Obama Administration

Barack Obama: Stealth Libertarian?

As unlikely as it sounds, anti-interventionists may miss the 44th president when he's gone.


For two groups who share a strong antipathy toward the current president, libertarians and conservatives sure don't agree on much when it comes to Barack Obama.

On foreign policy, neoconservatives tend to think Obama is an appeasement-addicted driver of America's perilous withdrawal from the world, while libertarians portray him as essentially serving out the third and fourth terms of George W. Bush. When the president announced in May that U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan would be reduced to 9,800, Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol called the plan "unbelievably irresponsible" and "totally crazy," while reason's own Nick Gillespie lamented that "Obama gives 10,000 men opportunity to be last man to die for our mistake."

Depending on how you view the world, the president is alternately prostrating himself before Vladimir Putin, as in a recent National Review cover illustration, or engaging in a campaign of "subvert and overthrow," as at Antiwar.com. He is waging a "foreign policy of retreat" if you ask Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, or one of "bellicose interventionism" if you're listening to the Ron Paul Institute's Daniel McAdams. He is imperiously refusing to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, or he is recklessly releasing Gitmo prisoners into the wild.

This interpretative disconnect does not stop at the water's edge. Obama has been a profound disappointment to civil libertarians who hate the drug war (see reason's October 2011 cover: "Bummer"), and an active encourager of marijuana culture, according to Sean Hannity's recent "Stoned in America" series on Fox News. Fiscal hawks condemn the president as a profligate promise-breaker when it comes to the national purse; New York Times columnist David Brooks counters that Obama is "the most realistic and reasonable major player in Washington," and that "if he had some support" on long-term debt reduction issues, "he'd do the right thing."

It's always a healthy exercise to check your premises and examine whether the people you disagree with may be onto something. But even if you're 100 percent secure in your assessment of the commander in chief, here's a potentially awful scenario to consider: What if Barack Obama turns out to be the most libertarian president of the post-Cold War era?

Before you go screaming for the exits, let me quickly stress that "most libertarian" within a small group of people does not equal "libertarian"—just as being the tallest kindergartner does not mean you can dunk a basketball.

Which is kind of the point: The default stance of the modern president is to be profoundly interventionist at home and abroad. Given a political world in which it's plausible that either Hillary Clinton or someone like Jeb Bush might take residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2017, it's sobering to reflect that Obama's record on a few key issues-or at least America's record, while Obama held office-may end up looking comparatively less interventionist than most.

Take foreign policy. Libertarian critics are right to point out that the president acted illegally in bombing Libya in 2011, was clearly ready to repeat the mistake in Syria in 2013, and surged troop levels in Afghanistan to no long-lasting effect except for the U.S. soldiers maimed or killed. In a May 28 commencement speech at West Point, the president unveiled what was billed as a "doctrine," but was more properly received as an irritating, incoherent series of rhetorical attacks against strawman isolationists and ultra-interventionists. "President Obama succeeded where all his previous efforts had failed," Patrick Buchanan cracked afterward in his syndicated column. "He brought us together. Nobody seems to have liked the speech."

But surely the message fell flat in part because American ears are unused to hearing about the messy, patriotically unsatisfying business of winding down unpopular wars.

"Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences," Obama said, accurately. "Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans."

George H.W. Bush led the Gulf War. Bill Clinton patrolled its aftermath, initiated a series of small interventions around the globe, and used American force to cement the breakup of Yugoslavia and the eventual dethroning of Slobodan Milosevic. George W. Bush made the fateful decision to invade Iraq, to nation-build in both Baghdad and Kabul, and to launch a vague war on terror that will not end until Congress repeals the September 14, 2001, Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

Obama, by comparison, helped wind down the two occupations he inherited, pricked Libya exclusively with bombs, and bowed down when public opinion came out heavily against his plans to bomb Syria. Yes, he expanded his predecessor's dirty wars and took the unprecedented step of droning Americans to death without due process, but he still might come out looking like the least interventionist of the bunch.

This is especially true when you consider the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton is the most hawkish Democrat since Joe Lieberman left the party, and she rues the day the president blinked on Syria. Of the putative Republican establishment hopefuls, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is a chest-thumper who complains that Obama "doesn't seem to understand that we are still at war," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is campaigning against what he calls a "dangerous strain of libertarianism," and Jeb Bush is warning people about "American passivity" and GOP "neo-isolationism." The only exception to business-as-usual Republican bellicosity is coming from Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.); if he doesn't win the nomination, the GOP is almost sure to elect someone more hawkish than Obama.

What about domestic civil liberties? Yes, Obama's Justice Department raided more medical marijuana dispensaries than Bush's ever dreamed of, while the president himself literally laughed out loud at the prospect of legalization for recreational use. Yet the beginning of the drug war's end is happening on his watch, thanks in part to his sporadically benign neglect. The federal government could have launched a foolhardy new crackdown after Colorado and Washington state legalized pot, but did not. Attorney General Eric Holder has at least begun talking about the need for legal pot businesses to be able to access the normal banking system without constant fear of federal sanction. And after an extremely slow start using his clemency powers, the president has issued criteria for jailed nonviolent drug offenders to be eligible. More than 18,000 prisoners have applied, but the Republican-led House of Representatives passed an amendment in May preventing the use of federal funds for screening applications.

Again, the president's most likely successors not named Rand Paul are virtually certain to be worse. Hillary Clinton has said that the U.S. can't legalize drugs "because there is just too much money in it," and spent her time as secretary of state warning Latin American countries that the best approach to their drug policy problems is more state violence. Chris Christie is one of the bigger opponents of medical marijuana in the country. Marco Rubio said in a May interview, "I don't think there is a responsible way to recreationally use marijuana." And Jeb Bush was an ardent drug warrior as Florida governor.

