The Egalitarian In Chief

All about the philosophy that informs the Obama administration.

As the end of Barack Obama’s administration approaches, we ought to discuss the overall impact that it has had on the United States. While no president is perfect, I believe the overall legacy is a negative one; allow me to defend this position with a discussion of the philosophy of the Obama administration.

When discussing Obama, I am often reminded of the 1972 election when Richard Nixon won in a landslide against George McGovern. At the time, McGovern was the candidate of the far left, which had come to prominence in the wake of the Vietnam War. Nixon positioned himself as the experienced, establishment candidate against a pacifist who would have surrendered America to the Soviet Union. To many voters, Nixon was the man who would prevent the hippies from taking political control. Though we later learned that Nixon had serious ethical and political issues of his own, voters at the time awarded Nixon every state except for Massachusetts. The resulting landslide meant that the radical left was exiled from American politics for two full generations.

The only popular Democratic presidency after the ’72 election was the Clinton administration. Carter, the only other Democrat to be president during this era, was largely seen as weak and ineffectual, as well as economically destructive. The headlines of Carter’s reign spoke of “the misery index”. Economists were baffled when high unemployment appeared at the same time as high inflation, which was considered impossible under the standard Keynesian economic model. Despite the personal scandals, Clinton’s approach was animated by a moderate, “third way” philosophy that had earned respect from many of his political opponents, particularly in the economic realm with the passage of welfare reform. The  ideological left made a return to mainstream American politics with the election of Obama in 2008, who was the first “New Left” American president.

Conservatives took pains to portray Obama as a Marxist in the 2008 presidential campaign, but the truth is that he only appropriates the ideology and rhetoric of class warfare when it suits him in his true agenda, which is more aptly described as egalitarian and not Marxist. Egalitarianism is the view that equality is the most important standard by which we ought to evaluate justice and morality. For egalitarians, equality is a higher value than standard of living or individual achievement. As a self-styled “community organizer” Barack Obama is a philosophical poster boy for Harvard philosopher John Rawls’ theory of “justice as fairness”. Let’s examine some of the specific instances where Obama’s policies have supported his egalitarian philosophy.

To begin, Obama has ratcheted up the traditional Democratic rhetoric against Wall Street and the banks. Along with Senators Sanders and Warren, Obama has called for higher taxes on the wealthy so that everyone is paying their “fair share” though there is little explanation for what is truly “fair” in this context. The president has done his part to convince Americans that the financial sector is parasitical, taking care to ignore the crucial role that the financial sector plays in allocating capital throughout the economy where it is most profitable and therefore most valued. When asked by the New York Times whether he would raise taxes on “millionaires and billionaires” even if it would result in less overall revenue, Obama responded that he would do so, stating that its not a matter of revenue, but “fairness”. Obama truly seems to believe that if a person possesses considerable wealth, irrespective of how they achieved it, then the government is justified in taking the “excess” and redistributing it to those “in need”. If one could custom the presidential seal for each person who holds the office, Obama’s would likely read “you didn’t build that”.

Obama’s administration is also responsible for raising government spending on “clean energy” and seeks to further restrict America’s consumption of electricity and fossil fuels. The truth is that energy is the lifeblood of an industrial, capitalist society and without it, America cannot effectively produce the goods and services that make innovations in every other field possible. At this stage, so-called clean energy is not only “clean”, but overly expensive and ineffective in generating what our economy needs to grow and expand. Any cost-conscious entrepreneur would recognize the value of efficient, renewable energy and invest in it if they thought that there was a chance for profits. Some, like Elon Musk, do this now (albeit with government subsidies). On the other hand, the Obama administration is engaged in a sort of wishful thinking: even if clean energy can’t compete with fossil fuels in terms of efficiency or yield, we still ought to invest in it at the expense of established, proven energy sources because it is “the right thing”.

