside from that, I am hoping the McCain wins. I think McCain would be a bad president. I think Obama will be even worse because he’ll have a Democrat led congress. One thing I think all Americans should have learned is that the best solution until we break the 2 party stranglehold is to have split government. Governmental gridlock is our only safeguard until the two party duopoly is broken.

  10. #10 |  Shamgar | 

    It’s the first time I’ll be voting in favor of a candidate for president instead of voting against all the others.

    Well – I think I’m too late to the game to really contribute to this discussion – but I’ll add my voice to those that are a bit incredulous that you’re buying Barr’s act. I dunno – maybe you’re right, but for my part I can’t swallow his line. I’ve heard a few too many speeches and interviews /since/ his announcement that to me seem to belie the libertarian claim.

    That said, I’m really shocked by the comment I quoted above. You couldn’t vote /for/ Browne? Or Badnarik? But you can vote for Barr? Or are you just a lot younger than I realized?

  11. #11 |  Shamgar | 


    Aside from that, I am hoping the McCain wins. I think McCain would be a bad president. I think Obama will be even worse because he’ll have a Democrat led congress. One thing I think all Americans should have learned is that the best solution until we break the 2 party stranglehold is to have split government. Governmental gridlock is our only safeguard until the two party duopoly is broken.

    I don’t think you’re paying attention. There is no gridlock with McCain and the Democrats. Most of his bills are co-sponsored by them. McCain in the whitehouse is the death of gridlock. Republicans will be made to toe the line, and democrats will willingly go along because they agree with him far more than republicans do.

    No, the best thing we can hope for (absent a miraculous third-party win) is to have obama/republican congress. The republicans will be unbelievably reactionary and everything will get bogged down.

  12. #12 |  supercat | 

    //As for gay marriage, I have no problem with it.//

    Can anyone identify for me any society of non-trivial size (say, over 1,000 people) that has lasted for a non-trivial duration (say, over 100 years), at any time in human history, which has NOT required every marriage to involve precisely one male?

    The requirement that marriage involve exactly one male is one of the most universal characteristics of human societies, and is consistently found even in societies which have never had any known contact with the outside world. It’s not just a “religion” thing–not by a long shot.

  13. #13 |  Elliot | 

    Radley: You don’t think Obama believes his own economic policies will work?

    Work for whom?

    I am certain that Obama knows that his policies will not work for most of the people who vote for him, if you consider “working for them” to be getting the results those voters expect (or, avoiding the problems those voters fear). I am certain he is cynically pandering to them, making vaguely-worded statements so those people will see what they want to see, knowing full well that he won’t (and doesn’t want to) work for their actual goals.

    He probably does think that his most collectivist policy ideas will work towards his class warfare goals, which his true-believer supporters also hold dear. He may even think that his plans, if implemented, will help the proles by lowering unemployment and raising their income. But I think that, for Obama, the latter is secondary to the former.

    “So what?” many here will ask, I expect. After all religious zealots and “right-wing” nationalists have murdered, tortured, and demolished freedom, so they are more scary than the leftists, correct? Well history shows those types are mere pikers compared to the leftist mega-murderers.

    So, I agree with you that McCain is corrupt and unprincipled, that Palin is a religious nut who is ridiculously unprepared. That they don’t believe their own propaganda doesn’t scare me one sliver of one percent as much as knowing that Obama believes his. That is the scariest thing about this whole campaign.

    When people try to compartmentalize social vs. economic issues, they overlook the fact that they are, ultimately, indistinguishable as both are of the realm of human action and both derive from the singular basis of freedom, self-ownership. And, the ridiculous “left” versus “right” false dichotomy should have been tossed out with powdered wigs. The real conflict is between individualism and collectivism. In that respect, anti-free-market egalitarianism and “country first” nonsense are both the enemy.

  14. #14 |  Mike | 

    The other reason I prefer Obama is that he has been in Washington for less time and is not as intellectually rigid as others. I think he might be persuadable on some issues.

    In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he stakes out a moderate Clinton-esque course on the economy. The horrible situation he’s being presented with will simply leave him little choice.

  15. #15 |  Big Chief | 

    It would take as much of a miracle to have a Republican congress as to have a 3rd party President. I don’t care what’s happened in congress, the President is on the big stage and other than Lieberman he’s going to find himself bereft of his “old friends.” Partisanship is too important at that level. Gridlock WILL exist. I would agree it would be at a higher level if it was reversed, but might as well talk about Nader being President as that happening.

  16. #16 |  Balloon Juice » Blog Archive » Open Thread- Lost Dog Alert | 

    […] This Radley Balko post was worth reading, explaining why, even though he believes Obama is a flawed candidate, he still supports him over McCain: […]

  17. #17 |  Mike T | 

    On criminal justice issues, Obama has at least expressed concern about the soaring incarceration rate, has promised to end federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, and come out in opposition to mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes. Even here, he’s far from perfect (as I’ll explain in an upcoming article for Slate).