Even federal spending may end up going up less overall under Obama than under his predecessor, though it should be stressed that a) George W. Bush's spending record was truly awful, b) much of "Obama's" post-2009 spending restraint originated with opposition Republicans, and c) he is leaving some future massive balloon payments in the forms of Obamacare and money-sucking entitlement systems that he failed to tackle.

In many important ways-especially on Obamacare, domestic surveillance, and Keynesian economics-Barack Obama will rightly go down as a solidly anti-libertarian president. It's a pathetic statement about contemporary American politics that a few short years from now, libertarians may start to feel nostalgic for the guy.

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  1. It’s a pathetic statement about contemporary American politics that a few short years from now, libertarians may start to feel nostalgic for the guy.

    Yeah. About as nostalgic as I might get about a boil on my ass.

    1. Shorter article, Lizzie Warren or Obama?

      1. Liz knows way less about economics, but maybe she would actually try to break up the banks. Until she realizes she needs them to get re elected.

        1. Warren’s concept of wealth creation involves guns pointed at producers. She’d be a great president in terms of heading up the world’s largest aggression monopoly.

    2. Exactly!

  2. I’m screaming for the exits.

  3. Matt Welch asks are oranges stealth gerbils?

  4. Way to start the week with the uplifting prose Matt. I feel so much more optimistic now.

  5. Maybe he’s just a rudderless, incompetent buffoon who leans whichever way the wind is blowing at any given moment.

    1. You mean he is the next Bill Clinton.

      1. Not at all. Clinton, for all his bad qualities, recognized that the mood of the country had turned against him in 1996 and adjusted his policies accordingly. I’d rather have someone who is adaptable to the mood of the country than somebody who continually doubles down on bad policy just because he can’t stand to ever admit that he might have been wrong.

        Clinton at least made a show of trying to tackle the budget deficit (no, he didn’t balance the budget, but he’s the only guy to even pretend in my lifetime). He didn’t ram through a poorly conceived health care bill that he opposed while running for office in the name of having a signature, landmark, legacy piece of legislation.

        Clinton had a executive branch position prior to taking the job as president with some track record of showing he knew how to run a government. Compared to the current administration, his was scandal free (which is saying something). And yes, I’m counting Whitewater and Monica. I don’t think a man lying about having an affair, however morally reprehensible one might find it, can be said to affect my life, while reading my emails and texts, listening to my phone calls, and recording what sites I visit sure as hell does.

        As much as I think Bill is a slimy human being, he wasn’t that bad as a chief executive. That doesn’t mean I agree with the things he stands for, but at least he didn’t seem to find out about what his administration was doing by reading the paper.

        1. I’d rather have someone who is adaptable to the mood of the country

          Feelings! Nothing more than feelings!

          Someone with moral principles, who has high regard for the Constitution and the limits on his/her power – or nothing.

        2. It’s odd that the only thing they could nail Clinton on was getting a BJ. I was rather astonished when I saw this chart showing how many jobs got created under various presidents.

  6. It’s a pathetic statement about contemporary American politics that a few short years from now, libertarians may start to feel nostalgic for the guy.

    No. He is awful and will remain awful. He can be jusged as awful just like the last mope to inhabit the WH, strictly on his own merits. I feel no nostalgia for any politician and want them all forgotten, except for a record of their flaws and a feeling of general disdain.

  7. Is that what it’s come to Welch – trolling us for cheap thrills?

    1. Does this mean, Welch is Buttplug?

      1. I thought Welch was Tulpa, Hydra, or Bo

        1. I like to think Epi is Tulpa, and that he is just arguing with himself.

    2. At first I thought I must have time-warped to an April 1st. Then I realized Welch had just come back from vacation. I’m starting to think he spent his time doing acid in a sensory deprivation tank with nothing but a bag of mushrooms and a cantaloupe with a penis-sized hole cut into it to keep him company.

      1. Put the melon in the microwave for 30 seconds and there is no discernible difference between that and supermodel vaginas. Welch is on to something there.

        1. [Starts making grocery list]

          1. I think this thread just made the gutter a little deeper.

      2. I chalk it up to Stockholm a syndrome after five+ years of Obama’s fucking traitorshit holding us hostage.

    3. Hiring Weigel wasn’t enough, apparently.

  8. Why would an anti-interventionist miss a shitbag like Obama that has contributed arms to Mexican drug cartels, has contributed arms to Libyan jihadists, continues to arm Egyptian warlords, has apparently freed up capital to buy arms to both sides (well, two of the three or four sides) in Syria, still has us in Iraq and Afghanistan and bombs innocents that pose no direct threat to America whatsoever on a routine basis all over the Arab world?

    A more appropriate lede would be:

    “Have I Gone Full Fucking Retard?
    -by Matt Welch”

    1. You know there’s no such thing as full retard.

      1. I thought 8% of Americans were capable of going full retard.

        I swear I read something about full retard and 8% somewhere…

        1. I never would have thought that percentage to be so low.

        2. Full retard and progtard are the exact same fucking thing.

          1. In that case 8% is way too low.

    2. Great points. I would add his love of droning the shit out of everyone.

  9. What if Barack Obama turns out to be the most libertarian president of the post-Cold War era?

    You can sit on a tiger, but that doesn’t make it a chair.

    1. Hrmmm… Tiger bean-bag chair… Sounds tacky and very 80’s, might hit the nostalgia vein right about now.

    2. Obama has a very long way to go to even see Jimmy Carter levels of libertarianism.

      1. The libertarian credentials of Jimmy Carter: deregulated the beer industry

        The libertarian credentials of BHO: …

  10. Welch must be in Colorado “working” on a report or sumpthin’

  11. Regardless of whether you agree with Matt, this article makes no sense. The first half of the article makes the case that Obama may really be a “stealth Libertarian” because he wound down Iraq and Afghanistan and hopefully started the end of the drug war and reduced the deficits from their insane heights of 09 and 10. Okay, lets assume for the sake of argument all that is true. The reason that makes Obama a “stealth Libertarian” is because he started the process towards Libertarian goals. But then Matt ends with this

    It’s a pathetic statement about contemporary American politics that a few short years from now, libertarians may start to feel nostalgic for the guy.

