Category Archives: Political Theory and Social Science

The Politics of Need

Out of all the comforts and joys we reap in life, none are more crucial to the attainment of our wellbeing than the satisfaction of our basic physical human needs. Human health is so important that without maintaining it, all other desired states—whether social, economic, spiritual, and mental—become unreachable. It is impossible to ponder the nebulous teachings of science and philosophy, for example, when the growls of your empty stomach incessantly drown out the voice of your own mind.

Our preoccupation with satisfying basic human needs, albeit a noble one, has spurred the implementation of markedly ignoble redistributionist public policies. We used to hold capitalism in high regard as a system for alleviating human need, but the massive economic growth it caused, ironically, seems only to have ballooned our intellectual bankruptcy. Alas, the extra time and comfort with which capitalism endowed us has yielded few intellectual rewards besides the various rationales for undermining it (e.g., Marxism, progressivism, social democracy, etc.). As Walter Williams once noted,

“Free enterprise is threatened today in our country not because of its failure—it’s threatened because of its success. That is, capitalism has been so successful in eliminating the traditional problems of mankind, such as disease, pestilence, hunger, and gross poverty, that all other human problems appear to us, to be at once, inexcusable and unbearable. The desire by many Americans to eliminate these so called ‘unbearable and inexcusable’ problems has led us away from the basic ideals and principles upon which our prosperous nation was built.”

The desire to eliminate “unbearable and inexcusable” problems underlies almost every American redistributionist policy, from free/reduced school lunches for children to Medicare and Medicaid. It is exceedingly difficult to fight against this rationale, as the advocates of these policies invariably label any contenders as uncompassionate brutes vying to deny their fellow man of food and medicine. A libertarian would generally respond that supporting or opposing the government provision of a good or service is unrelated to whether or not that good or service is provided at all. But then the question becomes not whether a particular good or service is needed, but whether one thinks human need justifies the use of force to obtain it. Before we can answer that question, however, we must first explore the concept of need itself.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) gives an illustrative exposé of how Americans view “need.” Enacted in 1986, EMTALA forces hospital workers to provide emergency screening for anyone who requests it—regardless of that person’s ability to pay—and then either treat that person or transfer him to a proper treatment facility. The rationale for this law is the familiar argument from human necessity, that it is the responsibility of a compassionate people to provide for the basic needs of other humans, despite any and all costs incurred in meeting that obligation.

Setting aside momentarily any arguments from morality or efficiency, we can already see one obvious problem with the politics of need: Before you can claim that humans require a thing to live, you must first define what that thing is. For the purposes of political expediency, it has in this case been defined as emergency care provided by anyone working within a hospital, but there have been many kinds of health care other than purely the services of professionals within hospitals. Comprehensive freshwater and sewer systems, healthy diets, good hygiene, abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, regular exercise, animal therapy, and even feng shui can all be considered forms of health care—and those are just examples of physical health care! There are also many forms of mental health care, such as study, meditation, and reading, which the law doesn’t deal with. If health care is such an amorphous concept that it could encompass just about every aspect of life, then is there anything that we as a society cannot demand from individuals with such “health”-related resources and expertise? There can be no logical limit to the sense of entitlement on which the law is based.

Claiming that health care is required to live also requires defining what it means to live. This is not some mere esoteric quibble. The treatments for some incurable diseases do nothing more than marginally improve the quality of life for the afflicted, blurring the boundary between life-saving health care and quality-of-life health care. Equally obscure is the boundary separating quality-of-life health care and other quality-of-life items that we would not normally consider tools of health care, such as therapy furniture or pets. If the former can be demanded on the basis of improving quality of life, cannot the latter also be demanded on the same basis?

The inconsistencies in these concepts are not only frustrating, but also ultimately exploitative and immoral. Forcing private individuals or hospitals to provide for someone’s health care without compensation destroys any and every notion of individual property rights we have. I imagine that the proponents of EMTALA would balk at this assertion; they would emphatically reject, for example, the forced redistribution of jewelry or leaf-blowers—“individuals still have the right not to provide those to the poor” they would say—but then they are just being inconsistent. As health and nutrition gradually improve in this country (despite our government social safety net; not because of it), and as our “unbearable and inexcusable” problems fade into the distance, we will see the emergence of new problems to take their place. The “[X] is a necessity” rationale can theoretically, with enough logical finagling and patience, be applied to any good and service, such as education, housing, clothing, or even automobiles, and we can expect to see the politics of need envelop these as well, until there is ultimately no good or service to which anyone can justifiably deny provision to another. We used to call those without any rights to their property “slaves.” Now we call them “well-off.”

