Last year, Barack Obama said: "I believe that America's free market has been the engine of America's great progress. It's created a prosperity that is the envy of the world. It's led to a standard of living unmatched in history. And it has provided great rewards to the innovators and risk takers who have made America a beacon for science and technology and discovery. … We are all in this together. From CEOs to shareholders, from financiers to factory workers, we all have a stake in each other's success because the more Americans prosper the more America prospers."
Yet last month, he famously said: "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK. That's not leadership. That's not going to happen."
And last year, he co-sponsored the Fair Pay Act, which would have obliged firms to pay men and women the same wages, not for the same work, but for work the government deemed "equivalent."
The first statement sounds like Ronald Reagan. The second two statements would be standard fare in Eurosocialist faculty lounges.
Similarly, on the question of international trade in "The Audacity of Hope," Obama recognized that a tariff on imported steel may provide temporary relief to American steelmakers but that it also would make every American manufacturer that uses steel, from carmakers to homebuilders, less competitive.
Yet March 4, he spoke of "entire cities that have been devastated as a consequence of trade agreements that were not adequately structured to make sure that U.S. workers had a fair deal." To workers in cold warehouses, he claimed that NAFTA has destroyed 1 million American jobs, "including nearly 50,000 jobs here in Ohio." As president, he vowed, he will not "stand idly by while workers watch their jobs get shipped overseas." He has called for a "timeout" on free trade treaties.
Of course, one cannot expect perfect rhetorical and policy consistency from any presidential candidate. But on the matter of Obama's economic policies, one can reasonably infer from his statements either that he will continue the free market/low-regulation/free trade policies championed by Reagan and Thatcher and followed by most of the prospering world for the past three decades or that he has bought into the social justice/inevitable scarcity-driven economic policies of high regulation, high taxes and wealth redistribution, which for the past generation has been a largely academic and leftish dissent from the globalized economy led by the United States.
The point here isn't to argue that free markets are good and that more socialized markets are bad (although, of course, that is true for anyone who likes both freedom and prosperity).
The point is that it is almost ridiculous that at the end of the primary campaign season, the putative Democratic candidate for president has been able to get this far without revealing definitively where he stands on the great matter of free or less free markets.
My fear is that we may well get to November without ever knowing Obama's true position and thus never have a serious national debate. Given that both America and the world, following broadly free market principles these past three decades, have enjoyed almost unprecedented prosperity (under the rule of both Republican and Democratic, Tory and Labour, and similar left/right divides in Asia and Europe), if Obama wants to go in a different direction, honor requires that he declare himself and make a public case for change, if that is what he has in mind.
During the pendency of waiting for Obama's sense of honor and intellectual integrity leading him to declare himself forthrightly, it is up to Sen. McCain and the national press corps to focus public attention on the question.
The press corps should have strong personal motives for challenging Obama to show his true colors because as the great newspapers, weekly magazines and network news departments continue to fire journalists those soon-to-be former journalists will have a much more prosperous future looking for work in a free economy. And as well-salaried professionals wherever employed, sending their children to St. Ladida Preparatory may not be affordable under Obama's plan for unlimited FICA taxes and an extra 10 percent income tax on hardworking white-collar workers, such as current and former journalists.
But one way or another, the public is owed at least a loud warning that the goose that has been laying golden eggs for us for three decades may be on Obama's to cook menu.
As a last resort, Sen. McCain could campaign in defense of prosperity and challenge Obama as remorselessly on his half-hidden socialism as McCain commendably has hounded Obama for his foreign policy naivete and Iraq retreat plans.