    If Libertarians end up feeling nastalgic for the guy, that would mean the Presidents who follow him are going to be worse which would necessarily mean that start towards ending the drug war and foreign involvement that Obama supposedly started and the legacy of which will make him a “stealth Libertarian” never continued. If these things never amount to anything, then Obama doesn’t have a libertarian legacy and thus not a “stealth libertarian”.

    1. To put it another way, the only way anyone will ever view Obama as any kind of Libertarian is if the very small starts that he made in the areas Matt lists ever amount to something. But if that happens, Libertarians won’t be very nostalgic for the guy will they? They will end up being nostalgic for whoever completes or makes those starts significant, not Obama.

      This is a sorry effort. It is almost as if Welch wrote this because the Jacket ordered him to write something nice about Obama.

      1. True. If the deregulatory commissions inaugurated under Nixon hadn’t gotten their recommend’ns adopted under subsequent admins. & Congresses, & instead had been treated like marijuana was (where its “temporary” schedule 1 status was never rescinded), there’d be no credit due.

        Imagine if McCain or Romney’d gotten elected POTUS, or even Hillary, & everything else the same. Would things have come out much worse, or better than they have? I don’t think the election of Obama helped anything, and it probably hurt compared to the likeliest other possibilities. I really feared Hillary (and in 2000 feared McCain, and then Gore) for prez, but Obama came out so much worse than my fears for the others, that this article comes off as ridiculously special specul’n.

      2. Not to mention the fact that, ya know, very little of this bullshit that Welch said is true.

        Obama hasn’t done shit for the War on Drugs unless you count stepping up Federal Raids to be somehow libertarian. Other than implying that it really pains him to do the whole War on Drugs thing because he has been known to ‘indulge’ a little himself, any Pro-Drug activity has been in SPITE of the Federal Government.

        Likewise, Obama has been pretty famous for his indifference towards wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He pretty much followed timetables set by the previous administration, and in places like Libya delegated most of the decision making to Hillary and other stooges.

        Essentially, Matt Welch is saying Obama ought to be given Libertarian Credit for happening to be in office as a couple decent things happened- not because he actually did anything himself.

        1. Yes, consider Operation Choke Point. Obama is making it harder for marijuana sellers that were legalized by state, not federal laws.

    2. “Obama, by comparison, helped wind down the two occupations he inherited”

      Basing his argument on this dubious claim doesn’t help it’s credibility.

    3. I seem to recall this line — “being the tallest kindergartner does not mean you can dunk a basketball” in there.

      You in particular, but most commentors here, write for themselves and are in a rush to get something written before anybody else, even if that requires barely skimming the article. It’s quite clear what the article said, and it has nothing to do with Obama being libertarian, any more than any kindegartener is an NBA player.

    4. Dan Mitchell thinks he’s a “Manchurian Candidate”:
      “It’s almost as if Obama is a Manchurian candidate. Except instead of being a socialist plant, as some conspiracy-minded conservatives seem to think, he’s actually a closeted libertarian who’s brilliantly waging a campaign to convince people to distrust big government! ”

  12. What if Barack Obama turns out to be the most libertarian president of the post-Cold War era?

    What if I turn out to have a 14″ penis and a magnetic personality? You know, since we’re dealing in fantasy, make it 16″ long.

    1. And what if Michelle looked like Halle Berry. Go big sloopy, go Big.

      1. Hey, are you back in town? Drop me a line so we can go have a few beers one day this week.

        1. Finally, yes. Sorry to have been such a stranger. My mother in law was in the hospital and then my two nephews where here all weekend. I will give you a call this week. Hope you are finally settled in.

          1. Cool. We’re getting there.

        2. Dammit! If you’re hanging out with John, I definitely need to come visit you and banjos.

  13. It’s bad enough that he posted the article here, but it’s going in the print edition.

    Thanks for destroying Reason’s credibility with serious libertarians, Matt. I’m sure the fundraising arm of the foundation can’t thank you enough.

  14. What if I could fly?

    Or touch a star?

    Or eat Thai food without running to the toilet later?

  15. Thanks for destroying Reason’s credibility with serious libertarians, Matt.

    I’m calling it.


    1. It is five o’clock somewhere.

  16. What if all of those scandals really were fake?

    1. Hey, I could win Powerball twice in a row without buying a ticket too. Anything is possible.

  17. The tl;dr version for our home audience:


  18. By Matt’s standards, Nixon was the most Libertarian President in history. Nixon ended the draft. Matt seems to think that Obama’s piss ant starts at ending the drug war and overseas wars make him a “stealth Libertarian” despite his numerous sins. Okay. Ending the government forced labor of millions of young American men is a thousand times more significant than anything Obama is done and ought to put Nixon way ahead of Obama on the Libertarian scale.

    1. Maybe so. Uber progressive Noam Chomsky has already said that Nixon was the last liberal President we had.

    2. By the same token, Christie would count as libertarian on med mj because it came to NJ on his watch, and he didn’t suppress it as severely as he might’ve.

  19. Oh no, Matt!

    An article at Reason accurately portraying some of the more Libertarian stances of the current President. Guess you didn’t get the message from Nick that everything Obama does is wrong (who can ever forget Nick telling us admiringly that war hawk Ted Cruz was the future of the GOP).

    But thanks for a “reasoned” look at this.

    I might add in regard to this sentence of yours, “…and bowed down when public opinion came out heavily against his plans to bomb Syria.”
    He did something that Libertarians should applaud…asked FIRST for Congressional approval for military action, rather than do it unilaterally as Commander in Chief. And of course, Congress punted.