    Uh huh. Sure. I give him 24 hours before he caves in to political pressure and sends the DEA to deal with them.

  18. #18 |  Mike T | 

    You don’t think Obama believes his own economic policies will work?

    I don’t think he really cares, as he is clearly driven by ideology, and not results.

  19. #19 |  CTD | 

    You don’t think Obama believes his own economic policies will work?

    I think that Obama believes quasi-Marxist pandering will work to get him elected.

  20. #20 |  CTD | 

    Ok, Elliot said it much better than me.

    “That they don’t believe their own propaganda doesn’t scare me one sliver of one percent as much as knowing that Obama believes his.”

    +1

  21. #21 |  TJA | 

    Quote

    “That is the worst logic in the world. Why would you vote for someone who doesn’t represent your interests. ….. Of course, if McCain or Obama represents your views and beliefs then vote for one of them, but the lesser of two evils argument is a canard that has been perpetutated for far too long in America.”

    Why would you buy a Chevy when you want to drive a BMW? Because it is the best option available to you.

    Voting is about influencing the outcome of an election. A vote for Barr will have the same influence on the election as not voting. Pick the one of the two viable cantidates which best represent your view and vote for them.

  22. #22 |  Cynical In CA | 

    “A vote for Barr will have the same influence on the election as not voting.”

    Any individual vote has the most negligible influence on an election.

    Aggregate votes influence elections, but no matter which candidate wins, the real winner is the State.

    As I have demonstrated above, voting is force, force is violence, violence is the State, and elections are the only State-sanctioned form of violence allowed to the citizenry. The franchise is the manifestation of the myth of popular sovereignty, a secular sacrament, without which the State’s violence would be naked in plain sight.

    Thus, if true change is desired, not merely changing the direction in which the guns are pointed, it is NOT VOTING in the aggregate that is the most effective.

    Emma Goldman said, “If voting could change anything, it would be illegal.”

    My corollary is, “If NOT voting could change anything, it would be illegal.”

    Many States have mandatory voting laws. Were my ideas ever to become popular, you bet your sweet ass the U.S. would enact mandatory voting laws.

  23. #23 |  Danno49 | 

    brooks,

    I learned a long time ago that an abortion debate is a waste of time and a cause of significant negative feelings and thoughts toward those who hold opposing sides. I was not trying to entice you or anyone else into a discourse about it. And I will never engage in such debate again. It is hopeless and while I do care about it very much, I care more about the well-being of the people that I speak with on a day-to-day basis, be it on the internet or in person. Be it friend or ‘foe’. :D

    I did not provide the link nor points from their page for you or anyone else who shares your opinion (the majority of Radley’s readers, I know – I’ve been here for a LONG time) so much as I put it there because someone asked if there was a libertarian stance on pro-life. I merely provided what was asked for. But if you find it informative one way or the other, I am pleased.

    It is futile to expect anyone with a modicum of intelligence to change their mind over one of the most polarizing subjects in human history. I know I can never do that and nor would I even try. Everyone has their opinion and is, of course, entitled to it. I respect all arguments on all sides now. I didn’t used to be that way. But I have learned a great deal from the people who post here and am now quite capable of living in harmony with differences of opinion like this. I kind of said what I am about to say before but it is important to me that I be understood on this point so I will reiterate it. As far as I am concerned, all an abortion debate does is cause bad feelings and negativity to rise up in people that would not have been there otherwise. So out of respect for my fellow human beings, I just can’t do it knowing how sensitive this subject is to folks. I have unknowingly said enough to hurt or upset people in my life without engaging in something I know will cause harm to one person or another.

    Good day.

  24. #24 |  Jefferson | 

    Obviously, Barr is not going to win. But a vote for Barr is not worthless.

    I couldn’t possibly vote for McCain or Obama. So, my choice is Barr or staying home. Staying home is easier, and what I often do, but this time I think a vote for Barr is important. If it’s tight, and Barr captures enough to votes to “Naderize” McCain, it will send a message to Republicans.

    I know that sending this message is not likely to change anything, but it still feels good. When someone cuts you off in traffic, they are asking for you to flip them the bird. If you don’t go ahead and send them the message, it feels like unfinished business.

    And don’t forget, here in the FLA, it doesn’t take many votes to fuck things all up!

  25. #25 |  Chris Brennan | 

    “I prefer Obama over McCain in much the way I prefer rancid milk over rancid milk regurgitated by a cat.”

    – Will Wilkinson, research fellow at the Cato Institute. (http://www.culture11.com/node/32425?page_art=2)

  26. #26 |  Cynical In CA | 

    “When someone cuts you off in traffic, they are asking for you to flip them the bird.”

    Jefferson, I interpret you voting as cutting me off in traffic. So let me flip you the bird (hopefully in a tactful way).

