October 24, 2014

Can idealism save the Grand Old Party?

I is for idealism, which may very much be the future of the GOP, if it is to regain relevancy.


 

For 37 years, Ron Paul was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Largely ineffective there, he earned the nickname Dr. No for his unwillingness to vote for government spending. It wasn’t until he ran for president, though, that he really hit his stride and reawakened interest in a national libertarian movement.

Now, Congress and Presidential campaigns behind him, Paul is almost more popular now than when he was in office. With his son, Senator Rand Paul, taking the baton, speaking out against war and the growth of government and regularly mentioned as a possible contender for the GOP nomination in 2016, libertarianism (little ‘l’) is coming out from the shadows and, to paraphrase Politico, going mainstream.

Could it save the Republican Party?

With post-mortem of the 2012 election continuing six months after the polls close, it’s clear that Republicans are taking a close look at what it takes to win an election, and whether the White House will be attainable in the foreseeable future.

Led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), libertarians hope to become a dominant wing of the GOP by tapping into a potent mix of war weariness, economic anxiety and frustration with federal overreach in the fifth year of Barack Obama’s presidency.

The country’s continuing fixation on fiscal issues, especially spending and debt, allows them to emphasize areas of agreement with conservative allies who are looking for ways to connect with Republicans who aren’t passionate about abortion or same-sex marriage. A Democratic administration ensures consensus on the right that states should get as much power as possible.

Senator Rand Paul filibusters from the Senate floor in March of 2013.

Senator Rand Paul filibusters from the Senate floor in March of 2013.

Libertarianism is no new member of the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan famously stated that “libertarianism is the heart and soul of conservatism.” In the years since his 1980 election, though, the influence of evangelicals have pushed their own brand of big government into the forefront of the Republican Party, and libertarians have been largely left in the wings.

However, America has changed over the last generation. Whether it’s the war on drugs/poverty/terrorism/marriage–Americans are tired of the government telling them what they should, or shouldn’t do, and they are leery of the secrecy and expanse of a government that has colluded with Wall Street for big “bailouts” while compiling kill lists for drone hunter/killers.

When Senator Paul took to the Senate floor to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan as Director of the CIA, activists and individuals on both sides of the political spectrum applauded. As Harper’s Magazine observed

The antiwar left saw the filibuster as a challenge to the violence and the innocent dead left in the drone program’s wake. The antigovernment right rallied around Paul’s pointed question about whether a hypothetical Hellfire missile might just leave a crater where your neighborhood Starbucks once stood. Rush Limbaugh called him the future. Code Pink activists brought him boxes of chocolates. #StandWithRand was, for a moment, the most popular Twitter topic on the planet.

But can the popularity last? Can the anti-statist movement shift the Republican Party?  Can idealism trump the establishment?

It’s an open question, but one that could hold the future of the Republican Party. For years Republicans have talked a good game, promising less government, then blithely creating programs that expand government’s reach and cost. For example, Medicare Part D, one of the largest expansions of government prior to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) received strong Republican support, including from conservatives like Congressman Denny Hastert and Senator Orrin Hatch.

But not anymore: with continued high unemployment and growth failing to return to pre-recession levels, Americans are starting to question whether a government that promises the world and delivers higher taxes and fewer jobs is a government “for the people.” Obamacare begins to take full effect in 2014, and already businesses are cutting workers hours to part-time levels to avoid providing mandated healthcare. It’s cheaper to pay a financial penalty.

And so, the rise of an idealistic view of government, where the government that serves best is that which weighs on us the least.

Can it work? Will it save the Republican Party?


Publius Online is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, a month-long quest to post every day. Each day should match a letter of the alphabet. Today is the letter I, as in Idealism.

Could Rand Paul bridge the gap between libertarians and Republicans?

Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul and Senator from Kentucky, is considering a run for President in 2016.

I know:–Mitt Romney’s campaign is barely dead and in the ground and already we’re hearing the rumblings of 2016’s challengers. Marco Rubio made headlines at a fundraiser in Iowa by commenting on the age of the Earth (HUH?) and now we hear that Ron Paul’s scion is openly interested in running, too.

For the kind of change needed in the Republican Party, it may not be too soon to start thinking about it.

“I’m not going to deny that I’m interested” in a 2016 presidential run, [Rand Paul] told ABC News. “I am different than some in that I’m not going to deny that I’m interested. I’m not going to deny that I think we have to go a different direction because we’re not winning.”

