It is a common complaint from George W. Bush’s critics that he is an “ideologue” or even the “most ideological president in history.” His critics, including the Democratic presidential contenders, often have argued that he ignores empirical evidence, whether about foreign policy or science, in order to maintain his devotion to predetermined and deeply held philosophical beliefs.
So shouldn’t pundits be wary of and be on the lookout for politicians who disregard the facts, overlook inconvenient evidence, and plunge ahead with their philosophically fixed plans, impervious to the real world? Well so far they seem utterly unconcerned that Barack Obama has racked up a fairly consistent record of doing just that.
Let’s take free trade. Obama’s own advisors and the overwhelming majority of economists agree that free trade agreements have created millions of jobs and benefited us both economically and diplomatically. Yet Obama advocates a new era of protectionism. He falsely tells crowds in the Rust Belt that NAFTA has cost us jobs (actually we have gained 26 million jobs since it was signed) and is responsible for untold economic distress. Ah, but you say, he doesn’t really mean that — this is not really ideology run amok, but pandering. Perhaps.
Well then, there is health care. Both he and Hillary Clinton favor enormously expensive national plans which to one degree or another would require coverage and put the government in the position of subsidizing and regulating private insurance plans. However, we know now from empirical evidence in Massachusetts that these plans don’t result in universal coverage and are horrendously expensive. California’s Democratic-controlled legislature abandoned its idea for universal coverage because it simply cost too much. Does any of this affect Obama’s thinking? Apparently not.
It is the same story on tax policy. He likes the idea of increasing the capital gains tax. He does not much care for factual data demonstrating beyond any reasonable doubt that increasing the capital gains rates will decrease revenue. Rather, he has, dare we say, an ideological goal in mind: make the rich pay more, even if it costs the U.S. treasury money. At least he is honest about this one.
Foreign policy is no different. He and other Democrats criticized President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for ignoring the facts on the ground in Iraq for years which indicated the country was descending into civil war. Yet since the military and political successes resulting from the surge have convinced even former war critics that real progress has been made, has Obama acknowledged the new facts and adjusted his views? Not quite.