The question to ask is: right for whom? Eschewing cheap, abundant energy for clean, expensive and rationed energy is not “right” for humans that seek to travel the world, mass produce medicines, generate high crop yields, and expand the reach of telecommunications. The administration’s attitude seems to be that human welfare needs to take a back seat when compared with the environment, the climate, and the mating habits of any and all non-human species on the planet which have an intrinsic value simply because they exist and therefore belong on an equal footing with humans. In other words, energy is great and all, but if it comes down to humans or polar bears, we will just have to go without and sacrifice for the sake of the polar bears. Ayn Rand put it best when she described the American left as seeking “an anti-Industrial Revolution”. To this I would add that the Obamas of the world seek an egalitarian energy policy where the welfare of humans is considered on a par with the welfare of lakes, ferrets, and redwoods.

On the international scene, the Obama administration has consistently acted to diminish America’s stature by denying American exceptionalism. The president applies his egalitarianism consistently to nations of the world as well as individual humans only to conclude that each and every country should be treated the same as every other, irrespective of its actual values and customs. Rather than serve as an eloquent spokesman for the peculiar and unique American tradition of individual rights, separation of powers, free elections, and limited government, Obama has told young people in Argentina that “there is no essential difference between socialism and capitalism” and that they should choose “whatever works”. Rather than stick up for American interests, Obama is willing to subvert American interests to those of the United Nations, an egalitarian body that gives equal representation to all nations, whether they are authoritarian or free.

Mr. Obama has also enthusiastically breathed new life into the tyrannical Cuban regime by pushing the end of the US embargo. This act does a remarkable disservice to Cubans that fled the country and further damages the cause of Cubans that remain on their home island, trying to resist the communist dictatorship. For generations, Cuban refugees have orally transmitted the horrors of communism to their children and grandchildren; they explain that it was the United States that gave them hope and allowed them to prosper after painfully leaving their homeland. The message to young Americans is clear: if Mr. Obama thinks that the Castro family is kosher, perhaps Fidel and Raul are not all that bad after all.

Obama also lacks the moral courage to openly identify radical Islam as a threat to the United States. Like his predecessor, George W Bush, Obama refuses to recognize that what motivates ISIS is not anti-imperialism gone amok but ideas, specifically religious ideas. It is not true that all religions are equal in the effects of their dogma; to see this, note that we are not discussing the threat posed by radical Jainism. Many on the left will argue that Christianity is just as bad as Islam when it comes to fundamentalism, but this is an ahistorical claim. The fact is that Christianity and Judaism have been severely weakened politically in the West after the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution relegated them to superstition among the intellectual and business class. The Middle East, on the other hand, is rife with countries stuck in the Middle Ages culturally.

Obama saw the so-called “Arab Spring” through the rose-colored glasses of his egalitarianism and mistook the political machinations of committed Islamists as the rumblings of a native people rising up against their government for an equal voice in a democratic system. The two biggest exponents of Islamism are Saudi Arabia and Iran, a nation that has been in a de facto state of war against the United States since they took hostages from our embassy in 1979. Instead, the president has opted to appease Iranian posturing by kicking the can down the road with regards to their nuclear weapons program.

What about health care, which has been the flagship of Obama’s political legacy? President Obama led the charge to institute his health care scheme as a means of correcting supposed market deficiencies in allocating health care. From the beginning, the left has sought to use health care as a means of undermining confidence in the market by driving up costs and lowering quality. In reality, the health care “market” was heavily regulated and distorted by government intervention prior to the Affordable Care Act. It started with Social Security, a program borrowed from Bismarck’s Germany to placate the middle class at the behest of socialist agitators. It continued with more guarantees in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. Occupational licensing laws were put forth to regulate “legitimate” medical care and outlaw “illegitimate” medical care, making it difficult and expensive for new doctors to enter the market. Finally, it was under Ronald Reagan that federal law required all visitors to emergency rooms to be subsidized by the taxpayers if they could not pay their own bills. The “market deficiencies” that Obama sought to “fix” with his health care bill were a result of government action, not the free market.