EMTALA needs to be repealed because of its immorality and its inconsistency. Moreover, we should abandon any sense of entitlement based on notions of necessity, and re-employ the concepts of property rights that gave us the societal wealth we have, and that will propel us into the next age of prosperity.

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Why Politics Isn’t “Cool” (and Never Will Be)

Politics is not cool—never was, never will be. This may be shocking to some, but allow me to explain:

“Coolness” is the province of the young, and young people do not like politics. Their attitudes toward it range from uninterested, to cynical, to hostile. They have repeatedly demonstrated their gross apathy and disdain for the political process through their well-documented, low voter turnouts. It would seem they view politics as, at best, a waste of time.

This is far from being a complaint—youngsters are right to hold this view! Politics is not fun, exciting, or exhilarating. The exuberance and dedication with which most people attend football, baseball, or hockey games will never be directed toward the reading of articles or studies; nor will most people ever find relaxation in the research/support of candidates, in writing letters to their representatives, or in the attendance of city council meetings.

Nevertheless, politicians across the political spectrum continually fetishize the youth vote. After the 2008 election, which saw a historically high voter turnout among the 18- to 24-year-old age group, some pundits and activists speculated on the rising political influence of youngsters. Rock the Vote, a progressive political grassroots organization, went so far as to proclaim, “No longer can pundits and politicians say we don’t vote. The face of our democracy is forever changed and young people have shown the world we are taking our country into our own hands.”

They conveniently neglect to mention that youth voter turnout still pales in comparison to that of other age groups, and that youngsters still comprise only 13 percent of the total voting-age population. What rationale is there for focusing a campaign exclusively on this miniscule subset of voters?

The politicians generally ignore this hurdle. Their rapaciousness for youth votes routinely manifests in memos and reports like the College Republicans’, “Grand Old Party for A Brand New Generation,” which abounds with proposals for attracting more young voters to the Republican Party. Unfortunately, these efforts miss the point: Youth vote obsession is ultimately a farce not because engaging youngsters requires impossible finesse or elevated technical/media prowess—though these factors may help or hamper outreach efforts on a superficial level—but because of a flaw in the youth campaign’s operating premises.

The conventional wisdom surrounding the prosecution of youth-centered campaigns has always been to “bridge the divide,” between young and old. The youth-savvy politician generally starts by asking youngsters “What issues are of interest to you?” with the intent of incorporating those issues into his campaign platform. Young people, however, being comfortable in their natural state of apathy and cynicism, are either unable or unwilling to acknowledge the influence of governmental policies on their lives. This does nothing to aid the politician in his aspirations—a disinterested youngster will neither vote nor campaign for him—so he must find some way to engage them.

Faced with this daunting task, most politicians will appeal to vanity. This is a tactic to which young people are disproportionately susceptible, as was painfully displayed during the purely juvenile response to the recent kidnapping of hundreds schoolchildren in Nigeria. As Kevin D. Williamson wrote in May:

Our politics, particularly among young people and those who interact with the world mainly through social media, is no longer about the world but about the self. It is mostly an exercise in what economists call ‘signaling,’ a way to communicate to friends, and to the world, that one is a certain superior kind of person.

This approach reinforces within youngsters the mentality that the highest virtue in politics is not the holding of true, moral, or consistent principles, but rather the maintaining of a political identity. In a world where self-worth is determined by one’s ability to attract the attention and praise of others, political preferences and positions will inevitably be shaped by adherence to consensus and conformity. The result is a rapidly changing basket of “important” issues—constantly being emptied and refilled by a never ending stream of fads and pop-culture movements—in which young people are only superficially engaged; and just as they do not assign importance to different issues based on principle, neither will they arrive at policy solutions based on principle.

Sadly, this is the state of politics among this country’s youth. However, there is a better way for youngsters to engage in politics:

They can grow up.

Politics is not meant for the young. The reason most 18-year-olds find politics repulsive is the same reason most 5-year-olds do. Like a career, financial stewardship and budgeting, home maintenance, and parenting, politics is an adult endeavor: Youngsters have not yet reached a point of mental maturation commensurate with the development of stable concepts of morality, diligence, and consequent notions of justice which are necessary for substantive political participation.