Not only is he “different than some,” but he also thinks the Republican Party’s problem goes beyond improving the GOP’s marketing and messaging–policy changes are needed, too.

Sound familiar? It’s not unlike what his father has argued for during the 2008 and 2012 elections.

Some of the policies that Rand Paul wants to see the GOP shift on include immigration, marijuana, and foreign wars.

He wants to work with liberal Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Republicans to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for pot possession. He wants to carve a compromise immigration plan with an “eventual path” to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a proposal he believes could be palatable to conservatives. And he believes his ideas — along with pushing for less U.S. military intervention in conflicts overseas — could help the GOP broaden its tent and appeal to crucial voting blocs that handed Democrats big wins in the West Coast, the Northeast and along the Great Lakes.

They are policies that are decidedly more libertarian and can appeal to blocks of voters that many believe the GOP should be winning: voters under 40, Hispanics, and anyone tired of war.  With the shifting America’s shifting demographics working against the 2012 GOP party platform, the question is whether Rand Paul’s new road could be a path to the future for the Republican Party.

Oh, and one more thing: Paul wants to limit Senators to just twelve years of service. Think it’ll work?

Chanting and shouting, Paul supporters kerfluffle with Romniacs

After much discussion, some negotiation, a few compromises, and a vote, the RNC rules committee has agreed upon a rules adjustment to assure that delegates vote for the candidate that won the primary in their state.

[Hold the line while Ron Paul supporters and other grassroots activists prepare to lam-blast me for misstating the issue.]

OK, I’m back. We ran into the issue directly when we (myself and my Better-half, each with recorders in hand) spread-out through the convention on a story about delegates’ response to Mitt Romney‘s faith. Suddenly, we found ourselves on the edge of a crowd chanting.

“ROMNEY! ROMNEY!”

“RON PAUL! RON PAUL!”

It took all of 15 seconds for cameramen and recorders (us, primarily) to form a scrum around the chanters, and the calls began to devolve into shouting. The Romniacs, in blue t-shirts, started to move away.

“Nah, nah, nah, nah…good bye,” they said, shouted, and stalked off, leaving the Ron Paulites shouting about the constitution and their rights being trod on.

“It could happen to you,” the Paul supporters shouted to everyone and no one. They wore white hats with Paul’s face pinned between “Maine” and “2012” and waxed on about the constitution and the loss of their rights.

Are their grievances real? And are they losing the argument because of how they are making the argument?

In the end, as the states recorded their votes to nominate Mitt Romney, with the exception of Oklahoma, which broke RNC rules to give a portion of the votes to Paul. Civility, though, was lost on some supporters of both candidates, and the loss had little effect on the ultimate result, if any at all. No matter how much Paul or Romney supporters shout or belittle their opponent, the tact will not win more votes.

One libertarian’s rationale for UTOPIA

[Jesse H. is a professional computer nerd and political activist, particularly in telecommunications. While I may be one of the "limited-government types in Utah" that Jesse is referring to below, I felt like it was appropriate to give him the space to defend UTOPIA, a project he supports. Jesse's intelligent, articulate, and witty, and I hope we can look forward to other thoughts from him here on Publius Online. You can learn more about Jesse's work at freeutopia.org]

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A pretty common target for limited-government types in Utah is UTOPIA, an interlocal agency formed by 16 member cities for the purpose of building a next-generation fiber optic network to every address in its footprint. The common refrain is that government should stay out of the private sector, a general sentiment that I would agree with. There are many cases where government may usurp a function better handled by private companies, and many more instances were government decides to support a politically connected entity to the detriment of others. Upon a closer inspection, there are all arguments that actually supports UTOPIA’s existence.

To understand the basis of this rationale, you have to go back almost a century. Way back in 1913, AT&T agreed to abide by the Kingsbury Commitment, a deal with the federal government that allowed them to operate as a legal monopoly. This legal monopoly persisted until the famous breakup of Ma Bell in 1984. Even then, the AT&T behemoth was broken into 7 regional monopolies and the only competition that was allowed for was in the long-distance space. Obviously, this approach had numerous failings. The regional monopolies still enjoyed significant market dominance from over seven decades of government support and still had a number of political connections they could use to keep new entrants to the market at bay.