Obama’s solution for health care was naturally derived by applying his egalitarianism to health care coverage. The Affordable Care Act put into effect an individual mandate that requires all citizens have health care coverage irrespective of their health and ability to pay. Furthermore, Obamacare decrees that the services rendered by all plans need to be identical, even if particular aspects of the plan are nonsensical or uneconomical. For instance, thanks to Obama, a young man in his 30’s can now have his pregnancy covered by his insurance plan, and anyone diagnosed with a preexisting condition will be covered even though there is a near certain chance that the health care firm will need to pay out heavily for treatment. If we compare auto insurance to health care insurance, the mandate states that one can demand an insurer cover them after they have totaled their vehicle. Rather than treat health care as a service provided by the market, with a variety of products and pricing commensurate with consumer needs, Obama has made it clear that it would be unfair that some go without health care coverage, and that this is prima facie unacceptable.

Finally, there is the deterioration of race relations and the proliferation of identity politics that have occurred under the Obama administration. Despite the fact that Americans voted in a black president, there is a widespread belief that the majority of white Americans are racists. Opponents of the Obama administration that have legitimate criticism are lumped together with white nationalists as racist by the mainstream media and various academics. It is often taken as axiomatic by educated Americans that Caucasians benefit from “white privilege” and there is need to address “institutional racism”. The police have been slandered by Black Lives Matter activists, who claim that there is a preference for jailing black Americans over all others. If someone points out that the incarceration rate of blacks is commensurate with the rate at which they actually commit crimes, they are also conveniently labeled as racists and apologists for oppression.

While Obama has not done much to stoke these flames, he has not done a thing to refute them, even though he can easily do so. Instead, he opts to take the approach that because all people are equal, it must be the case that all cultures are equal as well, and that it would be unfitting for anyone to point out differences, let alone claim that one is better than the other with regard to a given activity or problem.

Obama is the first president to take egalitarianism seriously. Apart from the 2016 election, the Democrats lost seats in Congress in 2010, 2012 and 2014 despite Obama getting two terms as president. Obama has stepped into the fray consistently with the message that even when he is personally not on the ballot, his policies are. Americans heard that message and voted accordingly to reject Obama and his egalitarianism. Though many Americans are not philosophical in their orientation, they are discerning enough to note that the effects of egalitarianism are destructive and harmful when they are implemented.

Author: Roberto Guzman

I support individual rights, capitalism, reason, and egoism.

5 thoughts on “The Egalitarian In Chief”

  1. I tend to think you’re givng Obama a bit too much credit. He’s no egalitarian and no philosopher – he uses the cloak of egalitarian rhetoric as a cover for a more sinister agenda: The destruction of European/”White” culture and civilization, not for the sake of equaltiy and fairness but for the sake of his own personal animus towards that culture.

    IMO his personal history and past associations, as well as his (supposed) book “Dreams of My Father” prove that. No time to discuss this at length right now.

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for posting. I disagree with this post on several accounts, but I think much of the reason for our disagreement is because my core belief system is far more aligned with Obama’s than your system.

    Point of Contention Numero Uno: When Obama said that he would raise the taxes on the millionaires and billionaires regardless of whether it would raise the overall revenue, that is pretty alarming out of context. Presidents should do what is best for all people. However, what is not clear from the post, is maybe there is more to the story than overall revenue? For example, increasing the taxes for the rich and upper-middle class might be a better solution? Intuitively, taxing the wealthy more is less likely to have as negative effect on their quality of life. If we tax the lower-class more, this might put them in more serious financial strain, which could increase the need for more spending on some other government programs. I took a look at a paper from NBER published in 2012 by Piketty and friends who contend that tax increases for the rich result in a higher GDP for those in the 99% (income bracket). It doesn’t appear that this is the part of Piketty’s research that was potentially error-prone, so it seems like this conclusion holds in light of that. We should talk about this more tomorrow because I’m staring at Laffer curves trying to figure this out and I think at the moment, I’m not entirely sure who is right or wrong, but I think neither of us have enough information to officially say that a progressive tax system is ineffective.