    1. Sure, he should, which makes Libya a pretty big sin. You can’t on the one hand appalud Obama for asking in Syria and then on the other hand act like Libya is no big deal. Libya managed to be clearly illegal under both international and domestic law. It is funny that for all of the whaling about Iraq by Democrats, it was absolutely legal under domestic law and depending on your view of the UNSCs regarding Iraq legal under international law. The US has fought two clearly illegal wars in the last 20 years, Kosovo and Libya and both of them were launched by Democrats.

      1. Yes you can. You take every issue and event under a President and condemn him or applaud him. When any President does something that supports your beliefs, you clearly say so, and he when he doesn’t, you let him know about it.

        All Matt is saying is that there are some issues and stances this President has taken that should be applauded, and when he asked first for congressional approval from Congress for military action in Syria, well, that would be one of them.

        To do so would not mean you give him a pass on those times he was not Libertarian.

        1. Yes you can. You take every issue and event under a President and condemn him or applaud him. When any President does something that supports your beliefs, you clearly say so, and he when he doesn’t, you let him know about it.

          Sure you can but you miss the point. If it is a big deal that he asked in Syria, then it is an equally big deal that he didn’t in Libya. So at best it is a wash. You can’t claim it mattered in Syria but somehow mattered less in Libya.

          1. I agree. But to further the cause of those Libertarian positions, applauding any President who administers them is a good thing…simply because it furthers the cause. You don’t want the criticisms to drown out the applause.

            Lets face it…McCain and Graham and followers were going to roundly criticize Obama about not taking strong executive action in Syria.

        2. To John, Libya = Iraq. Exactly the same! Same cost, same casualties, same nation building!

          1. I don’t think the law makes a distinction. Besides, Libya didn’t exactly turn out to be a bed of roses either, did it? Seriously, do you ever tire of being a baldfaced apologist?

          2. Tell us how Obama inherited Afghanistan and started winding it down.

          3. You follow the latest news from Libya ? Its not being reported on much by US media, but if you do follow up on non US media then you would know that Libya is in turmoil. I guess for you it does not matter if other countries are destroyed by America, so long as the price tag is cheap, if your opposition to war is based purely on money you are a pretty cold hearted douche bag.

    2. Oh bullshit. He made a series of “red line” statements that he never thought he’d have to back up. When his bluff got called, he had to ratchet up plans for intervention to save face. When Congress showed no signs of wanting any part of it, he decided he’d go ahead by himself, only to be again surprised by the fact that Americans didn’t give a damn about Syrians getting gassed if it meant sending more soldiers into another Middle Eastern nation of no apparent security interest.

      He was getting killed in the polls and I’m sure was getting all kinds of heat from Congress who didn’t want a voter revolt in this year’s election, so he decided to ask for a vote after all to get someone to blame if he didn’t proceed. With that looking grim, he was left with the choice of defying Congress by going alone or shamefully backing down. Then John Kerry managed to fumble his way into an out for the administration courtesy of Vladimir Putin, who correctly interpreted our utter incompetence in Syria as strongly suggesting he’d meet little resistance in the Ukraine. Meanwhile, useful idiots still try to spin it into some Machiavellian maneuver rather than the arrogance, assumption, and incompetence it really was.

      As to your last point, I’m amazed that we are supposed to give anybody credit for actually complying with the law when they are sworn to uphold and defend it. Am I supposed to applaud him for not leaning out the White House window and practicing his sniping on passers by too?

      1. Yeah, you are indeed supposed to applaud him about any position he takes that furthers the Libertarian cause. You would do that if the cause is the most important thing to you…you won’t do it if the cause his secondary, and your hatred for an individual overwhelms it.

        Sadly, its a view that only hinders Libertarians. I actually think that is the crux of what Matt is getting at.

        1. So the fact that he hasn’t yet declared himself king is supposed to be continually applauded by libertarians? Fulfilling his oath of office is not worthy of my applause, nor does it further the “Libertarian cause”. If he conducts himself in a manner that furthers the cause of liberty, in other words walks back the abuses that others have perpetuated, then yes, I applaud him. But when he is essentially forced to ask for a vote, while still claiming he can ignore whatever the result is if it doesn’t please him, then no, he is not worthy of applause by any means.

          Your claim that individual hatred is at the root of libertarian disdain for this current administration is absolutely baseless. If you’d like to argue any of the points I made, feel free, but it seems your argument is mainly centered on unsubstantiated assertion.

          1. So, to stay on one point, when Obama said military intervention in Syria first had to be approved by Congress, was that a Libertarian position, and one you as a Libertarian support?

            1. No, because your presentation of the matter is completely inaccurate and misleading. He made it clear that regardless of what the vote said, he retained the right to act as he saw fit. He initially said he didn’t have to talk to Congress at all, in point of fact (as he hadn’t in Libya). So no, it was not a libertarian position. As I pointed out above (which you apparently didn’t read or chose to ignore), he only went to Congress when it became clear that the public was resoundingly against him and he needed a way to save face, otherwise it would have been Libya all over again.

              1. Your not wrong that he wanted to bomb in Syria. And your not wrong that he believed he had the authority to do so, as things currently stand.


                But to me the larger point is (and its one I think Matt is trying to make) that its a long and protracted struggle to get Libertarian views inserted into American politics. And its a mistake to ignore the few times it happens.

                I’ll give you one more example…the sequester. I argued with so many on the left about that…I was in full support. It was the first time we had every aspect of the budget cut. And it was Obama’s idea. Regardless of the reasons why he did it, the principle was important. Maybe a clear message should have been sent to him that Americans support it, rather than let it fall back into a polarized issue.

                Who cares how he got there…the fact that he got there is important.

                1. I don’t disagree with the Milton Friedman principle that you want to make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. But the ineradicable reality is that how and why people arrive at a policy matters in terms of whether it’s appropriate to categorize them, or what they’re doing, as somehow libertarian.

                  Take the sequester. Obama suggested it not as a nod to fiscal prudence, but because he was desperate to get more borrowing authority so that he could continue using OPM to buy votes from Democratic clients. He didn’t want to cut anything; he simply wanted Congress to raise the debt limit, and agreeing to the sequester was any tool at hand.

