Friday, September 11, 2009

Cass Sunstein and the Myopia of Conservatives

As someone who is familiar with Cass Sunstein's writings and who has read (and discussed) Sunstein's most recent book, Nudge, a collaborative effort with Richard Thaler, I have to say that I find the conservative opposition to Sunstein's appointment as the director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama Administration's Office of Management and Budget to be very puzzling. Sunstein's basic thesis in Nudge was very much coming out of a libertarian tradition that prioritizes the freedom of choice and looks suspiciously on any practice or policy that might compromise choice beyond a fairly innocuous "nudge," whether that practice or policy originates in the state or the private sector.

Conservative columnist and pundit, David Frum, (currently a pariah among modern movement conservatives for his opposition to Sarah Palin and his criticism of the unthinking reactionary conservative bombast of folks like Mark Levin and Glenn Beck) has written an extremely thoughtful piece defending, with a persuasive conservative rationale, the appointment of Sunstein.

Here's part of what he said:

To anyone who knows anything – anything! – about what Cass Sunstein has actually written or actually said, it’s [conservative opposition to his appointment] a travesty and scandal. And ironically enough, if successful, it would have been a travesty and scandal in which conservatives would find themselves the main victims.

Had Cass Sunstein somehow been stopped, the next OIRA nominee would certainly have been less favorable to markets, enterprise, and competition. The next nominee would not have supported John Roberts and Michael McConnell, would not have chaired seminars with the American Enterprise Institute, might not have been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, and very likely would not have shared with conservatives so many of the values that Beck purports to uphold but in fact betrays.
I, too, think Sunstein is better for conservatives, by leaps and bounds, than any other potential Obama administration appointment. If conservatives want to be masochistic, and work to dump Sunstein in favor of someone more radical from the left, that's their prerogative. It just makes no sense to me.


Eric said...

I have to admit that if one's only knowledge of Suntein was via his contributions to the 'Nudge' book, it would be difficult (not impossible) for conservatives to find so many authentic faults with him.

But the truth of the matter is that outside his ideas expressed in that book, he has a wholely different and unrelated set of ideas, guided by other principals, that are radically opposed to standard conservative approaches on issues of free speech, taxation, property rights, right to bear arms, and animal rights.

Is he the best regulatory psuedo-czar that conservatives can hope for from the Obama administration? Perhaps, but that doesn't mean he should be welcomed with open arms. Being half in agreement on one single issue does not a conservative make.

Huck said...

I never said he is a conservative, I just agreed with Frum that he is the best that conservatives are likely to get. The fact is that Obama gets to pick his people and, eventually, someone will hold that position. If conservatives want to sandbag Sunstein, they can have at it; but they're almost 100% likely to get something worse out of the bargain. And I've read Sunstein's work in other venues and on other issues and I haven't seen anything nearly close to the radicalism that is being attributed to him. Of course, I haven't read everything he's written, but I think it's safe to say that when conservatives, like Frum, who actually know Sunstein and his work much more completely, say that Sunstein is no where near to being the radical he's made out to be, I tend to think even more that the critiques of Sunstein are probably more hyperbolic than substantive.