To correct this, the federal government enacted the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It required that the incumbent operators allow outside companies to lease their lines at competitive rates and provide competing service. In exchange, telecommunications companies received significant tax benefits (to the tune of $300B and growing) and promised that they would be rolling out advanced fiber optic networks to everyone in the country. As time wore on, though, nobody remembered the promises of the Baby Bells, and they often undermined the competitors on their networks with repair delays, customer poaching, and rate-fixing. In 2005, the requirement to offer competitive rates was dropped by the FCC. Several years later, Verizon, AT&T, and Qwest (now CenturyLink) unilaterally declared that the line-sharing requirements did not apply to any new fiber-based facilities, effectively killing off most of the few companies that had survived the other shenanigans. The phone companies had gotten away with the perfect crime: they had used almost a century of government-backed monopoly power to entrench themselves and now were free of most regulations that prevented them from abusing this power.

Cable companies haven’t been too much better. When most cable systems got started, they often required exclusive franchise agreements just to build. Cities eager to have the service would agree to these terms even knowing that they’d be a captive market for it. By the time competition was allowed, many cities had build-out requirements that required more capitalization than new market entrants were able to secure. Just like the phone company, being first to the market had allowed them to be shielded from competition, then set the rules by which they could compete.

The short version is that the government created and furthered the position of market dominance that cable and phone companies currently enjoy. A lot of libertarians will say that the solution is to walk back regulations that prevent new companies from providing service. That’s only half of the picture. Even if you eliminated every regulation on telecommunications infrastructure, the 800-pound gorillas still have a variety of tactics at their disposal to ensure they are the only game in town. This includes nuisance lawsuits over pole attachments and offering below-cost rates in competitive areas. Both are designed to slowly bleed competitors dry, and both are the result of being propped up by government power. Elimination of regulation only enhances the power built up via crony capitalist means.

There’s a limited number of options that are available. One option would be to go after the telecoms, but that would require a decade or more of lawsuits and wouldn’t be a guarantee. Another option is to break up the retail and wholesale operations to eliminate vertical monopolies and allow facilities-based competition, but that runs into the exact same problems as the first solution. While citizens could try to form their own cooperative to try and break themselves free, financial institutions are unwilling to provide the financing needed to get started because of the significant hurdles involved. It’s a bad situation which appears to be almost intractable. Where can we look for inspiration on how to solve the problem?

“Why won’t anyone listen to me?!” Ron Paul

Naturally, I think we can look to the godfather of libertarian thought, Rep. Ron Paul. In particular, his measured approach to Social Security provides some insight as to how we extract ourselves from the situation.  When asked if he would abolish social security, Rep. Paul said the following:

Yes, but not overnight. As a matter of fact, my program’s the only one that is going to be able to take care of the elderly. I’d like to get the young people out of it, just the younger generation, because there’s no money there, and they’re going to have to pay 50 years and they’re not going to get anything.

It’s a rather stark acknowledgement that in order to resolve a situation that’s far-gone, it’s going to require some long-term financial pain, pain that we’ve been trying to put off for a very long time. Paul also acknowledges the reality that government simply cannot walk away from the problems it has created. After a century of being propped up, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the pain of moving from crony capitalism to a free market would be significant. So how does UTOPIA facilitate the transition to a competitive free market?

The immediate benefit is the open-access model. While UTOPIA builds, operates, and maintains the physical network, it doesn’t actually provide any services directly to users. Private companies choose to participate on the network and sell services directly. At current, four companies are providing residential services and almost a dozen more are offering business services. Each of these companies offers a variety of service plans and prices, and then all compete very heavily on customer service, an area where the telecommunications industry has typically performed poorly. While the Telco Act of ’96 hyped the benefits of competition, a true open-access network realizes it.

It helps to understand how they are currently structured. Right now, UTOPIA employs a model where new subscribers pay to build the network to their home or business. This includes the cost of deploying from the curb into the building as well as a piece of the shared infrastructure. It’s amazingly cooperative-like except that the loans are backed by municipalities. Eventually, UTOPIA could easily move from city-controlled to subscriber-controlled. The municipal governments backing it are merely acting as seeders to get the market correction started.

While there is a lot of anger being directed towards UTOPIA over missed goals and costs, the anger should be directed squarely at the companies that necessitated its existence through government-backed market manipulation. Realizing that a truly competitive platform could end their gravy train, they’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at it to try and end it, a common tactic of an industry that gets a glimpse of its own demise. If you want to see a free market in telecommunications, support efforts like UTOPIA and push them towards a cooperative model.

I want your vote: KSL’s “Star Correspondent” Competition

 

Hi. I need your vote on Facebook. Would you take a minute and vote here?