We can facilitate this maturation. Instead of coddling young people, pandering to their particular situations with promises of subsidized student loans, free birth control, or free health insurance until age 26, we can expect more from them. We can challenge their positions, we can scour their mental landscape for some semblance of principle and cultivate it, and we can encourage them to apply their principles across a host of issues which may, at most, bear only a tangential relationship to their lives.

Ironically, doing so will create for those individuals a far greater, more enduring identity than one which proceeds from constantly seeking acceptance and recognition through the charade of political involvement. It will also create an environment in which the youth outreach problem effectively solves itself, since adults, not children, inherently carry with them an urgency in addressing political issues.

If our goal is not to create a class of infantilized herd voters, but rather to cultivate independent and rational individuals, then we should end the practice of making politics cool, and champion the political process as something of intrinsic, productive appeal. If you wish to solve problems which reach beyond your own life, then politics may a viable avenue. If it is entertainment or acceptance that you seek, then politics is not for you, and we would ask that you please leave it to the grown-ups.

Faulty Logic in the CRNC Report

Following the Republican Party’s generally lousy national election performance in 2012, many GOP officials, politicians, and pundits offered various explanations for the defeat, and advice on how the Party could fare better in future contests. One predominant sentiment which has emerged from this introspection was that the Party should grow its tent by reaching out to constituencies who have traditionally not voted for Republican candidates, such as women, minorities, and youth. This sentiment was most visible in two reports issued by two prominent Republican organizations: First, the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” from the Republican National Committee (RNC), prescribed some ways to “modernize the Party” and “appeal to more people.” The second report, “Grand Old Party for A Brand New Generation,” a product of the College Republican National Committee (CRNC), outlined several youth-centered Party reforms. It is the latter of the two which is of concern here.

The CRNC’s report uses responses from two surveys and several focus groups to gauge youth voter opinion on a variety of issues. While the report outlines a few intelligent improvements, much of its interpretation of survey data and consequent recommendations contain some notable flaws. One area of the report which raises particular concern is the section on “Reinventing the Brand.” Here, the CRNC uses survey responses to recommend a winning “narrative” for the Republican Party to adopt when reaching out to youth voters. Survey respondents were given a list of broad statements and were asked whether a candidate making those statements would be more or less likely to receive their vote.

CRNC Survey

The CRNC then goes on to conclude that Republican candidates should pursue a messaging strategy more closely attuned with the three most popular statements listed, while focusing less on the bottom four; the underlying premise for this conclusion being that young voters are really conservatives deep down, and would vote for conservative Republican candidates if not for the Party’s lackluster branding. Ergo, a shift in branding would allegedly cast a more positive light on the Republican Party and attract hesitant youth voters. A more nuanced examination of these responses, however, reveals dire implications for any Republican trying to construct a youth-oriented campaign.

The three top-polling statements are exceptionally vague—they are merely goals which any competent political philosophy should be expected to achieve (e.g., “economic growth,” “tackling tough, long term problems,” and “providing opportunity”). The four lower-ranked statements do not outline vague goals, but rather lay out particular methods—a means to achieve those goals.

For conservatives, those concepts are inextricably linked: Liberty, limited government, American values, and constitutionalism are viewed as necessary tools to achieve the surveyed youngsters’ purported goals of economic growth and opportunity. If respondents were truly conservative, then we would expect all the given narrative statements to poll at roughly similar levels. This is not what we see, however: The respondents seem mysteriously unable to perceive the connection between conservatism and the economic growth and opportunity which they so desire. Which seems more likely, then? That the Republican Party’s struggles with regard to young voters are caused by deficiencies with the GOP’s brand, or that young voters simply reject conservative principles?

The CRNC has apparently decided in favor of the former option; they believe that bettering the brand is the magic bullet that will turn around the GOP’s dismal electoral prospects. Admittedly, this may work for a short time. Even so, it would be a hollow victory, because such a strategy can only win by deceiving young voters: As the CRNC’s own survey data indicates, a candidate who champions conservatism is not more likely to garner young peoples’ votes than a candidate who speaks in vague platitudes. The CRNC’s rebranding strategy must invariably trick youngsters into believing that when Republicans wish to “focus on creating jobs and economic growth,” they intend to do so by means other than policies based on conservative principles. Ultimately, though, youngsters would catch on, the lie would crumble, and Republicans would be back to square one.

