Democrat Barack Obama said Wednesday that as president he would spend $210 billion to create jobs in construction and environmental industries, as he tried to win over economically struggling voters.
Obama's investment would be over 10 years as part of two programs. The larger is $150 billion to create 5 million so-called "green collar" jobs to develop more environmentally friendly energy sources.
Sixty billion would go to a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to rebuild highways, bridges, airports and other public projects. Obama estimated that could generate nearly 2 million jobs, many of them in the construction industry that's been hit by the housing crisis.
I doubt I need to explain the problem with the idea that government can "create jobs," as opposed to redistributing activity from one part of the economy to another. The real question is whether Obama believes this himself or if he's simply pandering to work-hungry Wisconsin voters. I suspect he's a true believer: We're speaking of a man who co-sponsored a "comparable worth" bill, a sign of either severe statism or severe '70s nostalgia. You can make a reasonable case that Obama's economic intuitions are more libertarian than Hillary Clinton's. It's a lot harder to argue that they're remotely libertarian in themselves. (I should add that not everyone on the left will be enchanted with Obama's stimulus package if those "green collar" jobs turn out to be in the nuclear power industry.)
So why the kind words for the senator in libertarian circles, ranging from the restrained admiration of Ryan McMaken to the enthusiastic support of Joanne McNeil (and, for that matter, my own declaration that Obama is the "least unpalatable" frontrunner left standing)? Because neither Clinton nor McCain is exceptional on economics either, and Obama is clearly better on foreign policy and civil liberties. Not great on foreign policy and civil liberties—he's infamously open to a war with Iran, and his record on the Second Amendment is hardly inspiring. But he wants to withdraw from Iraq and he has attacked the most egregious provisions of the Patriot Act, which is more than you can say for his party's last nominee. I don't plan to vote for Obama, but on balance I prefer him to the leading alternatives.
A couple years ago I urged Democrats to "be good on the issues where the left is supposed to be good," meaning peace, privacy, and free expression. Unlike Kerry in 2004, unlike Gore in 2000, and unlike the other Clinton in '96 and '92, Obama's campaign rhetoric at least leans in that direction. That's worth half a cheer, especially when the GOP seems to have contempt for the positions where it's supposed to be good. It may say more about the quality of the party than the quality of the candidate, but even with the central-planning mentality that Obama displayed in Janesville, a Democratic Party that nominates him will be taking a step in the right direction. A Republican Party that nominates McCain, on the other hand…