Libertarians Can Stop Worrying and Embrace Rand Paul’s Strategy

May 5th, 2015

Originally published at Every Joe 

Anxiety is permeating some corners of the libertarian universe. The narrative is that Rand Paul has compromised his beliefs and is in danger of losing his core supporters. It’s important to explore what’s driving these concerns in the context of both Paul’s presidential candidacy, and the broader debate over how to most effectively promote liberty-minded ideas in mainstream political discourse.

Recently, my friend and awesome libertarian commentator Julie Borowski wrote “An Open Letter to Rand Paul.” Her piece captured the fears that some libertarians have about the direction of his campaign. I’m not seeking to dismiss these apprehensions as irrelevant, but rather to analyze them in a light many libertarians may not have yet considered.

Nobody, libertarian or otherwise, should blindly support any politician. At the same time, libertarians lose out on opportunities to make tangible progress when we blind ourselves to the realities of political strategy and incremental persuasion. It’s within this framework that I’d like to address some critiques of Senator Paul that have been floating around in the libertarian ether.

Julie Borowski captures the bulk of concerns I’ve seen:

“You voted for sanctions against Russia. You signed onto Tom Cotton’s Iran letter–the problem is the intent of the undiplomatic letter more so than the language. Your stance on foreign aid to Israel has been confusing. You’ve seemed to water down your position on Pentagon spending. Your statement on the drone strikes killing two Americans overseas was disappointing. I’m getting mixed messages on where exactly you stand on the War on Drugs. You implied that accepting gay marriage is a “moral crisis” which is sure to turn away many young people.”

Sanctions. Iran. Israel. I get it, these are extremely difficult issues. What I would ask libertarians to consider when analyzing these matters is twofold: Rand Paul has always described himself as a conservative realist, and the vast majority of Republicans are committed interventionists. Senator Paul is not likely to fully satisfy ideologues on either end of the spectrum, but what he has been doing for libertarians is forcing a debate the GOP would undoubtedly not be having in his absence.

To move the country in a less interventionist direction, Senator Paul cannot be a pure “isolationist” (which he never has been, despite accusations). Yes, this will require a few compromises that some libertarians are likely to find distasteful. At the end of the day however, he is the only Republican presidential candidate who has consistently expressed support for diplomacy over a rush to military conflict with Iran, stated that the Iraq War was a mistake, and noted that the U.S. toppling of secular dictators has inadvertently fueled the growth of ISIS. The value of such pronouncements in the context of a GOP primary cannot be overstated. You don’t have to agree with everything he says to appreciate the direction he is pushing the debate.

Regarding a recent drone strike that killed two Americans, I understand that this might seem like a disconnect given Paul’s famous filibuster. However, he never expressed a fundamental opposition to drones broadly. Rather, Paul critiqued the Obama administration for refusing to be transparent with their use. As you might recall, he got the answer he asked for from Eric Holder, and has been consistent in saying that the general deployment of drones in a war zone is entirely different from a targeted strike of an American citizen absent due process.

On Pentagon spending, a minor amendment to a budget managed to produce wild headlines. As a Paul senior advisor explained, “This amendment is to lay down a marker that if you believe we need more funding for national defense, you should show how you would pay for it. No one should be seeking increased funding for anything by increasing our debt.” There you go, simple as that. Looks like Rubio wants more Pentagon spending, but isn’t willing to offset it with cuts elsewhere. Says lot about his limited government bonafides, no?

When it comes to the War on Drugs, it’s actually incredible how much Rand Paul’s work on criminal justice reform has pushed conservatives in a more libertarian direction. Like foreign policy, this is an issue that needs to be analyzed in context. For decades, Republicans have been perceived as committed to “law and order,” focused on condemning people to federal prison, no questions asked.

It’s now clear to many conservatives that the War on Drugs has done little to get contraband off the streets, and has fueled a further breakdown of the family, not to mention more poverty. Senator Paul has aptly focused on reforms that conservatives can get behind without taking a more extreme approach that would turn off the very people he needs to persuade to push policy in a more libertarian direction.

On the issue of gay marriage as a “moral crisis,” this discussion generated a lot of headlines, but it didn’t generate a lot of context. What Senator Paul told a small gathering of religious leaders was actually something very libertarian. He explained that politicians cannot be trusted to dictate morality; that this burden falls upon our communities and churches.

This is exactly the type of battlefield that limited government advocates with varying social opinions ought to embrace; debate absent government coercion. Personally, I’m more concerned with whether someone wants to get the federal government out of my private life than if they agree with me philosophically on what marriage means.