                  Importantly, marking one of the few occasions he’s actually misjudged Congressional Republicans, he believed that defense cuts would be so unpalatable to them that they’d never really allow the sequester to take effect; he believed they’d quietly undo it at the earliest opportunity so as to keep defense pork flowing to their districts.

                  So he was agreeing to a nominally fiscally-prudent policy that he never believed would actually turn out to be binding, in order to get more borrowing authority and continue business-as-usual spending. It was classic can-kicking, not a win for libertarian ideas.

                  1. As I said, “regardless of the reasons he did it.” Who cares (at least I don’t). Military AND non-military budgets got cut. What, that only be done if you arrived at the decision righteously?

                    1. As I said, “regardless of the reasons he did it.” Who cares (at least I don’t). Military AND non-military budgets got cut. What, that only be done if you arrived at the decision righteously?

                      If you want credit for being a “stealth libertarian,” yes.

                      A guy whose motives were purely statist, and who stumbled into a (by libertarian standards) less-than-shitty outcome only because he misjudged his political opponents, does not win Libertarian Of The Year plaudits, sorry.

              2. From the article above I posted, contrarian, Obama said this:

                “While I believe I have the authority to take military action without specific Congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective. We should have this debate because the issues are too big for business as usual.”

              3. He was letting a Libertarian stance be part of the debate. If he was overwhelmed with support for that one action, who knows, maybe it would change the trajectory of executive military actions in this country.

                1. The facts (as you admit above you cannot contest as presented) clearly illustrate that the statement that you quote is political smoke. George Bush went to Congress for authorization for his wars, however stupid and misguided they might have been. So any “business as usual” was created in the current administration. When you create “business as usual” yourself, crusading against it is laughable.

                  Again, changing your mind and following the law is not a libertarian stance, ignoring the fact that the President made it clear that he didn’t have to follow the law if he didn’t like where it led him. That would be like saying that not raping and murdering today, when you did it yesterday, should get some sort of high fives from the libertarian camp, even though you still reserve the right to rape and murder again should you decide it’s a good idea. Sorry, you will never get agreement from me that his actions deserve praise.

                  Now if he had said, initially, “I feel America needs to intervene in Syria and will go to Congress for authorization, but will accept their decision as binding given that they have Constitutional war making power”, then kept his word with honor, then I would have applauded. Given the fact that nothing remotely like that happened, no way does he deserve credit for being libertarian. No way.

                  1. Steve Smith hasn’t raped anybody lately that I know of.

            2. Obama would deserve libertarian support with respect to Syria only if he were to say some along the lines of, “We recognize that the conflict in Syria is serious. However, it is now the policy of the United States Government not to become entangled in civil wars or border wars in the Middle East or, for that matter, anywhere else.” And then act accordingly.

              Obama gets ZERO libertarian credit with respect to Syria.

              1. Just so I get this straight, Cato. No military intervention in Syria, and specifically because a President insisted on Congressional approval first, neither of those two things warrant your approval. All that matters is how those decisions were arrived at, not the actual policy result.

                Fair enough…sit on the sidelines when the far right insists on strong executive leadership and further military excursions, and all done with no Congressional approval.

                1. All that matters is how those decisions were arrived at, not the actual policy result.

                  It’s not ALL that matters, but absent following proper procedure, we are left with simply ‘the end justifies the means.’

                  Example: I shoot at the neighbor’s loudmouth teenage son, miss and kill a rabid dog. Am I a hero? Yes, in your world Jackace.

                  1. Read what I wrote.

                    I never said Obama should be a hero to you. Your example could not be more ridiculous. The dog got shot be accident. What Obama did…not using military force until approved by Congress…was by design. The only think your arguing about in the latter is political philosophy. To you, and so many others here, all that matters in policy is the philosophy behind it.

                    So let me see if I can give you the proper example:

                    Obama decides that he will not use the supremacy of federal law to prosecute marijuana offenses in states that legalized it. In bigt’s world, poor decision on the President’s part, simply because Obama is not a Libertarian.

                    By the way, at least mine is a real world example.

                2. ” No military intervention in Syria, and specifically because a President insisted on Congressional approval first,…”

                  Which has to be balanced against the military intervention in Libya, which the President insisted he did not seek or claim to need Congressional approval on, even though he probably would have gotten it.

                  Obama’s record on this is, to be charitable, inconsistent.

                  “Fair enough…sit on the sidelines when the far right insists on strong executive leadership and further military excursions, and all done with no Congressional approval.”

                  And Bush got Congressional approval for Afghanistan and Iraq, does that make him stealth libertarian too?

                  1. Actually, the one disagreement I would have with Matt on the whole article is the label “Libertarian.”

                    No, Bush is not a Libertarian, neither is Obama.

                    But the point I keep trying to make here with everyone (and I fail at) is that the label is meaningless. What is important is the policy. And when that policy is “libertarian,” regardless if initiated by Bush, Obama or Paul, then it is worthy of praise.

                    It just seems to me that so many here just gag at the thought of parsing any credit whatsoever toward Obama (including Gillespie), and what you do in result is miss a chance on having libertarian policy praised and pushed forward.

                    Just because you hate the man more than you love being libertarian.


    3. They’re not “libertarian stances.” They’re policies that, through a confluence of events, were enacted during Obama’s presidency, and so could make Obama’s terms the least unlibertarian in recent memory.

      Though Matt’s focus seems to be on foreign policy and current spending, ignoring regulatory and cultural changes brought on by Obama, which is just as superficial an analysis as those that Matt criticize above. It’s nice that the deficit is falling after all of the stimulus spending, but PPACA is really fucking things up, regulatory agencies have been further emboldened, and the next President will get to claim even more executive authority.

  20. Kim Jong Un could be the next president and Obama would still be in the running for least libertarian.

  21. Most libertarian since the end of the Cold War?

    Out of how many, four?

    what a low bar – it might be Bill Clinton or Obama based just on the smallest increases in federal spending.