    Point of Cotention Numero Dos: Moving towards clean energy is a much better long-term solution for more reasons than just the environment(though that certainly doesn’t hurt). Fossil fuels are non-renewable resources. Once were done with those, no more traveling for you! While that may be a long time away from us, the more energy (ha! pun intended) that we put into it the better off in the long-run. Think of power-grid. Fossil fuels are not the most efficient form of energy. We need like what, six barrels of coal and only one barrel of uranium to power the same plant? Fossil fuels are inefficient, unclean forms of energy and we should not incentivize their usage. This is another more complicated discussion we should prep for and debate, but in this post, I think you’re oversimplifying the issue (much like I over-simplified my counter-argument). Long-story short, I think were better off playing the long-con when it comes to energy.

    Point of Cotention Numero Tres: I don’t believe in American exceptionalism. By what metric are we exceptional? We currently live and work in a global economy, so we need to figure our a way of interacting with other countries that is beneficial for everyone. My interpretation of what Obama is saying is that somewhere along the spectrum of pure socialism and pure capitalism is a solution that works for each individual country. I believe he was trying to be respectful of other cultures so that the US can foster good relations with other countries (something I think will come in handy!). The United Nations is one particular stab at attempting this. Is it perfect? No. That’s a discussion for another day. Should we be a part of it? Yes. Everyone’s voice needs to be heard if were going to come up with globalized solutions. Frankly, I don’t really understand the point you’re trying to make in this paragraph other than you don’t believe everyone should be treated fairly and I think everyone should be treated fairly, (call me a crazy egalitarian!) so I guess that’s really where we disagree.

    Point of Cotention Numero Cuatro: “Obama has made it clear that it would be unfair that some go without health care coverage, and that this is prima facie unacceptable.” I fundamentally disagree with this. I could write something longer, but really the crux of my disagreement is the crazy egalitarian in me who thinks everyone is deserving of health care. You’re a deadbeat in need of a cat scan? Fine, take my tax dollars. I honestly don’t give a shit. That genuinely doesn’t bother me, but I know it bothers you. I’m not sure if you and I will ever come to a consensus on that due to that critical difference in our attitudes.

    Point of Contention Numero Cinco: “There is widespread belief that the majority of white americans are racist.” I feel like you’re basing this on general perception and I get where you’re going with this, but I think without definitive proof, we should take this point off the table. Caucasians do benefit from White privelege? Yes. Do all Caucasians? Maybe not, but I’ve definitely experienced white privelege firsthand. Am I less likely to get screened at the airport? Yes. Am I less likely to have people cross the street when I”m walking towards them at night? Yes. Am I less likely to have my competence questioned at work based on the color of my skin? Yes. I’ve seen all three of these things happen in my own life, so I am wont to believe it exists. I have limited experience beyond my own day-to-day life and comparing my experiences to friends of color, but based on even that limited amount of information, I think white privelege exists.

    Does institutional racism exist? I think so. It makes sense. When earlier policies established by institutions have significantly hampered the ability for specific groups to achieve their own educational and career-related goals, how can institutional racism not exist? I’ll take an example from my own field of education. Brown vs. Board of Education famously “erased” de jure segregation, but schools are just as segregated today as they were then with students of color often getting the short-end of the stick. There are a lot of factors contributing to this segregation, but I would attribute this at least in part to the disproportionate amount of people of color living in low-income neighborhoods with lower-quality school districts. Why the disproportionate amount? The TL;DR version: The aftershocks of institutional racism.