Analyzing these issues in the context of accepting that many Americans don’t agree with me outright, and that the cause of liberty needs persuasive messengers, has put my mind at ease. I’ve learned to stop worrying whether Senator Paul agrees with me completely, and embrace a strategy that requires contending with people outside of the relatively small libertarian bubble. There’s no person with a real chance of becoming the President of the United States who is better on libertarian issues than Rand Paul. I’m sold on this election as a battle worth fighting.

Republicans Must Approach Poverty With Empathy

April 30th, 2015

From Raw Story:

“Republican Maryland state Delegate Patrick McDonough suggested this week that parents did not deserve to continue receiving food stamps if they refused to stop their children from protesting the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

In audio obtain by First Look’s Lee Fang, a caller on a Baltimore radio program asks McDonough why the government could not “take away benefits from families, from like the parents who are collecting welfare” if the protesters were “too young.”

“That’s an idea and that could be legislation,” McDonough volunteers. “I think that you could make the case that there is a failure to do proper parenting and allowing this stuff to happen, is there an opportunity for a month to take away your food stamps?”

When I see ignorant drivel like this from an elected official who belongs to the same party I do, I am embarrassed to be a Republican. What good can come of targeting those with the least access to opportunity? How is it helpful to call them part of a “thug nation?” How can the GOP be taken seriously when it supports corporate welfare, yet treats the indigent like waste to be cast aside? (Which Democrats do too, by the way, they just couch their terrible policies in nicer rhetoric).

Why not be a Republican who tells the truth about how BIG GOVERNMENT has created a wasteland? Why not be honest about the fact that Democratic policies are at the root of why people are dependent on government and literally don’t have access to the type of free market that would give them the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty? Why trade in hate instead of empathy? Why give Democrats the fodder necessary to further perpetuate the poverty their polices have wrought?

I am a Republican because indisputable facts prove that those with the most access to economic freedom thrive. There are Americans, especially in our urban centers, who have languished under policies the Democratic Party has supported for countless decades. Do you think anybody wants to be dependent on government? Why shame people without access to opportunity instead of showing them what’s possible?

There is another way for those most in need. A way predicated on freedom and opportunity. We can bring this positive message into the urban cores of our nation in a variety of manners, but it’s impossible to even have this conversation when Republicans seemingly come from a place of hate rather than empathy.

This needs to change, and it needs to change now.

Cruz, Paul, and Perspective

April 9th, 2015

As a libertarian who worked very hard to bring my fellow travelers into the Ted Cruz for Senate camp in the primary and runoff, I’m a little disturbed by the way I see some Cruz for President supporters currently treating both libertarians and Rand Paul, especially in my home state of Texas.

Make no mistake: Without the help of the Paul family and the grassroots activists who align with them, Ted Cruz would NOT have had a base broad enough to force Dewhurst into a runoff and garner his ultimate win. We were indispensable. This is something Senator Cruz himself has acknowledged, and anybody with a real understanding of the campaign knows that. There’s a reason Cruz’s camp pushed his endorsement from Senator Paul as hard as they did, and hired former Paul staffers.

In the Spring of 2012, I wrote a piece in The Daily Caller entitled “Ted Cruz Can Unite the Right.” Now, it feels like many of his supporters want to steamroll over a significant portion of the people who got Senator Cruz to where he is today, and I have to admit, it hurts me on a personal level. That type of behavior is a very good way to burn the bridges you crossed to get where you currently stand; a risky behavior, indeed.

To be clear, this actually isn’t a criticism of Senator Cruz himself. I think for the most part, he’s been pretty classy, and I still count many of his supporters, especially staff, among my good friends. What I’m bothered by is both a lack of respect for people who were there from day one, and a weird focus on trying to destroy Senator Paul when the GOP establishment and Hillary Clinton are much bigger problems.

I understand that presidential primaries will inevitably get nasty. I also realize that there are Rand Paul supporters who need to work on their behavior as well. Believe me, I really do know that all too well, and anyone who follows me is aware of the fact that I spend plenty of time “policing my own,” so to speak. But there’s something very disturbing about some of the attitudes I’m seeing here in Texas. We all ought to know better.

Remember, Tea Partiers (a group I’ve been very intimately associated with): Rand Paul was elected in the 2010 wave. He and mostly Mike Lee, laid the groundwork for Ted. Rand Paul is far from an enemy; you owe him big time for Ted’s ability to even run for President at all. It’s also important to remember that at the end of the day, we’d all want Ted or Rand before someone like Jeb Bush. Perspective: It’s important.