This conundrum persists, however, only so long as Republicans wish to remain conservative. The path of least resistance, and truly the more honest approach to the rebranding strategy, would be simply to abandon conservatism. This is not outside the realm of possibility, as we have seen in the Congressional debates on immigration reform, the debt ceiling, and the budget; and in the RNC’s negligence and undermining of conservative candidates in Republican primaries, to list a few examples.

If the Republican Party wishes to garner more of the youth vote and also remain conservative while doing so, then the CRNC’s rebranding strategy will not work—youngsters are simply not conservative enough.

It is nevertheless imperative that Republicans attract new, young members to the Party, since winning elections and enacting conservative policies will be exceedingly difficult without them. However, this means more than just reconstructing the image and brand of the Republican Party. It will require no less than a widespread shift in the intellectual disposition of young voters. The CRNC’s recommendations with regard to social media platforms have some merit on this regard, but social media is only a part of what must comprise a large-scale, grassroots information campaign. Each and every conservative must reach out to his/her peers and introduce them to the conservative message.

If the RNC/CRNC were really concerned with winning elections, they would refocus their energy on this endeavor, instead of trying to cut slices from an ever-shrinking electoral pie.

Republicans Bungle the Government Shutdown

I have heard many of my friends on the right suggest that the Tea Party has destroyed GOP credibility through the obstinacy of certain far-right senators and congressmen during the government shutdown and debt ceiling battle. Based on my own observations of the ordeal, this analysis just doesn’t sit right with me.

First, is it a certainty that the shutdown will hurt the GOP politically? Sure, as the litany of national polls seem to suggest, the public does not view the GOP favorably, and most blame Republicans for the shutdown. However, as Nate Silver pointed out in a recent article, the importance of most issues and current events quickly diminishes in the public eye:

Remember Syria? The fiscal cliff? Benghazi? The IRS scandal? The collapse of immigration reform? All of these were hyped as game-changing political moments by the news media, just as so many stories were during the election last year. In each case, the public’s interest quickly waned once the news cycle turned over to another story. Most political stories have a fairly short half-life and won’t turn out to be as consequential as they seem at the time.

Also, there is no evidence that Republicans suffered from the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns either. In fact, Republicans gained Senate seats in the 1996 election, and retained their majority in the House. This occurred even though President Clinton’s approval ratings were rising (though, as Silver points out, Clinton’s climb in approval may have been part of a long-term trend anyway).

Even if we grant, however, that Republicans will not be significantly hurt in 2014 by the most recent shutdown, the GOP moderates/establishment types may still assert that the particular position of the Tea Party during the shutdown was ultimately untenable, and that there was nothing to be gained from dragging America through a government shutdown. In answering this claim, it should be first broken down into two parts.

First, was the Tea Party’s position during the shutdown truly untenable? From a philosophical perspective, it was certainly not: Virtually all Republicans agree that Obamacare is an abomination which will deprive Americans of their freedoms and hard-earned wealth, and that it should be stopped. That said, was the position untenable from a political/electoral standpoint? The consensus among moderate/establishment Republicans appears to be that it was, but what is their evidence for that claim, besides the fact that the GOP eventually did cave and pass the Democrats’ continuing budget resolution? I have not yet come across any such evidence. It is, of course, easy to fail at something if you do not try.

I don’t own a crystal ball, but maybe the shutdown battle could have ended differently. Perhaps it would have been possible to win this fight if the Republicans were unified in an effort to block Obamacare. It is true that the media and their incessant polling put a disproportionate amount pressure on conservatives, but the media are never going to side with conservatives. If Republicans are doomed to be ruled guilty in the court of public opinion, it is better that they be so having stood on principle, because it is those conservative principles that this country so desperately needs right now. The national debt just screamed past $17 trillion, and Obamacare will only add to that while destroying jobs. America needs relief now, not later. There is no time to worry about public relations, image, and re-election.