    1. If your conception of “libertarian” is doesn’t spend quite as much as the next guy, then you might have some sort of argument, but I’m pretty sure most who identify as libertarians would have plenty of other areas they’d find important other than simply the sheer number of dollars spent.

      1. None of them were libertarian. Spend less and less war is about as close as we get. Obama and Clinton are clear winners there (% increase).

        1. Exactly. No libertarians. “Most libertarian President” is kind of like “cutest and cuddliest hitman”.

      2. Its not even that, he said “smallest increases”, the plain fact is that they are spending more than the guy before, just because average increase in spending is at a lower rate it still means you are spending more.

        1. Federal spending never contracts. Spending more at a lower rate (1% for Obama) vs 40% for Dubya is about the only benchmark available.

          1. It never contracts because Marxists like you have this fundamental belief that it should never contract. Spending has not increased at a higher rate because of practical limits, not because of any principled stand for smaller government, if there were 10 trillion extra lying about to spend what do you think he would say ?

            A) No I will not spend it, because I am not Bush.

            B) Spend it !

    2. it might be Bill Clinton or Obama based just on the smallest increases in federal spending.

      Oh, fer cryin’ out loud.

      Deficit spending:

      How much in deficit spending did Bush spend on average per day during his presidency? It’s pretty easy to figure out: $607 billion/365 days = $1.66 billion per day. That’s a lot of spending, Georgie. Shame on you!

      But compared to Obama’s $5 BILLION of deficit spending per day? Obama spent well over three times more per day every single day than did Bush.


      1. Pure bullshit cherry picking.

        Bush started out with an annual surplus so naturally his AVERAGE number was smaller.

        Obama has cut the Bush deficit in half yet it remains higher than 2001-06.

        1. There was no surplus. It was just a fancy accounting trick that took money from the Social Security trust fund.

    3. Obama made huge spending increases in his first year. 9 of the 12 spending appropriations bills for 2009 were passed by Congress after Obama entered office, then Obama spent money that hadn’t been budgeted before Bush left office.

      Now you’re down to one name, Clinton. Clinton was forced by Gingrich to balance the budget on an accelerated basis. That hardly gains him any libertarian credibility.

      1. Gingrich did nothing to balance the budget. He opposed the bill that DID balance the budget – The Omnibus Reconciliation of 1993 (which cut spending and raised taxes). Not a single GOPer voted for it.

        Welfare reform barely moved the needle – about $10 billion/yr.

        1. Your ignorance evidently knows no bounds. You should educate yourself or avoid commenting on something that shows our gross ignorance.

  22. Oh yeah…this Obama character is a real freedom and liberty guy.

    Why can’t people call this skinny little wuss what he is: He’s a freak’n hard-core Marxist. And his wife is more hard-core than HE is.

    There…was that so hard? Or does the truth hurt that much?

    1. He’s a freak’n hard-core Marxist.

      You’re the kind of idiot not worth debating.

      Like our top capitalists went all-in for a “hard core Marxist”?

      Put the pipe down.

    2. No, he is not a Marxist and anyone who calls him that is either economically illiterate or lying.

      Obama is certainly a collectivist but economically he is basically a fascist. On a foreign policy basis he is a globalist rather than a nationalist but that just means he has different motivations for doing basically the same thing nationalists would do

  23. Yeah, you are indeed supposed to applaud him about any position he takes that furthers the Libertarian cause.

    Wake me up when that happens.


    We’re fucked.

    1. Except, I think they actually will be an improvement over Obama, no matter how badly we may think they’ll suck. Yes, I think Christie, for instance, will/would be better, to pick one from the middle of the GOP pack. In 2008 I was relieved Obama got the nom. over Clinton, but now I think she’d be better.

  24. Does Obamacare figure anywhere into your theory?

    1. Medicare Part D Prescription Welfare is probably worse. At least the ACA is not Keynesian deficit spending like Part D.

      1. Medicare Part D doesn’t force everyone to sign up for it.

        1. It also consistently comes in well under budget. As far as boondoggles go, Part D is pretty far down the list.

          1. The CBO put the cost of Part D at $60 billion a year and it was entirely unfunded. Yes, it was under budget but still a huge deficit buster – unlike the ACA.

            1. Because the ACA is not a deficit buster? Wow.

  25. “What if Barack Obama turns out to be the most libertarian president of the post-Cold War era?”


    1. If that turns out to be the case, then it’s time to seriously start looking into emigrating to Canada or Australia

      1. They have tough gun control and single-payer health care in both those countries.

        Try the conservative utopia of Saudi Arabia instead.

        1. Nope, wrong again. Keep trying.

    2. So far it certainly seems so…..

      He’s centrist. Relatively balanced in his positions. Aware of the limitations of his power, yet also aware that even the smaller victories help PEOPLE.

      1. He’s centrist

        Center of the far left.

        Relatively balanced in his positions

        He balances the worst of the Bush policies on Iraq, Afghan, deficit spending, with the worst of the socialist schemes of the left on the WoD and ACA.

        Aware of the limitations of his power,


        Executive orders, delays of ACA, NSA, IRS, czars, etc.


  26. Has no one else noticed that Obama is a serial murderer? …calming giving execution orders without a hint of due process! He could be kind to old ladies and he could stop kicking the dog until doomsday and he’d still be lower than a snail.

    Saying someone else might be worse is like saying a tent post is smarter than a rock — the tent post can fall over! Obama is criminal scum, not to be compared with anything libertarian.

    1. So “No True Scotsman” then?


  27. Obama, a stealth libertarian? Only if Libertarians are the New Communists.

    Seriously, dude, even if we’re talking about the tallest of midgets, Obama is the polar opposite of libertarian.