Dick Durbin’s Ridiculous Race Baiting

March 18th, 2015

Dick Durbin ought to be ashamed of himself for this disgusting display of race baiting.

Via Politico:

“On Wednesday morning, the No. 2 Senate Democrat accused Republicans of putting the African-American nominee for attorney general in ‘the back of the bus.’ Hours later, Tim Scott, the Senate’s only African-American Republican, shot back that Democrats are using ‘race bait’ in the fight over the long-stalled nomination.

To the already contentious battle over Loretta Lynch’s confirmation vote, add a dose of racial politics to the mix.

The bad blood comes at a moment of rising frustration among both parties over a stalemate on abortion language in a human-trafficking bill that shows no signs of abating. That impasse has swept up Lynch since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he will not allow a vote on the attorney general nominee until the trafficking bill passes. It failed again on Wednesday afternoon.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) took the first shot in the latest round of sparring with a Wednesday morning speech on the Senate floor that compared Lynch to civil rights icon Rosa Parks. ‘Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman nominated to be attorney general, is asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar,’ the Democratic whip declared. ‘That is unfair, it’s unjust, it is beneath the decorum and dignity of the United States Senate.’”

Yes, Durbin is correct about the cultural significance surrounding the fact that Loretta Lynch is the first woman of color to be nominated for Attorney General. However, there are many legitimate concerns regarding what she advocates.

Lynch is known as a leading proponent of civil asset forfeiture, a practice in which cops and other government entities can steal the property of people merely ACCUSED of a crime. Even when a person is found innocent, it can be nearly impossible for them to get what’s rightfully their’s back.

There are so many egregious examples of civil asset forfeiture nationwide, explaining how terrible it is would require an encyclopedia-sized book. Outrageously, government agencies consider this practice a legitimate way to collect revenue, despite the fact that it flies in the face of basic protections enshrined in our Constitution.

It’s truly gross that Durbin would use language that invokes the Civil Rights movement to sweep under the rug the fact that Lynch is one of the nation’s foremost advocates of a practice that disproportionately violates the rights of communities she’s allegedly representative of.

Essentially, Lynch is promoting the shady revenue-acquiring practices that created tension and hurt the impoverished in Ferguson on a national scale, with higher stakes and broader civil liberties implications. Even Eric Holder (who Lynch is vying to replace) recently took action to try to end this injustice.

If politicians want to use the history of Civil Rights to justify Lynch’s nomination, they need to live those values and help communities of color rather than hurt them. Employing divisive, racially-charged rhetoric while opening the backdoor to more abuses is horrific. I truly hope Durbin rethinks what he’s doing and changes how he discusses this issue.

Elizabeth Warren is a Hypocrite

March 18th, 2015

Via the Washington Times:

“More than two dozen Democratic power brokers in a key early primary state are pleading with Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run for the Democratic presidential nomination against scandal-scarred Hillary Clinton.

Twenty-seven current and former state lawmakers in New Hampshire have signed onto a letter urging Sen. Warren of Massachusetts to run for president, calling Ms. Warren a ‘fighter for middle class and working families’ and that contested primaries ensure progressives have a chance to make their voices heard.

‘We need leaders who aren’t afraid to tell the truth, and fight back — no matter what powerful interests say — and we need all the candidates in the primary to offer a bold vision for an economy that works for all Americans,’ the letter reads. ‘Contested primaries test and strengthen candidates and ensure progressives have a chance to make our voices heard. Having a real debate is what democracy is all about.’”

This whole spectacle is truly something to behold. I have to imagine these lawmakers believe their own claptrap, but there are few people in politics that I dislike more than Elizabeth Warren. She’s the ultimate fraud in that she pretends to be a populist warrior fighting for middle and working class families when in practice, she’s doing the exact opposite. Warren is seen as a progressive alternative to the Democratic establishment, but in reality she’s actually worse than someone like Hillary, because the label she trades on is so dishonest. At least Hillary is openly owned by corporate interests and fairly blatant about her corruption.

Warren stakes her reputation on taking a high ground and allegedly battling corporatist elements. Yet ultimately, when push comes to shove, she’s still a Democrat who loves government monopolies, and in turn, the interest groups that unfairly profit from the system. Don’t make a spectacle surrounding the fact that you’re against “big banks” when you force middle class taxpayers to subsidize the corporate welfare trough otherwise known as the Export-Import Bank. Don’t claim that you want security for the working class when you vote against Federal Reserve transparency, all while the only people feeling this “economic recovery” are the rich.