If you’ve been following or reading this blog for any amount of time, you know I like to talk about politics. With the National Republican Convention in August, the local news station (and one of the largest, if not the largest, local news outlets in the country), is sending one person on an all expenses paid trip to the convention as a “Star Correspondent.”

I want to be that Star Correspondent.

Think about all the great stuff I could post here: interviews, pictures, behind the scenes stories, on the floor discussions, the drama around Ron Paul’s delegates, the VP selection, and, the best part, Mitt Romney for President!

Phew. Gets me excited just thinking about it.

Would you mind taking a moment to vote here?

Stage one of the contest requires a video submission (you can find mine below). The top five vote recipients on Facebook, after passing a “phone interview” are invited to the Doug Wright Show for Stage Two. That’s where it gets fun:

The top five finalists come into the KSL studios the week of June 25, 2012 and join Doug Wright on his Talk Show from 8:30 am to 10:00 am. Each finalist will get their chance to “sell” themselves before the listening audience by talking about the issues of the day (to be selected by Doug Wright and KSL NewsRadio) for 30 seconds. All five contestants will be required to be in attendance on Monday, June 25, 2012. At the end of Doug Wright’s show, KSL NewsRadio will post photos of each finalist, their bio’s, an audio clip of them during the show and allow the listening audience to vote for who they would like to represent them as the guest correspondent at the Republican National Convention.

And so on. The process eventually eliminates all but one (“THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!”)…

But first, I need your votes on Facebook. Would you take a moment and vote for my submission here? I would very much appreciate your support.

And now the video (and yes, I know: I’ve got a face that’s made for blogging, not broadcast journalism…thank heavens it’s KSL Radio running the contest, not KSL TV).

 

Will Utah Matter in the GOP Race for President?

[Posted today on KSL.com]

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According to a Deseret News/KSL poll Utahns believe Mitt Romney alone can beat Barack Obama in November (surprise!).  And yet, today, on Super Tuesday, as ten states hold primaries, Utah is not one of them. In fact,  Utah casts its vote for the Republican nominee dead last.  Even with a nomination battle likely to continue into the spring, the race may be over by then.

 Maybe.

Remember when there were eight candidates in the field?  Then Iowa and New Hampshire voted, and suddenly, with just forty delegate votes allocated (out of 1,144 necessary to win the nomination), Michelle Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry all dropped out. Herman Cain, marred by scandal, had left the campaign earlier. And then there were four: Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Romney, and Rick Santorum.

In a country of 300 million, the only votes cast were in  Iowa (about 120,000 votes)  and New Hampshire (about 224,000 votes), yet candidates were dropping like flies.  How had so few narrowed down the field of choices so quickly?

We Vote for the Popular Candidate

If it seems unfair, then consider the Britney Effect. In a study published in Science 2006, researchers found that social popularity was a better indicator of how well a book or a song would sell than quality. In other words, if you see that others are reading and discussing Harry Potter, you’re more likely to pick it up yourself, regardless of quality.

So if you thought Bachmann had the answers for America, it didn’t matter. Her race was over as soon as the primary battle began. As soon as the results from Iowa, and then New Hampshire, were released, polls started showing bumps in popularity of the contest winners. Santorum, who spent months on the margins of debates practically whining he that he wasn’t getting the same amount of camera time that front-runners were, suddenly sprung to national attention as he eked out a win in Iowa.  If Iowans like Santorum, he must be electable, right?

Strange rational, and yet, it buoyed the former Senator to wins in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri. From zero to hero, Santorum became the newest rendition of “not Romney” for Republicans unwilling to throw their support behind Romney.

Can you imagine how the results might be different if states across the country voted simultaneously?

Super Tuesday?

Today, March 6th, is Super Tuesday. Voters in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia will vote for the last four remaining contenders. By this time four years ago, Romney had dropped out of the race, and John McCain was well on his way to the nomination.  Since then, the Republican National Committee has modified the rules to lengthen out the nomination process. That’s right: it isn’t by accident that the race isn’t over yet. As the Boston Globe reported, Republicans changed the rules to energize Republicans and take back the White House:

The rules, known as proportional representation, are patterned after the system long used by Democrats to award delegates in their primaries. Republicans looked at the prolonged 2008 Democratic primary between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and believed that, despite its occasional divisiveness, the battle helped excite Democrats and starve the Republican candidate, John McCain, of attention.

