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March 9, 2008

The more I think about it, the more I’m coming to believe that the difference between Hillary and Obama is one of philosophy. In essence, it’s not their policies that separate them, it’s their approaches to governing.

Hillary strikes me as particularly Hobbesian in her outlook, i.e. that people are weak and flawed, that life is nasty, brutish, and short, and that we need a strong government to keep us all in line.

Obama, on the other hand may as well be a torchbearer for John Locke. And not Oceanic 815 John Locke, Second Treatise on Government John Locke. For those whose philosphy and/or history are a bit rusty, Locke believed in the inherent goodness of humanity, and was the one who asserted all men had the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property (which Thomas Jefferson changed to “happiness” when drafting the Declaration of Independence).

One is top down and controlling. The other is bottom-up and enabling. I don’t care that they are both liberal. I don’t care that they would raise taxes (Bush’s mismanagement has made it all but inescapable). I care about their approaches, and I know which I prefer.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Jesse permalink
    March 9, 2008 3:54 pm

    Maybe Barack should do some more research on the people that advise him and how his policies will be implemented and administered.
    If he is a Lockean then we can expect him to bring troops home, allow more free market, and end domestic programs like the ‘war on drugs’

  2. Matt permalink*
    March 9, 2008 4:03 pm

    I think he is more likely to do those than either of the other candidates.

    Maybe “torchbearer” is a bit too far, but I definitely see Lockean tendencies in the way he articulates the relationship of people and the government. It’s a bottom-up groundswell of change, not a top-down imposition of it.

    Again, it’s the approach I care about. Policies are well and good, but how many presidents ever live up to more than one or maybe two policy promises made on the campaign trail?

  3. Jesse permalink
    March 9, 2008 7:15 pm

    well, i disagree. it is documented that he will be a big spender. inflation will rise as will taxes. how many foreign policy wounds can we bear while we are experiencing domestic issues that are continuing to be a nuisance. if a larger war breaks out …..what will he do…. and how will that affect the economy here?

    i am concerned. i can see what you mean about approach, and PR is good, but it’s not the truth, and i think that’s what the people need right now. i feel like obama is just a phamaceutical for discomfort and fails to address the cause and give a real diagnosis.

    with regards to the top-down as opposed to bottom-up. what i see is similar, but with a twist. barack is taking the people in the opposite direction than we should be going. he is reinstating faith in government when we should be taking the power back to more localized levels. so he is sort of like a long term stimulus package.

    that’s my two cents.

  4. March 9, 2008 8:24 pm

    When has any politician really come through with thier campaign promises? The vote may very well boil down to charisma. Obama has it, Hillary does not. Other than George Bush senior riding the Reagan Charisma coatails, charisma – not really policy promises has determined who took the White House. Reagan v. Carter and Mondale….Clinton v. Bush and Dole…W. Bush v. Gore and Kerry. The more personable guy won every time. Just a thought.

  5. March 10, 2008 4:47 am

    Speaking as an outsider, I am disappointed how little publicity is given in our own media to the ideological differences between candidates.
    It’s like football teams – you’re not meant to choose them for reasons of substance, just on identifying with one for some shallow reason and aligning with them through thick or thin.
    If anything, in our (Australian) media, the Democrat battle is portrayed as being between the new but inexperienced versus the experienced (but with plenty of enemies).
    I certainly hope the North American media is covering the whole thing in more depth and with more substance.

  6. Matt permalink*
    March 10, 2008 5:24 am

    Jesse – I may be wrong – it has been some time since I read it in full – but I don’t recall Locke’s second treatise talking about government spending to any degree, at least insofar as we recognize government spending. At any rate, I am more concerned with the notion of a social contract and representative government.

    And I’m going to have to disagree with your assertion that Obama is reinstating faith in government. If anything, he is doing the opposite. He’s point out how broken it is and saying “together, we can fix it”. Which is a lot different than saying “I can fix it”. Whether or not he can carry that out remains to be seen, but his campaign has been the smoothest and best-run of this primary season, and I feel that is probably a better measure of future capability than the such-and-such many years of experience Hillary keeps harping about.