    A vote for Barr is more than worthless. It is supportive of the machinery of State. By voting, you increase the level of violence in the world and enable the State to amplify your violence exponentially.

    Staying home, while easier from a physical standpoint, is morally courageous, especially if done in principle and publicly.

    Think what you want — thinking is generally a worthwhile endeavor. But be honest with yourself as you enter that confessional booth on Election Day and commit your secret violence upon your fellow man.

  27. #27 |  Eric the .5b | 

    Radley, I think you’re wrongly attributing strong comments about you to doctrinaire libertarians when I’ve always had the impression that they’re coming from republicans/conservatives of the Bush/McCain Lesser of two evils variety.

    There are folks (your Eric Donderos, your Glenn Reynolds) who were once actual libertarians, but whose beliefs have morphed until they can cheerfully support the most big-government, socialistic, and anti-freedom policies of Team Red. Just like Bill O’Reilly, they try to set themselves apart from the political faction they obviously support in order to have extra credibility; he calls himself an “independent”, while they call themselves “libertarians”.

  28. #28 |  Eric the .5b | 

    Also, I just wanted to say – awesome post, Radley.

  29. #29 |  brooks | 

    Danno49,

    no problem.

    (i’ve since looked at the site.)

    i don’t begrudge you your opinion, and appreciate your considered response. i am not gung ho for/against, i just wonder about anyone who is satisfied with an all-or-nothing kind of stance. (nothing personal, of course.)

    thanks, and well said.

  30. #30 |  sebritt | 

    Radley –

    This is the first time I’ve heard any halfway logical argument for preferring Obama over McCain. I was debating whether to vote for Bob Barr or McCain for the last couple of months. I felt that McCain was the lesser of evils to a small degree until he came rushing in to vote for the bailout. After watching him once again side with big government, I decided I had to vote for Bob Barr – wasted vote (so they say) or not. I dread the thought of the combination of Obama and a democratic congress, but there has to be a wake up call.

  31. #31 |  Billy Beck | 

    “Obama is a seriously flawed candidate.”

    It’s been at least ten years since an old friend of mine expressed his regret that there is no way to properly express explosive laughter while writing on the internet.

    That’s fuckin’ precious.

  32. #32 |  Danno49 | 

    brooks,

    Thank you,/b> for being so gracious. I really appreciate it.

  33. #33 |  Danno49 | 

    aw crap – sorry ;)

    brooks,

    Thank you for being so gracious. As I hope you will continue to be with my lack of a proper close bold tag above! I really do appreciate it.

    Now where’s that damned coffee?

  34. #34 |  Danno49 | 

    OK – now I am just embarrassing myself. Move along, nothing to see here!

  35. #35 |  bobzbob | 

    “1. Human offspring are human beings, persons from conception, whether that takes place as natural or artificial fertilization, by cloning, or by any other means.”

    THis is a belief, not a fact. The FACT that 70% of all zygotes spontaneously abort within the first 4 weeks after conception strongly argues the opposite.

    Of course if you believe that zygotes are persons from conception then you must conclude that since 70% of americans die in the first four weeks after conception that this is by far the greatest health care crisis facing the nation. What have you done about it?

  36. #36 |  Danno49 | 

    bobzbob,

    I am truly sorry my earnestness wasn’t enough for you. But I did meant what I said about not engaging in an abortion debate. Nice try, though. +1 :D

    Good day.

  37. #37 |  Lynette | 

    “I’ve made it clear on this site that (1) I plan to vote for Bob Barr, and (2) I hope the Republicans get clobbered next month. I am very clearly biased. And not in favor of Obama so much as against McCain. I make no pretense to objectivity.”

    Whoa Radley, what happened to the love of gridlock you professed in 2004? Please don’t tell us that was just convenient cover….

  38. #38 |  Leaning Towards the Dark Side » Blog Archive » Randomness | 

    […] Radley Balko had a great piece the other day on his biases, I have trouble disagreeing with much of it. Obama is a seriously flawed candidate. And yes, Obama united with a Democratic Congress is a scary proposition. But on the issues I cover and that I think are most important this election, Obama is clearly the better choice. Will he disappoint, even on those issues? Almost assuredly. […]

  39. #39 |  anonymous | 

    As one of those (former regular) readers who’s been disappointed and frustrated by your bias over the past couple of months — and I do think you’ve been coy and less than forthright about it, even now — I suggest you put a link to this as a sticky at the top of your blog.

    It would at least save a lot of time and trouble of re-hashing this point over and over.

  40. #40 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » Morning Links | 

    […] examining some Paleozoic specimen just hauled up from a trench in the sea floor. Here’s why I preferred Obama to McCain: The GOP gave up all pretense of any limited government principles. They’re no longer […]

  41. #41 |  Aaron | 

    supercat: in tibet polyandry was fairly common ,and still is in some circumstances. One of the most common forms is fraternal polyandry, where two brothers share a wife.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyandry_in_Tibet