Ever consider the fact that your policies, that rob the middle and working classes and transfer their money to the Washington special interests you support are a major part of the problem, Senator? Warren’s hypocritical authoritarianism isn’t good for average Americans. But it’s sure good for the political class, and it certainly placates the naive “progressives” who believe this idiocy.

Markets in Everything

March 15th, 2015

Below are the remarks I delivered to the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota’s State Convention on March 14th.

As libertarian-conservatives, we understand the value of market incentives. We know that companies respond to consumer demand, and measure their success through profits. There are markets in everything, including politics (despite the bias elected officials seem to have against us lowly citizens cooperating with one-another absent their intervention).

To politicians, everything is ultimately a numbers game. They respond to people who have the power to keep them IN power. That’s their profit motive. If you want to be influential, you need the ability to give or take away votes. Grassroots activists actually have a lot of clout in this area, if we organize correctly. It’s important to know our enemies and allies, and to treat both accordingly.

Sometimes, this is hard. When do you determine that a politician has sold you out? We all draw our lines in the sand, but I’d humbly suggest that a record in which you agree with the vast majority of votes should be elevated above rhetoric meant to appeal to the voters who, unfortunately don’t always think like we do. It’s amazing to me how often I see libertarians forget that we’re still, politically speaking, in the minority. Winning requires baby steps in the right direction.

Now of course, I’m not suggesting that you should never criticize a libertarian leaning politician when he or she makes a mistake. Accountability is important. But if you want your opinion to be taken seriously, you need to demonstrate a high level of commitment to staying politically engaged. Why else would a politician listen to you?

Spouting off and declaring, “I WON’T VOTE!” is precisely how to get a politician who isn’t principled but might vote in our favor with enough pressure to happily write you off. It’s also a surefire way to alienate our elected allies and force them into taking less than ideal positions. After all, they have elections to win. Remember: Markets in everything.

If you aren’t engaged in the political marketplace, if you aren’t a consumer willing to buy the message of liberty by transacting with your vote, if you don’t provide that demand, don’t be shocked when the result is a short supply of politicians you’d consider voting for. Why would a liberty-minded individual run for office if the people who make up his or her base are quick to abandon ship when the storms of political reality inevitably blow in?

When considering how we can have impact in a system that clearly IS stacked against us, what we would do well to remember is that political parties are ultimately empty vessels. They belong to those committed enough to stay engaged, and savvy enough to be inclusive, yet firm in their principles.

Think about how much political parties change over time. We all know the Republican and Democratic parties have been vastly different throughout their histories. The GOP started as a party of emancipation, fighting against the evils of slavery, and seeking equality under the law. We’ve had such a variety of Republican presidents and elected officials in our history. Even from a more recent perspective, Eisenhower, Nixon, and both Bushes are actually all very different people. Perhaps from the outlook of those at this convention, it’s the principles of the Goldwater era that likely align most with ours. Think fiscal conservatism and social tolerance. Goldwater was known for saying things like, “The only thing that matters is if you can shoot straight” in reference to openly gay people serving in the military.

It’s only fairly recently in the history of the party that the “moral majority” types have had the say they do. The Christian Right takeover of the GOP’s apparatus didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took a lot of hard work. The type of work that isn’t necessarily fun, but is required to own a political party. In fact, down in Houston, Texas where I live, a little over a year ago our Young Republicans group hosted a debate between a Santorum-Huckabee type of pastor and the national President of the moderate Log Cabin Republicans, known for their support of marriage equality. The room was filled with mostly young, libertarian leaning Republicans (who, for the record, are the vast majority of young Republicans these days, even if they don’t come directly from the liberty movement). So this pastor told us, something to the effect of, “If you want the GOP, come take it. Those of us who came to power in the late Reagan, early Bush years, worked to build our influence in the party. If you disagree with me and those who think like I do, vote us out of local GOP positions. By all means, I invite you to try.”

Well, challenge accepted, pastor. Those of us who believe in liberty rather than government force CAN own the GOP with a bit of hard work; especially because the political tide is on our side generationally, and establishment types often go where the wind blows, because, guess what, they want to win. Everyone involved in the GOP knows that undoubtedly, in its current state, the party has an image problem. Poll after poll, and “autopsy report” after “autopsy report” prove this.

We all know this anecdotally too, especially those of you here in Minnesota who are used to working in a blue state environment. I’m sure, more than once, you’ve gotten, “HOW CAN YOU BE A REPUBLICAN?” the assumption being that to be involved in the GOP, you must be some nefarious Rick Santorum type, bent on regulating people’s actions in their bedrooms. I’m also sure, like me, you’ve personally sat down with people and broken through that cliché. I’m sure you’ve demonstrated that you are in fact socially tolerant, but simply opposed to the government regulating all aspects of our lives.