The moderate/establishment wing of the GOP would consider this poor political strategy, but the vile, relentless attacks on Tea Party Republicans by their moderate counterparts were themselves poor political strategy for two reasons: First, they completely undermined the Tea Party’s position from the beginning by demonstrating to Obama and the Democrats that the Republican Party did not have the resolve to challenge them. It’s like playing poker and telling your opponent from the outset that you will fold regardless of how much they bet—a guaranteed losing strategy. Second, the resultant implosion of the GOP’s bargaining stance gave the impression that the Tea Party’s opposition to funding Obamacare was never a principled endeavor, because who would go to such trouble—shuttering the government and bringing the country to the edge of a so-called “default”—just to retreat and abandon their principles, unless their claims about the detriments of Obamacare and the soaring national debt were mere exaggeration to begin with? Such an impression will hamper efforts by the Tea Party, or anyone else, to implement conservative reforms well into the future.

Was the position of the Tea Party untenable? Maybe. But there is one (non-)strategy that was a guaranteed loser: the one put forth by the moderate/establishment Republicans. We don’t need a crystal ball to know that. In actuality, it was their tactics which have done most to harm GOP credibility, not the Tea Party’s.

Looking back, the Tea Party’s strategy was not without potential gains. At best, the Tea Party might have successfully defunded Obamacare. Even though they did not succeed in that regard, they have brought national attention to the the train-wreck that is the new health care law. Hopefully their efforts will lend courage to other like-minded Republicans to stand and fight in future battles.

Now look closer at the strategy put forth by the moderate/establishment GOP—which is not really a strategy at all, but rather a veiled retreat: They say that we should “let Obamacare implode,” that its implementation has proven so outrageously bungled that the American people will quickly comprehend the law’s shortcomings and reject it. This assertion is mere fantasy, and it carries absolutely no weight with me for two reasons. First, the leftist media in this country will never allow any narrative to develop which does not favor Obamacare, and those who are ignorant of its problems shall remain so. As we now see, the mainstream media have already started parroting the White House’s assurances about the soundness of Healthcare.gov and the Affordable Care Act as a whole.

And just what does it mean to say that the Obamacare rollout is going badly? Our best points of comparison are the other giant federal transfer programs and their rollouts (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, AFDC, TANF, SCHIP, food stamps, et cetera, et cetera). Their initial implementations may have been smoother, but the programs themselves were, by their very nature, unsustainable from day one. Unfortunately, if history has shown us anything consistently, it is not that the inefficiencies of government programs create the political will for reform—in fact, just the opposite is true: Every new transfer program creates an entrenched electoral constituency made up of financial beneficiaries, making it virtually impossible to repeal or even make the most marginal reforms of those programs. Moderate/establishment Republicans should know this, so exactly what do they expect to gain by allowing Obamacare to “implode?” I thought the whole point of reforming and/or repealing these programs was to prevent this! Our main assumption has always been that the implosion of the welfare state (which is literally running on borrowed time) will spell the implosion of the United States’ fiscal integrity, the American economy, and American society generally. There is no political victory to be reaped from that, so what are the Republicans waiting for?

The Perils of Addressing Privilege

Gavin McInnes at Taki’s Magazine has received quite a bit of flak for his article, “Tackling Asian Privilege.” Unsurprisingly, many of the article’s detractors pegged McInnes as a racist, lambasting him for mentioning a non-white racial group using politically-incorrect terms—concerns that could be assuaged simply by, oh… reading the article, perhaps? Other critics simply failed to sense the satire of piece, with which, in writing an almost-painful (but prudent) follow-up article, McInnes proceeded to beat over their heads.

Most of us are familiar with privilege, not because we have seen or experienced it firsthand, but because the Left endlessly assures us of its existence. The term “white privilege,” per its use in the modern leftist’s lexicon, has been rendered redundant: It is generally assumed by the Left that only white people can impose or benefit from institutional racial privileges.

Of course, using the term “privilege” in this way precludes any sort of intellectually sound discussion. McInnes’ article chips away at this assumption, but more importantly, it ponders the very notion of privilege itself. As the article explains, there are a number of fronts on which the Asian-American demographic has better social standing than other American racial minority groups:

Nobody clutches their purse to their side when an Asian walks into the elevator. If an Asian applies for a job at a bank or on the police force, he or she is welcomed with open arms. When an Asian commits a crime, people are shocked. When an Asian is appointed to the head of the Department of Energy, everyone knowingly nods their head. Asian privilege pervades every part of our day-to-day life and it’s time they joined the conversation about race.

