I am not, technically speaking, an undecided voter. I plan to vote for the presidential candidate whose views about the proper role of the federal government are closest to mine: Bob Barr, the Libertarian nominee. But on the question of which major-party candidate would do less damage to the country as president -- by which I mean expand government and restrict liberty less -- I remain undecided.
As we saw during the first six years of the Bush administration, which featured profligate spending and unchecked executive power, the White House and Congress tend to enable each other's excesses when they are controlled by the same party. Since the Democrats are expected not only to retain but to strengthen their grip on the legislative branch, this consideration counts in favor of the Republican nominee.
Another important advantage of a McCain presidency is that he would be more likely than Barack Obama to appoint judges who see their job as interpreting and applying the Constitution, rather than rewriting it to fit their policy preferences. Since the two oldest members of the Supreme Court tend toward the latter approach, McCain could have a chance to make the Court more faithful to the original understanding of the Constitution.
While McCain would be better than Obama in this respect, it's not because he cares much about legal philosophy but because the people advising him would. Likewise on economic issues, where the people McCain consults seem less interventionist and more market-oriented than Obama's advisers. Then again, McCain has cast doubt on the superiority of his economic instincts by condemning "reckless conduct" and "unbridled greed" on Wall Street while backing taxpayer-funded bailouts of reckless and greedy lenders, investors and borrowers.
If McCain's support for these expensive adventures in moral hazard undermines his claim to fiscal conservatism, so does his continued enthusiasm for another ill-advised, Treasury-draining initiative: the five-year-old war in Iraq, the price tag for which will exceed that of the Wall Street bailout, even without taking into account the thousands of American and Iraqi lives it has cost. Obama opposed the war from the start and is likely to bring it to a quicker close than McCain would.
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