    JB – I could swear there was something about the hair, too…

    Aurelius – That’s pretty much how it’s being portrayed here. Too bad it’s a terrible argument on pretty much every level. Hillary doesn’t have the experience she claims she does. How is overseeing the failure of health reform (which was apparently brought about largely by her own paranoia and power-wrangling) experience? Being in the White House isn’t the same as being President. She may have had some measure of that power, but she sure as hell didn’t have any of the responsibility. Obama, on the other hand, isn’t as inexperienced as she claims he is…

    And then there’s the whole question of whether experience matters. After all, there was another tall, skinny lawyer from Illinois who ran for president a while back. Like Obama, he was an inexperienced junior senator. Now, of course, he’s got his face on Mt. Rushmore and a nice view of the Washington Monument.

    Experience is a terrible argument. I mean, Dick Cheney had experience. Donald Rumsfeld had experience. Nixon had experience. Experience does not always equal just and benevolent governance. And inexperience, such as it is, does not always equal bumbling tomfoolery.

    But, being perfectly blunt, managing their campaigns in this primary season is probably the most relevant leadership experience ANY of the candidates can claim (as far as actually managing people and making things happen, building consensus, etc).

  7. Jesse permalink
    March 10, 2008 10:19 am
    It still makes sense to me that Obama is part of the war party. He may seem like the lesser of evils compared to the rest, and maybe even better than the rest (remains to be seen), but I do suspect that, compared to who the “top-tier” are and what we’ve seen for eight years (or more), Obama just looks good, heck, great!. And seems like a fresh start. Good strategy on the part of the Gatekeepers. “They” don’t run the world because of lack of brains.

    So..he does come across as more pro-peace, and I can have hope in his supporters.
    We can applaud him for standing up for civil liberties (even though he has voted for the Partiot Act twice).
    Hopefully he can come around to know why the economy is bad and listen to people like Paul, though I doubt that will happen. (He is still has establishment advisors afterall and the Fed is still in charge and Keynesians School of thought abounds)

    So the question still remains, what will Barack do? Will he rescind the power of the Executive? And ask congress to take responsibility for foreign and monetary policy?As his landscape changes (i,e. gets closer to the White House) what new information might he recieve that will shape the direction his administration will take? Looking at his foreign policy advisors gives some indication. The middle east is a bit of a ‘powder keg’ and we know that Obama will change certain directives, but what are the consequences? Notice Russia and China on the news a lot lately…..and not portrayed positively…
    Also, Obama still uses the term Islamic terrorism. This is misleading.

    For Those Interested in Facts: They Hate Our Foreign Policy

    How desperately dangerous this situation is
    [audio src="" /]

    So all in all, I trust Obama’s supporters before I support Obama. And it’s the people who are the one’s taking a better direction, not our government.

  8. March 10, 2008 7:25 pm

    I agree, it’s all about the hair…..being from the south (or a movie cowboy) does not hurt either. You also have to be easy to impersonate – the reason Ford was never a good president.

  9. March 18, 2008 8:00 pm

    hey matt,

    late to the party on tis one because i have been in mexico for the past ten days. In all th talk of obama vs. clinton (understandable given circumstances) you haven’t really given much insight as to your thoughts on McCain. I would interested to learn of them.

    Saw him in an interview the other day when someone brought up that his son is fighting in Iraq at the moment. He said he didn’t want to talk about that., I was very impressed that a guy who has a vested interest in the troops coming home (namely getting his son back) is nevertheless sticking to his guns and doing what he thinks is right..and perhaps even more impressive…isn’t telling the whole world about it as a form of campaign promotion.

    Someone asked him about his experience as a POW, and instead of talking about who he survived being hung by his two BROKEN ARMS for days without backing down or giving in or revealing any information, instead he replied that people are interested in what is going on TODAY not what happened years ago. Again very impressed in the way he chose not to engage in self-promotion. Contrast that with Obama who has been screaming ad nauseum about his being against the Iraq War from the beginning, which may be true but does nothing in terms of helping us in our present situation. Or Hillary, who has never done a single thing in her life that wasn’t directly intended to be self-serving. As JB said, sometimes it isn’t about policies it’s about persona…..that’s why i think Hillary has no shot….but I think that for all the praise heaped on Obama…..I think McCain actually has a hell of a shot of getting in due to his persona. This is an incredible feat when one considers that many of his policies (mainly Iraq) may not be the most popular at the moment, One can’t argue with the strength of his convictions or his character given that his son is fighting there, and yet he is still steadfast. Just my two cents but interested to hear your thoughts.

  10. chellejenkins permalink
    September 29, 2008 10:04 pm

    This was a related post under an essay I wrote years ago, and just posted about Hobbes vs Locke. I’m going to have to go refresh my memory on the philosophies of the two, and relate those to Hillary and Obama, as you suggested! Thanks for your enlightenment….

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