Though they comprise less than 4.8% of the American population, they make up 8.3% of all doctors. Only 2.3% of doctors are African American, yet they’re 13% of the population. Thirty percent of African American men will go to jail, but only 1.6% of prisoners are Asian. Nobody sees the problem with that?

McGill University is one of the most elite schools in North America, and to walk through their campus is to be transported into a pastoral Chinatown. This is true of all Ivy League schools. Asian Americans have the highest education level of any racial demographic and they’re also the wealthiest. While African American households earned an average of $30,939 in 2005, Asian Americans walked away with twice that.

The narrative which the left has been perpetuating for the last fifty years—that whites are invariably the beneficiaries of institutional privilege, and that racial minorities are incapable of the same—fit well enough to a society where white people really were the dominant socioeconomic group. As certain racial minorities begin to prosper, however, and even prosper at faster rates than whites, that narrative begins to break down. Asian-American households now make, on average, $10,000 more than white households. Relative to their percentage of the total population, Asian-Americans are over-represented among doctors, while whites are under-represented. A greater proportion of whites are in prison than Asian-Americans. Incidentally, Asian-Americans have done quite well for themselves.

Incidental success has traditionally been the sole piece of evidence to support the existence of racial privileges, and when only whites were successful, this thinking fit the leftist paradigm well. However, the success of a racial minority presents the Left with a dilemma: Either they must concede that other factors besides privilege contribute to the success of certain groups, or they must admit to having employed a double standard in whom they designate as privileged.

This is not to say that privilege does not exist—on the contrary, society is rife with it. However, McInnes is right to question the common notions of privilege which permeate our political discourse, and which frame the discussion as one solely based on racial antipathy.

Why Mitt Romney Lost the Election

2012 was supposed to be a comeback year for conservatives. The expansion of the Tea Party Movement, a long and tumultuous Republican primary season, and a glut of campaign spending in the wake of Citizens United v. FEC were all supposed to culminate in a GOP take-back of the White House. By almost all accounts, though, the night of November 6th turned dark for conservative republicanism. Where did it all go wrong?

Conservatives had good reason to be optimistic: the abject failure of Barack Obama’s economic policies is no secret. Obama has presided over the slowest post-recession recovery in United States history. The unemployment rate is an embarrassing 7.9 percent–higher than when the president took office. Household income in the United States is lower now than it was during the Bush recession. The number of Americans in the workforce is at a 30-year low. GDP has been growing at a paltry 2 percent.

How could Americans be so enamored with the president, given his abysmal record? How could an able challenger such as Mitt Romney not be able to clinch victory?

One possible answer is that President Obama enjoyed a substantial incumbency advantage. It is a well documented phenomenon that incumbent politicians enjoy advantages in both name recognition and fundraising. These benefits are most pronounced in state and local elections, where incumbents often end up serving several consecutive terms. In presidential elections, however, name recognition and fundraising efforts are usually so great for each candidate that incumbency advantages are nearly erased, and a few incumbent presidents have been defeated during the last 40 years.

Some conservative writers, as well as leftist pundits trying to portray the conservative movement as defeated and dejected, have explained this outcome through shifting demographics. They claim that the left is the new “silent majority” in this country, and that so many people have been captivated by the promises of big government and the welfare state that any politician praising a culture of individual sovereignty and personal responsibility simply cannot win. This doesn’t seem entirely plausible, though: Mitt Romney garnered almost half of the popular vote, and conservatism consistently polls as the nation’s most popular ideological faction. Also, John McCain received around a million more votes in 2008 than Romney did in 2012. Those voters didn’t all vanish into thin air, and it’s hard to believe they would vote for Barack Obama’s re-election.

I do not think the reason for Romney’s loss last Tuesday can be traced to external phenomena such as those aforementioned. Rather, it stems from his own qualities as a candidate and politician. To illustrate this point, let us look at another election between an incumbent Democrat president and a Republican challenger during a period of great economic stress.

The year of 1980 and the election between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan share many parallels with today. Like Barack Obama, Carter had served to the American people what Reagan called an “altogether indigestible economic stew: one part inflation, one part high unemployment, one part recession, one part runaway taxes, one part deficit spending, seasoned with an energy crisis.” In some ways, the economic malaise of 1980 was worse than that of today; in some ways it was not as bad. Regardless, Reagan was able to defeat Carter in a landslide of not only the electoral college vote, but the popular vote as well.

