Is Obama a Centrist? LP Says "No"

For Immediate Release Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In today’s political arena, it’s sometimes hard to tell left from right, and right from left. This makes finding the political ‘center’ that much more difficult. So, is president-elect Barack Obama actually a centrist?

While Obama currently appears to be not as extreme as his campaign rhetoric might have suggested, he still has a firm commitment to the political philosophy of government existing as a tool for social good rather than an obstacle to increased freedom (as Libertarians believe). This makes him a left-leaning liberal, even if some of his Republican colleagues have adopted the same paternalistic philosophy during the past decade.

Obama’s commitment to big government is quite clear in his latest plans for an economic stimulus package, which includes the biggest public works project since the 1950s – costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. There is also a discussion about including tax cuts in the stimulus package, something of which the Libertarian Party would approve. These tax cuts are expected to attract conservative support that otherwise would not have been there with the building projects alone.

The tax cut plans have earned Obama the respect of many conservatives who now believe Obama to be floating more towards the center rather than to the far-left. Are they justified in their belief?

We say no.

Obama’s plans for tax cuts are not based upon a genuine philosophical dedication to cutting taxes. Though some may say that it doesn’t really matter why taxes are cut so long as they are cut, Obama’s motivations shine a light on his true colors. Media reports regarding his stimulus plan show Obama’s impetus for tax cuts to be strictly based on pragmatic reasoning, and not a true belief in the virtue of tax cuts (less government, people deserve to keep the fruits of their labor, etc.).

Centrist? Only when it works.

Republicans could be easily put to shame in this situation – especially those Republicans in Congress who failed to stand up against the Bush administration’s elephantine spending habits – if Obama were truly a centrist. Not only would he cut taxes, he’d also reduce government expenditures in the process, which maintains a healthy fiscal policy. Instead, Obama will be cutting taxes and increasing government spending, furthering the national debt and essentially borrowing money from future generations of taxpayers.

Without an offset in spending, some question even calling Obama’s plans actual tax cuts. ‘An increase in spending coupled with lower tax collections is an INCREASE in taxes,’ writes George Mason University Economics Professor Russell Roberts on his blog, Caf Hayek. ‘If I spend more money and collect less, the government is promising to collect more taxes in the future. It is not a tax cut.’

Milton Friedman also pointed out that the true cost of government is what it spends, not what it taxes.

The lack of plans to reduce government spending while cutting taxes puts Obama on par with his Republican predecessor; however, it does not make him a centrist.

In the end, Obama still believes government has a responsibility to micromanage the economy: a hallmark trait of big-government liberals, both Democratic and Republican. His proposed plans for tax cuts are not indicative of any philosophical faithfulness to a conservative fiscal policy, but rather represent maneuvers of political expediency.

While Libertarians will take tax cuts when and where we can, we also hope that the cuts are permanent and not just a short-lived political ploy. We also recognize that tax cuts must be offset with (or, hopefully, topped by) a cut in government spending.

Should Obama reverse course with his stimulus plan and offer permanent tax cuts supplemented by an equal amount of cuts to government programs and agencies, we’ll gladly hail Obama as anything he wishes to be called.

This article is written by Libertarian Party National Chairman William Redpath and was orginally published at The Hill .