In fact, I recently sat down with someone who harbored, for lack of a better term, a very close-minded view of Republicans. Because of her age, which correlates directly with the Christian Right’s takeover of the GOP, her assumption was that to be a Republican, you must care only about gay marriage and waging various wars on women. She couldn’t wrap her mind around how someone like me could be a Republican. I explained to her that I’m fighting for MY vision of the party’s future, and that believe it or not, it’s shared by not only the Republicans of my generation, but many Millennials who don’t even realize they’re libertarians. This person was surprised, but happy to hear this, saying she does hope that my type of Republican takes over the party. I’m optimistic that it’s inevitable, and only a matter of time. But the mechanics of such a takeover require the hard work of people like those of us in this room.

And speaking of generational change, polls of Millennials show that we are in fact, libertarian leaning. Many media outlets are confounded by this. “Young people don’t fit into any of our boxes!” they exclaim, exasperated by the notion that people might just support freedom in all arenas when it comes down to it. A fascinating poll by the Reason Foundation conducted last year shows that to the extent young people identify as liberal, it’s in social, not economic terms. The poll also finds an erosion of support for an unlimited welfare state when the costs associated with it are demonstrated.

This is an entire generation of people disillusioned with large institutions generally, as other polling from Pew and the Harvard Institute of Politics shows. We aren’t particularly interested in one party or the other, and a more politically independent than older generations. Younger Millennials especially, don’t have any emotional ties to the election of Barack Obama that would keep them voting straight ticket Democrat. A libertarian leaning message can undoubtedly reach the disaffected. A libertarian leaning, big-tent GOP can accommodate, and if it’s smart, lead with this message.

I’m also optimistic that libertarian Republicans are the true “electable moderates” the country has been waiting for. John McCain? Mitt Romney? JEB BUSH? Give me a break. Americans of all ideologies are fed up with being told that big government cronies who rob us blind and seek out war are “moderate” and “reasonable.” They’re far from it; people simply need to be educated about the alternatives. And the alternatives liberty Republicans provide fill a market void; something people have been clamoring for, but didn’t know existed. Let’s meet that demand, and win. Remember, there are markets in everything.

The much heralded libertarian moment that people, even media types have been talking about, is upon us. We can squander this opportunity by picking up our ball and going home when we face minor setbacks, or we can look at the big picture, stay engaged, grow our influence as a voting bloc, and take over the party infrastructure from the ground-up. The Republican Liberty Caucus has been a leader in working well with established GOP interests and making a difference, especially here in Minnesota.

While it’s exciting to focus on big elections, and also very important (particularly this year with a certain candidate who I’ll refrain from naming), it’s just as necessary to stay engaged on a permanent and localized level. The former requires the latter. Winning demands ground-up organizing, not central planning. Yes; markets in everything.

By being a happy warrior activist who stays principled but engages legislators and other Republicans with kindness, you can make a difference. I see involvement with the GOP as less of a hostile takeover, and more of filling a market void. Many more established members of the GOP know that they need us. As I said before, the polling of my generation proves it. There’s so much that can be accomplished when you approach people in good faith and truly make yourself useful. If you’re involved with your local GOP, be helpful.

Build your credibility as a grassroots activist who brings people to the table. When you see a battle truly worth fighting, then you’ll have enough cache to express your concerns and be taken seriously. When you scream about not voting any time you don’t get what you want, you’ll be relegated to preaching to a choir of ten on Facebook, and by that point, all of the politicians who may have read your statuses will have unfriended you anyway.

I know that this can be a fine line to walk. How can you be effective within a corrupted infrastructure without selling out? It’s a tough question, but that’s why the people in this room are here. You’re the ones who can change that infrastructure, make it more liberty friendly, and in the end, attract better candidates. No politician will run for office without a base, just like no company will sell a product without a market. You can either participate as an informed and influential consumer, or opt out then wonder why everything you’re being sold sucks.

I know everyone in this room is here because you want to make a difference. What you’re doing today, and what you’ve done in the past, is a major component of that. The question of what you’ll do in the future remains to be seen, but the best advice I can give is, do it with a smile. Far too often, I see liberty activists who think being nasty to established interests will somehow get them to either yield their power or change their ways. It’s an old cliché, but you truly will catch more flies with honey. It’s possible to be pleasant to people you disagree with. That’s ultimately the best way to influence them.