With such striking similarities between 1980 and 2012, a difference in election results ultimately boils down to a difference between candidates. One striking difference we see between Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney is in their particular style of politicking.

Ronald Reagan told a story to the American people. It wasn’t an anecdote or a parable–the kinds of stories for which Reagan is most famous. Rather, it was a narrative, one built around an ideal. It was not an espousal of principles, but of values. Reagan told a story of the self-sufficient man, a man independent and free to pursue his own happiness. It was a story about what life could be like without government interference. Ronald Reagan’s metaphor of a “shining city upon a hill” encapsulated his vision of a society in which mutual cooperation, and not force, cultivated the progress of civilization.

Mitt Romney’s strategy during the election of 2012 was very different. Romney saw the similarities between 1980 and 2012, and incorrectly assumed that the sheer ineptitude of his opponent would be enough to sway voters to his side. To him, it followed that anything he did during the campaign to draw attention away from his opponent and toward himself would be inherently detrimental. As a result, Romney avoided putting forth his own ideas and principles, and used vague terms like “American Dream,” “freedom,” and “hard work,” which evoke warm emotions of patriotism within an audience.

We must remember that Mitt Romney was running for President of the United States. Anyone seeking that office must hold some fundamental views on the role of government. On one hand, Ronald Reagan’s narrative allowed voters to connect his governing principles with a moral endgame: voters were able to see the necessity of small, limited government in reaching that “shining city upon a hill.” On the other hand, Romney’s rhetorical slogans offered nothing on that regard.

Why didn’t Mitt Romney emulate Ronald Reagan’s approach to the campaign? Because he couldn’t. Romney doesn’t believe in the principles of small government. Instead of hypothesizing about how life could be better with less government intrusion in our lives, he instead tried to tell us how life could be better if only it was Mitt Romney directing the intrusion instead of Barack Obama. To Romney, the amount of government we have is not the issue–instead, who’s in charge is what really matters. In other words, big government is acceptable as long as it is exercised properly.

This has been the mantra of the so-called “moderate” wing of the Republican party for the last 80 years. Their idea that government need not be small in order to be efficient leads to a very peculiar campaigning/governing style. To paraphrase, their message to American voters has generally been, “Vote for us, and we won’t get rid of big government, but we’ll do it more efficiently than the left.”

This message makes it exceedingly difficult to win elections. The mechanics of big government require pandering, and an engagement in identity politics. Democrats have always been better at this than Republicans because they have always been willing to go further–further with the welfare state, further with redistribution of wealth, and further with affirmative action. When the Republican alternative to pandering is “pandering lite,” it provides no visible contrast for the electorate. Their “smaller government” is often mistaken for “small government,” even though it is essentially still big government. This makes it increasingly difficult for true conservative candidates to get elected: as increasing numbers of Republicans govern like Democrats, and as their version of big government inevitably fails, the failures of big government are with ever more frequency painted as failures of small government, simply because those failures occur when the person in power has an (R) after their name instead of a (D). In reality we haven’t had a small government for many years, regardless of our leaders’ party affiliations.

Yet what is the response to this election from the pundits and moderates in the Republican party? It is that we must double-down on the pandering, that we conservatives must compromise more of our principles in order to gain votes, and that the era of small government is over.

Looking at the election of 1980, however, it appears to me that, when presented with a clear and marked choice between liberty and big government, people overwhelmingly choose liberty. Ronald Reagan understood that, and he wasn’t afraid to advocate for liberty as a candidate or as President. It is with this knowledge, and an eye turned toward the future, that I ask, why don’t we try a little less Romney, and a little more Reagan?

Big-Tent Republicans Strike Again

The 2012 presidential campaign is in full swing. In the midst of the Republican primaries, tensions are high as the divide between conservatives and establishment Republicans grows more visible. On one hand, we have a tall, slick politician who has held, and notwithstanding his numerous flip-flops, continues to hold moderate-to-left views on many issues. On the other hand, we have a number of candidates who, while not very polished or refined, hold with conviction many conservative positions. All the candidates share one opinion, however: the country cannot withstand a second term with Barack Obama as president, for it would mark an irreparable decline in America’s strength, prosperity, and character. How to prevent this is the main matter of contention in the race.