    BTW, this article and the ridiculous Bloomberg article aren’t novel conflations of libertarianism with the left. George Will wrote an anti-Libertarian hit piece that ludicrously compared 1992 nominee Andre Marrou with Lenin. http://news.google.com/newspap…..36,1212817

    1. “Like communism, this philosophy is defective in its misreading of human nature, misunderstanding of how societies work and utter failure to adapt to changing circumstances.”

      Or there’s hypothesis B: pollution really is a conspiracy and Ayn Rand really was the greatest theorist of human nature in history.

      1. Or the most likely hypothesis:
        You don’t know what the hell you post about.

    2. Actually, I think Libertarians are the new (or old) Fascists and Anarchists. Now…it’s hard to be both at the same time – my point is that most are one or the other.

      Of course, most of them are just posers who can’t say the word Republican any longer since GW proved what cons are all about.

      But I have little doubt – once we get a republican president, they will tone down the rhetoric a bit. It’s all about power – in the case of the Kochs and the current paid-of libertarians, it’s power to pollute, profit and own the political process.

      That’s not very libertarian….in any sense. Maybe you should call it by another name?

      1. Libertarians can be anarchists since libertarians do not desire to limit others. But fascists are the opposite – fascism is basically a crony capitalism. You need to read a bit if you think libertarianism has anything to do with fascism.

      2. Looks like Tony’s got a new pseudonym. Still the same old BS though.

  28. The post-Cold War era, you say?

    Call it 1990, then. That leaves Bush the Elder, Clinton, Bush the Lesser, and Obama.

    Seeing as Obama has presided over the biggest expansion of the federal government, in both spending and regulation, I see no way he is the most libertarian of even that list. A few press releases here and there (which is what his domestic libertarian cred rests on) are, well, close to nothing.

    Foreign policy? Seriously? Only if “feckless and incompetent” is a synonym for “libertarian”, Matt.

    1. Federal spending has remained close to $3.5 trillion in each Obama year.

      Bush took it from $1.9 trillion to $3.5 trillion.

      Look at those graphs all the Peanuts hate that Reason.com publishes. They always prove you TEAM RED types wrong.

      1. If you factor in the Obamacare balloon payments that have yet to hit, Obama will prove to be a significantly bigger spender.

      2. Bush’s deficit was between $300 and $500 bn until the Big Recession. Then the TARP cranked it up to $1,200 bn – don’t forget Obama supported that BS. And then Obama kept spending like a drunken idiot until the sequester slowed him down.

        So take your BS and shove it.

        1. Sure, BigT – because we all know the worst recession in 80 years was already over when Obama took office and he didn’t have to deal with the fallout for his entire Presidency……

          C’mon. You are talking to people who know things. And, as you probably know, the TARP money was paid back, so what’s the diff? Unfortunately, the WAR money was not and will never be.

  29. Um, no.

    1. Mandating the purchasing of community-rated health insurance.

    2. Arbitrary imposition of reductions in CO2 emissions.

    3. Illegal bailouts of the auto makers.

    4. Using the IRS to harass his political opponents, for doing the exact same thing his own supporters do.

    5. Illegally making recess appointments while the Senate was in session in an effort to subvert the democratic process.

    6. Shovelling massive amounts of subsidies to his political cronies in the “green energy” business.

    Obama is in NO WAY a libertarian. Only if you completely ignore all economic and constitutional issues can you even claim that he is slightly libertarian.

    1. But, but, he pulled most of our troops out of Iraq!

      I mean sure, he did it based upon the timetable Bush set, and only after trying to convince the Iraqi government to change the timetable, but he still pulled most of our troops out of Iraq!!!

      1. Sure planning to end the war and actually doing it are really the same thing. Want to see GWB’s plans to exit Iraq written in June, 2003?

        1. And Obama wanted the troops to stay longer, but realized he couldn’t do it and used the timetable set by Bush.

  30. No. Just no. I realize this article isn’t exactly glowing praise, especially given the last line, but still – no, no, Hell no!

  31. Matt seems to have gotten a touch of the Stockholm Syndrome. It can be managed but not cured until he is freed from captivity. At best, the fever will break in 2016. Very sad.

  32. I think I sort of get what Matt Welch is trying to argue here, when Mao was succeeded by Deng Xiapeng there was a big difference in terms of relative freedom for the average Chinese, Deng Xiapeng was no saint but compared to Mao he was. The problem though is that the difference between Bush and Obama is minimal, it like arguing who was more pro freedom Kruschev or Brezhnev, there is no real difference.

    1. No, Kruschev was better than Brezhnev. Just last night, for no reason than my mind was wandering while I was drowsy, I started speculating about how much better things would’ve been had Brezhnev not slowly squeezed Kosygin out of authority. Kosygin’s problem was that of so many under that system: that the competent & honest were seen as a threat. Kosygin would’ve gotten them to perestroika & glasnost far ahead of Gorbachev.

  33. Fuck you, matt… More derp prog propaganda like this and I’m cancelling my Reason mag subscription.

    Maybe I’m the only one that read this as a cynical political piece where right-wingers are going to try to get Obama voters to go Republican by singing the praises of Obama in 2016. If rand Paul is elected matt can I write for Reason on how terrible his policies are towards gay people and those seeking an abortion. I’m looking for a more lucrative position and Koch industries seems like a great place for petit bourgeois toil.

    1. You trying to win the “most incoherent forum posting of the year award” ? You get my vote.

      1. It’s harder than you think to get a tone of mocking incredulity just right– especially on my free market Steve jobs device.

    2. …”I’m looking for a more lucrative position and Koch industries seems like a great place for petit bourgeois toil.”…

      Most places that make money require that you have a marketable skill, and slimy takers are not likely to do so.

    3. Koch’s will pay you to influence people – you can be a lobbyist, a writer, a Governor, a legislator, a wing nut or even a scientist. Koch’s will pay big for you to promote their profits…

      1. Link needed. (But it won’t be forthcoming)

        so you’ve given up on blaming Bush, and now blame the Kochs for everything? Always have a bogeyman.