So keep up the fight, be the liberty consumers in the market of politics, then profit. Thank you.

 

Theft Makes for Bad “Middle Class Economics”

January 28th, 2015

I was quoted in the Daily Signal regarding President Obama’s plan to raid the college savings accounts of middle income earners. The Daily Signal is the Heritage Foundation’s blog. The piece, found here, is below.

President Obama is abandoning his controversial plan to tax the interest on 529 savings accounts, the White House announced Tuesday.

The 529 plans are savings accounts in which parents and families can invest after-tax dollars. If the money is used for specified college costs, they don’t have to pay federal tax on the interest accumulated in these accounts.

The president’s proposal, which faced bipartisan opposition, would have “effectively end[ed]” the plans, according to the New York Times.

“Given it has become such a distraction, we’re not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support, as well as the president’s broader package of tax relief for child care and working families,” a White House official told the New York Times.

Earlier on Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that 529 plans “help middle-class families save for college,” and said that taxing these accounts should not be included in the president’s budget proposal.

Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman fellow in education policy at The Heritage Foundation, said that the president’s plan would have hurt middle-class families.

“Taxing college savings accounts would have created disincentives for those who save for college in favor of the federal government directing college spending, lending and handouts—through proposals like ‘free’ community college and student loan ‘forgiveness,’” Burke told The Daily Signal.

“It became clear pretty quickly that the proposal to tax college savings accounts in no way benefited middle-income families,” Burke added. “Families who have diligently worked to save for their children’s college education would have been penalized under this proposal. It seems, at least for the moment, that the administration is dropping its quest for this bad policy.”

Corie Whalen Stephens, a spokeswoman for Generation Opportunity, said taxing the interest on 529 plans hurts middle-class students and their families.

“It’s encouraging to see our president respond to the needs of our generation by dropping his ill-conceived idea to tax 529 college savings plans. His misguided proposal, intended to fund his unaffordable government policies, would have fallen squarely on the backs of middle-class students and their families,” said Stephens.

She added that funding a broken system doesn’t help students.

“Finding new ways for the government to finance a failing higher education system isn’t a solution. In fact, these endless subsidies with no reforms attached to them are the problem. To fix this, our leaders must look to policies that foster innovation and competition to lower overall costs—not repackage failed big government policies,” said Stephens.

Will a Divided Government Work for Millennials?

December 8th, 2014

Originally published at Townhall

As defeated politicians clear out their offices and prepare to trek home permanently, there’s a lot to consider about what the midterm elections meant and how the incoming Congress will behave. Requisite attempts at partisan excuse-making aside, there’s a wide consensus surrounding the fact that the left simply couldn’t motivate its base this year. Notably, Democrats even lost their once-tight grip on the cohort that swept Obama into office: young people. In many key Senate races, Republicans won the youth vote outright. Even where conservatives didn’t capture the full 18-29 demographic, there were significant swings in the GOP’s direction almost universally.

Although Republicans experienced a major victory this election, they ought to recognize that voter rejection of Democrats doesn’t constitute a full-throated embrace of their party—especially as it pertains to young voters. If conservative legislators want to keep and expand upon the support of Millennials that they earned this year, they’ll need to pressure the President into accomplishing goals that will benefit our generation. If, as he claims, Obama is interested in bipartisan compromise and helping those still suffering due to our poor economy, he and the new Republican Congress have their work cut out for them.

Luckily, there are places where the President and Congress can in fact work together. One area that has begun to foster promising across-the-aisle cooperation is criminal justice reform. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have put forth a noteworthy piece of legislation called the REDEEM Act. If passed, this law would make it easier for juvenile delinquents to get their lives back on track, with a specific focus on non-violent offenders. Another bipartisan bill co-authored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) called the Smarter Sentencing Act, would reduce mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses and give more discretion to judges who believe such harsh penalties may not fit specific, non-violent crimes.

An additional arena of interest to young people is higher education reform. The average Millennial now graduates with over $30,000 in student loan debt. Proposals that beat around the bush by tinkering with interest rates only serve to exacerbate underlying problems with the system. The fundamental issue is the federal government’s death-grip both on student loans and the university accreditation process. Government monopolies in these spaces strangle the kind of freedom necessary to foster innovation and competition. The HERO Act, introduced by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Representative Ron DeSantis (R-FL), is a good first step toward breaking the government control that has led to both stagnation and out-of-control costs in an industry so crucial to the future of our nation.