When speaking with some of my friends in the conservative movement, they seem to advocate what is commonly referred to as “Big-Tent Republicanism”. That is, they are Republicans predominantly concerned with the electability of a candidate over that candidate’s ideology. They view attracting new people to the party as critical in order to bolster its electoral power. They believe that in order to do this, we must nominate only moderate candidates, as to not alienate these potential voters.

The Republican establishment has effectively, and deviously, crafted a choice for the Republican electorate between ideology and electability. They say conservatism is not enough in style to win a general election, and defeating Barack Obama is not a guarantee. We must therefore nominate someone centrist enough to garner the independent vote. But what if this rationale was mere fallacy? What if we were being forced to make a false choice between equally electable candidates? I fear this is the case, and that just as the country cannot sustain an extended Obama presidency, it cannot tolerate the nomination of an establishment Republican candidate to challenge him.

This election is easily the most important election in at least the last eighty years. Barack Obama’s tax-and-spend fiscal policies and his inconsistent, timid, apologetic foreign policies are destroying this country’s economy and making us less safe in an increasingly dangerous world. It is for this reason, not in spite of it, that we must elect a strong, principled conservative who can create a sharp contrast with Barack Obama, not only in campaigning, but in governing.

National republicans for the last eighty years, save Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, have campaigned with the sole purpose getting elected. They run on a centrist platform, speaking in vague generalities in order to sound intelligent without saying anything potentially offensive. Then, if and when they are elected to office, they govern in a similar fashion, striking deals with the other side in order to appear amiable, and compromising their principles when the other side does not. What have we Republicans received in return for these efforts? A powerful and intrusive government, a growing welfare state and dependent class, and a national political culture that increasingly views conservatism as something foreign, uncompassionate, and extreme, even though it is, and has always been, this country’s largest ideological faction.

If the last eighty years have taught us anything, it’s this one simple fact: it’s not good enough to simply win an election. Every election in which the victor is just another moderate, establishment Republican who only wishes to nibble around the edges of our national problems destroys the potency of the Republican Party, and causes voters at large to lose confidence conservatism, even though they experience only a watered-down version of it. This has to stop. The party is becoming increasingly divided, and the country is suffering.

The establishment Republican mantra of voting for politicians over principles has failed. How we became so engrossed in this idea is beyond me, but we must re-adopt the mentality that we vote for principles above all else—that is the reason we vote in the first place. If principles were unimportant, democracy would not exist. We elect politicians into power only to wield our principles, because power is not an end, but a means to an end.

Remember that politicians derive their power from us. If we elect conservative politicians, then the principles they hold are given mandate by our votes. On the other hand, if we elect candidates who lack conservative principles, how can we reasonably expect them to serve us? Moderate politicians have no more of a mandate to advocate conservative policies than do leftist politicians. We would be just as well-off electing nobody at all, because moderation is not a principle. Moderation is something you do to a principle—it is the cession of principle. Consider then our purpose in voting during this primary campaign season: it is not simply to have people occupy space in government; it is to save our country. I don’t want moderates and independents to vote for our candidates for the same reason I don’t want leftists to vote for our candidates: a vote for a candidate who sacrifices his/her principles is no better than a vote for the person with whom you disagree.

This election needs to focus on ideas. The nominee of the Republican Party is only as electable in the general election as we make him. How can a candidate who conservatives feel the need to hold their nose while voting for be considered more electable than a principled candidate who draws enthusiastic conservatives to the polls in droves? Isn’t it just as difficult to guarantee that conservatives actually go the polls and vote for a lukewarm candidate as it is to guarantee that Barack Obama will lose the election? The Big-Tent Republicans certainly aren’t counting on it—they think they have conservatives backed into a corner, that they can trade one conservative vote for two or more independent votes. But what makes them think they can even count on their candidate mobilizing the grassroots support needed to actually get their cherished moderates and independents to the polls? Lastly, how can we hope to win the battle of ideas when the candidate we’re supposed to support doesn’t embody our own values? How can we effectively persuade independent voters to vote for someone whom we know in our hearts and minds is just the lesser of two evils?

There is only one way to save our country, and it is not to elect gasbag, empty-suit politicians who only want to trim around the edges and maintain the status quo. Conservatism is the only philosophy capable of restoring this country, and so we must vote not for politicians, but for conservatism. We don’t need to moderate our principles to get votes—we need to spread them, to educate people about them, so that our principles can be given electoral force. Empty votes may win elections, but they won’t win the future.