        1. Certainly you know about the 100’s of millions they have spent on all of the above. It’s common knowledge – they fund junk science on climate change, created org to buy off legislators and injects vast sums into buying media (this pub, for instance) and setting up their own PR institutions (Cato, etc.)……

          A link? What you mean are a couple books! Luckily, it’s all out there on the interweb for those who desire to know.

          1. So, not one link to a single thing you claim then?

  34. I say yes. buttplug is the most libertarian person here and he and obama agree on everything.

  35. If this is your attempt to convince progressives to turn on the President, you should probably try posting it at DU or Alternet.

  36. Ah, one glimpse at the truth!

    Obama, in relation to virtually ALL modern presidents, has been more “libertarian” in the sense of attempting to not get involved on the ground, stopping conflicts started by the previous REPUBLICAN CONSERVATIVES…and, yes, he may not have 100% dropped the drug war, but you can bet he’s toned down the rhetoric and is not doing what Reagan, GW Bush (jailed Chong for a bong!) did. In general, he’s letting it happen in the states and also his attny general has expressed a more “liberal” attitude.

    As I have said here many a time – if folks here were true “libertarians”, they wouldn’t be dumping on progressives and libs and be voting straight GOP….

    The reality is that most folks here are just in Ayn Rand fantasy land and they find excuses not to like Obama no matter what.

    1. Only one excuse needed: racism!

  37. “For two groups who share a strong antipathy toward the current president, libertarians and conservatives sure don’t agree on much when it comes to Barack Obama.”

    I’m sure there is one huge reason as to why members of both groups don’t like our first black president, I just can’t think of it at the moment…

  38. you have got to be kidding me – right. Miss Obama- the biggest statist communist anti white anti american politician in American History. He makes Bernie Sanders look libertarian. His foreign policy has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster for the country. Not only are we less safe but islamic terrorism has spread across the middle east and Africa. Our military is weaker than it has been in over a hundred years and our debt to countries like China is higher than it has ever been

    this website needs to do a better job of screening its writers to see if they have any brains at all. LIbertarianism doesn’t mean complete disengagement from foreign affairs just not being mindless about it.

  39. My original (and first) comment from this morning has disappeared.

    Is Barack Obama a stealth libertarian?

    No. He is not.

  40. Sorry, Matt, but this is just a fucking terrible article. If you want to give him credit for some things that may be happening around him (often grudgingly), go for it, but don’t mention him in the same sentence as the word “libertarian,” even if doing so for shock value. Hey, Pol Pot was kind of a libertarian because he did not kill as many people as Mao or Stalin, right?

    Obama has no faith in free markets and believes that there is nothing that the government cannot regulate. He is just as willing to bomb other countries indiscriminately as any other president. HE HAS A KILL LIST. He does not have a problem with mass surveillance. His signature accomplishment is getting the SCOTUS to accept that the government can force you to buy a product from a private company. There is no area in which he does not believe that more government will not make life better as long as TOP MEN like him are in charge. He openly and notoriously sidesteps Congress and the Courts when they get in the way of his grand plans. Those things do not become libertarian ideals just because we can envision some people being worse.

    Sure, both parties seem perfectly willing to nominate mendacious fucks for president, but that does not make Obama a libertarian in any sense of the word.

  41. Matt Welch, stealth liberal.

  42. I will not miss this guy under any circumstance.

  43. Wouldn’t a stealth libertarian be someone who pretended not to be a libertarian in order to get elected and then… Y’know, actually implemented libertarian policies?

  44. Obama – fall guy:

    Leave the hapless sap alone!
    It’s inconceivable that he could pull his own strings.

    It must be a frustrating experience trying to be a libertarian by stealth, when your puppeteers are turning your efforts into misery, death, and chaos. This is gold for Obama’s manipulators; guiding him to seem like he’s aware of what’s happening, while all the time he doesn’t have a clue.

    Obama’s too lazy, and too dopy to be a threat on his own, but as a manipulated fall guy he’s preparing the ground for the backlash;
    and his mentors will then save the day – and take all the credit!

  45. “the president has issued criteria for jailed nonviolent drug offenders to be eligible. More than 18,000 prisoners have applied, but the Republican-led House of Representatives passed an amendment in May preventing the use of federal funds for screening applications.”

    Does this mean he can start screening applications if we hold a bake sale to raise the funds?

  46. Is Tony a Matt Welsh sock puppet? This articles ‘logic’ mirrors the Toni logic to a ‘T’ … or has Matt become a Tony sock puppet? Inquiring minds may want to

  47. Alarmingly, a lot of self-styled libertarians seem to hate Obama more than Bush. The only reason I can find is the parties they belong to.

    I am no fan of Obama’s, but his impacts on the economy were not wholly different from Bush’s. Both jacked up spending to colossal, unheard-of levels, relative to the amount they started with. And despite a few air strikes into Libya and attempts thereto in Syria (I am repeating the article now), he didn’t start any wars. Certainly not wars with no exit strategy and which are likely to become endless.

    I know, everyone hates Obamacare. So do I. But in the grand scheme, it is a drop in the bucket in an already F’ed-up market. Health care was on the painful decline long before Obamacare, largely thanks to Medicare and to the tax break-induced employer sponsored insurance complex. People should have been equally pissed about Medicare Part D…but I’m thinking gave Bush a pass because (a) they fall for the “I paid in” fallacy and (b) he’s a Republican.

  48. To: Matt Welch

    You must have missed the news of Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan, the overthrow of the Libyan government prior to Benghazi. Troops stationed near Iran and Syria.
    Obama a libertarian on foreign policy? No just as clueless there as he is on economic policy.

  49. This is the most asinine piece of dribble I’ve ever seen on Reason.com, you call drone wars in half a dozen countries and the CIA sanctioned/backed secret wars known as the “Arab Spring” in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and half a dozen other countries as non-interventionist!?


  50. your premises and examine whether the people you disagree

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