Happily, there’s already one piece of good news that’s materialized for Millennials since the election. Speaker Boehner has said the House won’t be taking the misnamed “Marketplace Fairness Act” up this year. This is fantastic, because the legislation is actually an Internet sales tax in disguise. Sadly, this disastrous bill that targets Millennial entrepreneurs has won bipartisan support in the past. If you agree that forcing small online retailers to comply with over 10,000 tax codes is a ridiculous, job-killing proposition, make sure to hold your elected officials’ feet to the fire if this awful legislation materializes again.

An area that’s also crucially important to young Americans is healthcare. While it’s unlikely that the President will provide any leeway as it pertains to his signature law, Republicans need to make it clear that they’re fighting for our generation. Obamacare stacks the deck against Millennials in a profound way. It more than doubles costs for a high share of those under thirty. To make matters worse, its employer mandate and endless red tape have contributed to America’s troubling transition to a part-time economy of underemployed young people. It’s clear that Millennials desperately need compromise from the White House in this area. A good place to start looking is the new reforms suggested by health care policy analyst Avik Roy .

Ultimately, one of the biggest takeaways from this election ought to be that young Americans aren’t loyal to any particular party, or even political ideology. Time and again, we have made it clear to politicians that we want results that work for our generation. We’re fed up with Washington’s rampant cronyism and blatant disregard for us. We may have trended Republican this election, but make no mistake, conservative legislators are going to have to earn our trust moving forward. The road to 2016 is long, and the next two years will be a trial run. Our generation is in a position to be part of a major swing vote—and we’re sick of being disappointed.

 

Free the Markets, Free the Brews

December 5th, 2014

Originally published at Red Alert Politics

Eighty-one years ago today, a long national nightmare was put to rest. Thirteen chaotic years of alcohol prohibition ended when the 21st amendment to the Constitution was ratified, making the sale of liquor legal throughout the United States once again.

There hasn’t been a nationwide ban on alcohol in nearly a lifetime, but prohibition-era regulatory relics still manage to put a damper on what could be an even more thriving industry: Craft beer.

Each state, county, city, and even some towns have their own alcohol regulations — most of which are left over from the days immediately following prohibition. In Virginia, research from the Mercatus Center found that an entrepreneur looking to enter the brewing market “must complete at least five procedures at the federal level, five procedures at the state level, and — depending on the locality — multiple procedures at the local level.”

Another remnant of the prohibition era are “sin taxes” on alcohol. On average, 40 percent of the cost of every beer is going into federal or state coffers, partially to dissuade you from enjoying your favorite craft brew. These taxes are even higher on both spirits and wine.

Perhaps most damaging are the prohibition-era distribution laws known as the “three-tier” system. Under this regime, suppliers, wholesalers, and retailers must remain entirely separate entities. In a classic example of a government-created monopoly, this scheme forces brewers to sign contracts with one distributor, who then has exclusive rights to sell their product to stores and restaurants in a given area.

Overall, the regulatory landscape makes it difficult for small craft breweries to build their business by saddling them with unnecessary compliance costs, taxes, and barriers to new markets outside of their local region.

On the flip side, this regulatory labyrinth has done a lot to protect big, established brewers who can easily foot the expenses. But thankfully, better taste and an evolving freer market are beginning to prevail.

As the New York Post recently reported, there were only 200 small breweries in the U.S. in 1980. Today, there are over 2,000, and as a result, Budweiser is no longer the “King of Beers.” Interestingly enough, this outcome has a lot to do with the evolving palate of young consumers.

As the article states, “Craft beers — despite their tiny marketing budgets — account for 15 percent of the beer budget of the youngest legal drinkers. Bud’s market share, despite that gargantuan [$449 million] advertising spend, is down to 7.6 percent, nearly a 50 percent drop in just the last decade.” In fact, according to Budweiser’s own research, 44 percent of drinkers between the ages of 21 and 27 have never even tasted the product.

It should come as no surprise that millennials, who have come of age in an era where technology has allowed us to tailor so much of our lives to our preferences, appreciate the growing diversity the beer industry has to offer. While unnecessary regulations do restrict our access to craft beer (and are undoubtedly keeping new entrants from the marketplace, as research demonstrates), the rise of small brewers represents a significant triumph of small businesses over bureaucratic largess in an era rampant with cronyism.

We can only hope that politicians will take notice of this trend and work to reduce the undue regulatory burden that entrepreneurs face in this industry. The truth is, however, that this is unlikely to happen without organized pressure from those who both partake in craft beer and care about enacting fair standards that don’t unduly favor incumbent firms.

As we raise our glasses in celebration of prohibition’s demise today, let us be mindful of the fact that a free market is what will ultimately allow us to free the brews.