“McCain sat on the sidelines and couldn’t get a headline and was ignored,’’ said Paul Senft, a Republican National Committee member from Florida who helped draft the new rules.

Now, rather than making each contest a foregone conclusion in the favor of the front-runner, more states are in contention. Nate Silver predicts that Super Tuesday won’t see one winner, but will split between Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum (sorry, Paul). Gingrich will capture his home state of Georgia, while Romney will take Massachusetts, his home and where he served as Governor. Oklahoma and Wisconsin will swing to Santorum. Meanwhile, Ohio, where Santorum was polling in front as recently as a week ago, is starting to turn to Romney (see what wins in Michigan, Arizona, and Washington will do?).  As a swing state in the General Election, the spin-doctors (and the Obama campaign) will be watching the Buckeye state closely. And don’t forget Tennessee, where Gingrich seems to be surging in polls…

Wherefore, Utah? 

So might it still matter when Utahns go to the polls on June 26th? For that matter, why isn’t Utah voting until the beginning of summer, anyway?

Due to the Military and Overseas Voter Act or “MOVE” Act, federal elections must give absentee voters overseas forty-five days to vote after the previous contest. In Utah’s case, that means that the earliest a primary can be held is forty-five days after the Republican or Democrat state party conventions in April. Despite efforts by the Romney campaign to talk Utah into moving the vote to earlier, the $2.5 million cost to move the primary away from the regularly scheduled date was too much for legislators to swallow.  Utah will vote last.

In the meantime, is there still a chance that Utah could play a deciding role in a race that has seen so many front-runners? Statistically speaking, it’s impossible for any of the candidates to get enough votes before April. With 1962 votes remaining, and Romney–currently the leader with 180 delegates–needing another 964 votes, the race could continue all the way through May, to say nothing of June.

Could Utah get its chance to vote for Romney when it still matters? Only time will tell.

Are we there yet? GOP Candidates Face-off for the Twentieth Time

With fingers crossed that this would be their last debate together, the final four Republican contenders for President faced off in Arizona on Wednesday night. The stakes were high—for some more than others. Without Governor Mitt Romney’s money, Senator Rick Santorum and Speaker Newt Gingrich knew that this might be their best chance to pick up undecided votes in the upcoming Super Tuesday primaries. For Romney, it was a chance to retake the lead in the race for President. Lest we forget, Ron Paul came along, too, but, despite a strong performance, is increasingly playing the role of side-kick to front-runner Romney.

So how did they do?

From right to left (as they sat on the stage):

Ron Paul: If Santorum expected punches from Romney, the Congressman Paul was ready to get in his hits, too . “He’s a fake,” Paul said of Santorum, wasting no time pointing out that Santorum was an insider and a part of what was wrong with Congress and Washington. With Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the news, Paul also took every opportunity to criticize America’s military adventures abroad. However his message appeals, it is unlikely it earned significantly more votes, except perhaps from Santorum’s “not Romney” voters. B

Rick Santorum: For a guy who spent the first fifteen debates complaining he wasn’t getting enough camera time, Santorum had his chance at the center next to longtime front-runner Mitt Romney. Although he had strong moments—especially in his closing statement, which dripped with red meat—both Paul and Romney took turns attacking Santorum for votes over sixteen years in Congress, including for No Child Left Behind and funding Planned Parenthood. At one point, Santorum was visibly red as he sputtered and responded to the attacks, repeatedly admitting to the votes. B –

Mitt Romney: As the presumptive nominee (at least according to the Obama for President reelection campaign), Romney stood to lose the most. He’s polling even with Santorum in Michigan—where Mitt grew up—and a poor performance could damage his lead in Arizona. However, Mitt successfully marshaled facts and points to repeatedly delivered successful attacks on Santorum and Gingrich. They are Washington insiders; he is the successful businessman and turnaround expert who wants to restore the country to prosperity. Despite an average closing statement, overall the debate was Romney’s. B+

Newt Gingrich: To paraphrase Allison Kraus, Newt says it best when he says nothing at all. Showing his penchant for sounding intelligent saying anything substantive, Gingrich put on a happy face, made obvious overtures to the other candidates—even telling Mitt “nice job” after the Governor received a longer set of applause—and called himself “cheerful.” However, voters view Gingrich as anything but, and while he was articulate in criticizing the media for double standards, Gingrich was unable to steal the spotlight from Romney and Santorum’s fist fight. C+

 

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