    Punto de contencion Numero cinco punto cinco: In regard to your comments on the Black Lives Matter campaign, I don’t think anyone disagrees that Black individuals are incarcerated and are charged for crimes at a higher rate. There is also some evidence that suggests that blacks receive longer sentences relative to whites for the same crimes. Is this purely based on racism? Quite possibly. Do I know that definitively? No. Not without reviewing the specific details of these cases.

    Additionally, it seems one of the major concerns with the Black Lives Matters movement is that more force is unjustifiably used on blacks. I don’t know enough about appropriate law enforcement procedures to speak authoritatively on the topic, but I do think interviewing these specific police officers which would be a fascinating study. I see two possible hypotheses. One, is that police officers might be overly aggressive towards blacks committing crimes because of fears created by institutional racism. I even heard a study on a podcast (not sure of the source, so I don’t know how accurate) that there are more instances of black officers using excessive force on black perpetrators (which could still be a symptom of institutional racism). The second hypothesis is these crimes actually warranted this level of force, which is also questionable. I’m not black or a police officer, so I definitely don’t have all (or really any) of the answers when it comes to improving relations between the black community and police officers.

    But I have spoken to a number of black male teenagers who are terrified of a bad interaction with a police officer based on their appearance, so I know for those individuals, this fear is real. I have yet to speak directly to a police officer on this issue and I’d love to hear their take. I would bet that many police officers fear hostile situations. Either way, the status quo is far from ok. Neither of us are black. Neither of us are police officers, but we can listen and hear concerns from both sides. However, I strongly suspect that institutional racism is at play here and I think a lot can be learned from those speaking out in the Black Lives Matter movement.
    Both of us have a lot of learn.

    Point of contention Numero Seis: “Though many Americans are not philosophical in their orientation, they are discerning enough to note that the effects of egalitarianism are destructive and harmful when they are implemented.” I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here, but I don’t think I’m discerning enough to note that the effects of egalitarianism are destructive and harmful. Quite the contrary, I find the lack of egalitarianism destructive and harmful.

  3. Hey Jes,

    Thanks for your interest! You wrote so much, I feel it is rude to not respond. Here are a few brief observations, as per your points:

    1) Actually, my issue with Obama’s policy has nothing to do with virtual GDP increases. Taxing the rich more to help the poor is that Obama’s stated position, either. The argument you are espousing is not egalitarianism or individualism, but utilitarianism (i.e. do more good overall than harm, to as most people as possible). For the egalitarian, the primary concern is equality. For the utilitarian, the primary concern is “the greatest good for the greatest number.” For the individualist, the primary concern is that people are free to live their lives without threat of force, and government action is always based on a threat of force. For my part, I am an individualist and think that both utilitarianism and egalitarianism are lacking. As a believer in individual rights and private property, I do not think it is proper as a principle to sacrifice some for the benefit of others; Whether the sacrifice is small or large makes little difference ethically.

    2) Fossil fuels are inefficient…compared to what, exactly? Compared to what humans used prior to the use of fossil fuel technology (animal and human labor), fossil fuels are hugely efficient. Fossil fuels are responsible for expanding human civilization and enabling the mass production of computers, medicines, and food; we as a species owe a lot to fossil fuel technology. This is not to say that it is the absolute perfect fuel source; there may be others awaiting discovery. To claim that fossil fuels are inefficient because they are limited in their use and quantity, like all things are, is not a demerit against them. Fossil fuels, currently, are the best we have.

    The fact is that the market for energy is actively seeking out efficient, profitable energy to gain customers and expand. Free market firms have a huge incentive to seek out efficient energy sources and there is no need for government spending (i.e. force) to be used to encourage it. As far as fossil fuels being “nonrenewable”, the fact is that ALL energy is nonrenewable. The sun, for instance, is limited in its capacity to produce energy and will eventually incur heat death just like the power one gains from a windmill or a water plant is gone once it is used. Realize that prior to Rockefellar, oil reserves throughout the world existed and went unused by humans and nobody entertained the thought that it was possible to use it the way that we do today. As humans, we have explored (literally) the tip of the iceberg with regards to harvesting the resources of Earth. Read Julian Simon’s “The Ultimate Resource” to see that the only real limit on human energy technology is the human imagination.