More delicious choices and less red tape? That’s something worth drinking to. Cheers!

Seeking Unity in a Time of Division

November 17th, 2014

Originally published at The Daily Caller

If the 2014 elections will be remembered for anything, it will be that they reflected the electorate’s concerns about basic economic security. While it’s historically true that the sitting president’s party suffers losses in the midterms, the “shellacking” isn’t usually quite as extensive as this year’s was.

There’s nothing like economic instability to motivate voters. And there’s nothing like a brutal loss to force partisans into searching explanations that satisfy their worldview.

One of the most interesting narratives in development on the left as they deal with this historic defeat can be summarized as follows: Republicans found victory by focusing on the concerns of liberals and utilizing our rhetoric, therefore progressive ideology is on the rise. Take William Saletan,writing at Slate:

“[Republicans] captured the Senate and gained seats in the House. But they didn’t do it by running to the right. They did it, to a surprising extent, by embracing ideas and standards that came from the left. I’m not talking about gay marriage, on which Republicans have caved, or birth control, on which they’ve made over-the-counter access a national talking point. I’m talking about the core of the liberal agenda: economic equality.”

Saletan then goes on to chronicle how many Republicans effectively spoke about issues like poverty and income inequality in our nation’s poor economy. His conclusion however, would strike most people outside of the liberal echo chamber as odd. He figures that because conservatives are addressing the concerns of liberals, as if these concepts are foreign to non-progressives, they must also be embracing left-wing policy solutions.

This line of thinking is backwards. In reality, conservatives, liberals, and libertarians alike are largely concerned about the same issues. This is especially true as it pertains to the economy, consistently a top concern of voters. We all want a strong middle class, don’t like seeing wealth concentrated at the top while our own wages stagnate, worry about our family’s financial stability, care about those less privileged than us, and hope to see local small businesses flourish.

The simple fact is nobody is pro-poverty. Despite the fearmongering endemic to election season, people don’t go to the polls harboring a nefarious desire to bankrupt their neighbors. The overtures of attack ads aside, average voters aren’t loyal to secret cabals of elite powerbrokers bent on economic domination. The truth is, Americans are simply divided in our visions for how to best achieve goals that we all hold in common.

Stepping outside of our ideological bubbles and approaching each other in good faith is a crucial first step toward changing policy in the wake of a contentious election. If liberals can’t accept that the average conservative isn’t hoping to rob the poor on behalf of multinational corporations, and conservatives can’t see that most liberals are truly concerned about the well-being of the underprivileged, the nation will remain dangerously divided.

Many conservative candidates this cycle effectively proved to voters (including an increasingly higher share of young people) that bleeding hearts can and should embrace free markets. That policies promoting the freedom to thrive are better than top-down, legally-mandated cronyism such as Obamacare. That income inequality is exacerbated by big government enriching big corporations, as our nation’s widening wealth gap demonstrates.

Take some of the examples that Saletan provided in his aforementioned piece. He noted that Republicans effectively messaged on the stagnation of middle class wages, equal pay issues, underemployment and the prevalence of part-time work only (which typical jobs numbers gloss over), poverty, and upward mobility. To those of us with a liberty oriented perspective, this was refreshing. It was a good reminder that the false dichotomy parroted by so many that conservatives only care about the rich is flat out false.

This of course, isn’t to say all Republicans are suddenly embracing a free market approach to eradicating poverty and empowering the middle class. Both parties have a long way to go in terms of proving to average voters that we’re their priority. But as for those of us who show up to the polls? Let’s try to stop seeing each other as the enemy. Until we dispense with the closed-minded notion that only people who agree with us ideologically are well-meaning or well-versed, it will be impossible to achieve the goals we’d all like to see accomplished.

Despite what you may hear from those in Washington who don’t want to give up their grip on power, there’s a reason that historically, Americans vote for divided government, even sometimes in strong blue states likeMassachusetts and Maryland, as we saw this month. As a people, we tend to be skeptical of too much authority concentrated in one place, and want to see genuine bipartisan cooperation that benefits everyone. The political class often has other priorities, that just happen to enrich them, and they thrive when we’re divided.

This election season, voters put their faith in candidates who, at least rhetorically, support economic freedom. For those of us committed to that vision, our responsibility is to both hold these politicians accountable, and approach people with differing perspectives from a place of empathy and understanding. Instead of being confounded by the fact that people with ideologies that diverge from our own want what’s best for everyone, it’s time to look for common ground. A political system that demands participation from the people in order to function properly deserves no less.