    3) American exceptionalism refers to the ideas used to found the United States: a secular Constitution, individual rights, due process, limited government, free markets. Many of these ideas got their start in ancient Greece, only to be taken up by the British philosopher John Locke, who heavily influenced the American Founding Fathers. Just because we have achieved seamless global communication and engage in commerce, does not mean that all cultures are equal. American political philosophy is the crowning achievement of the philosophy of individual rights and personal liberty. American political philosophy is exceptional, compared to the various other Marxist and theocratic slave pens across the globe.

    4) Its fine if you want to give a stranger money for a cat scan, but nobody has the authority to force others to do the same if they choose not to do it. Health care is a service provided by human beings; to regard it as a right is to uphold the view that those who are capable of providing this service are the right-less serfs of those that desire it. All people have the same right to health care: they can purchase it in the market if they can afford it and think it is worth purchasing.

    5) White privilege is a nonsensical idea that is akin to original sin: you are born with a predisposition that you cannot control that is either favorable or unfavorable, and those in the unfavorable boat can only overcome it by making penance (i.e. admitting their “privilege”) to the people in the favorable boat. The fact is, airport screening is based not on an intrinsic, race-based privilege but rather on actual statistics. If muslims are more likely to hijack airplanes than Asian grandmothers and Swedish nuns, then it makes sense to spend a disproportionate amount of time screening muslims rather than Asian grandmothers and Swedish nuns. The concept of white privilege has its root, like many modern examples of determinism, in Marxism. It damages individual responsibility. It rationalizes failure by telling people the game was rigged against them and it makes others guilty for the wealth that they have earned by telling them that they got it by exploiting someone else, even if they earned it via their own efforts.

    “Institutional racism” is a phrase without an identity when it comes up. What institutions are racist, exactly? The police? The courts? The Constitution? We need specific examples of institutions and policies that are believed to be racist before we can even broach the subject; saying “institutional racism” explains nothing. For something to quality as institutional racism it has to be the case that the policy or law is explicitly racist, not that the effects fall disproportionately on a particular group. This is because people have free will, and have the ability to choose their values and their ideas. People born into unfortunate situations can always achieve excellence if they have the drive to do so and are not told at a young age that its all a matter of their race. To my knowledge, America has eliminated the last vestiges of institutional racism when it outlawed segregation.

    6) Black Lives Matter will get its own essay; I have much to say about that particular movement and it is almost entirely negative (so stay tuned). In short, the fact is that blacks are incarcerated at a higher rate but that is because they actually commit higher rates of crime. Within the last year or so we have seen numerous cases where black men were killed by the police and the media stoked the outrage of BLM protesters who seem to have chucked out the concept of innocent until proven guilty. Consider that in nearly all of these sensationalist cases (Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown) the law found that the police had acted appropriately. I am not surprised that black teenagers report being afraid of law enforcement, not because the police are actually racist but because the left has portrayed them as such. As a side note (and this applies to the earlier point about white privilege as well) your race is irrelevant to your position on these issues: arguments stand or fall on their own merit, independent of who makes them.

    7) I could have gone into more detail here, but egalitarianism is harmful because it strangles incentive to better one’s position and sacrifices the rights of the individual to a utopian vision where everyone is equal. Humans are not equal; everyone has different skills and values, and we all work to the extent that we choose to in order to realize our values. A society that is free will inevitably produce unequal results and to shoot for total equality is to destroy freedom. It is impossible to elevate the weak and the sick without a cost, and the cost is always borne by the achievers. For an egalitarian, the standard of living overall is less important than the gap between the best off and the worst of. If life were an aviary, the egalitarian ethics requires that we clip wings until the strongest hawk can fly just as well as the crippled pigeon. Egalitarianism is hatred of the good because it is good.

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