Tag Archives: government

The Fall of Conservative Journalism?

For a good chunk of my life, Breitbart News was the only place to get an alternative angle on many controversial topics, such as immigration, mass shootings, climate change, and the litany of Obama Administration scandals over the past seven years (e.g., Pigford, Fast and Furious, IRS).

Unfortunately, for months I have suspected that Breitbart’s editors have been supporting Donald Trump using their positions as media gatekeepers. In doing so they have become the very thing decried by the late Andrew Breitbart. Like the mainstream media does with leftist candidates, Breitbart News reports favorably on Trump not because they are corrupt, but simply because they like him. This is no less deplorable, though.

The resignations of Breitbart journalists Ben Shapiro and Michelle Fields are troubling to me because they seem to confirm my suspicion.

Fields filed a criminal complaint against Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, alleging he strong-armed her at a rally. Fields’ account of the incident is corroborated by an eyewitness, audio, and video from multiple angles (here and here–ironically, the video that “debunks” Fields story looks even more damning of Lewandowski). The fact that someone, most likely Lewandowski, committed a battery against Fields is all but obvious.

Despite the evidence, Breitbart News hesitated to defend their reporter. Although the site eventually posted an official position condemning the offense against Fields, the previous 10 days saw senior editors stifling internal discussion of the incident. John Pollak justified suppressing the story in order to deny Hillary Clinton any “straight up ‘War on Women’ material” that could supposedly hurt Trump.

In his interview with the Independent Journal, Ben Shapiro indicated that Breitbart News’ fawning over Trump was key in his resignation:

“Nothing could grieve me more than having to take this step. But I cannot stand with the company founded by my mentor, Andrew Breitbart, when it abandons a reported in order to protect a political candidate.”

What Shapiro should have said–and this is the real tragedy of the situation–is that Breitbart News has done more than simply throw Michelle Fields under the bus. She is only a symbol. Reason, evidence, and honest, good-faith reporting are the real casualties in Breitbart News’ zealous campaign to protect Trump.

Breitbart News is not the only outlet enamored with Trump. Many of other prominent conservative blogs and sites have that fever. If there were ever a selfish reason for me to hope that Trump fails to become president, it would be that his loss might allow a return of quality conservative journalism. But today I have little confidence in that happening.

Libertarians Choose “Marriage Equality” over Individualism

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage, Rebecca Traister at New York Magazine offers some important considerations on the ruling’s lesser-known implications, specifically with regard to single people. She paints a rosy picture of how legal same-sex marriage will relieve the stigma on those who choose not to marry in the first place:

“Gay marriage has presented a challenge to straight marriage in part because it resists the mandate that everyone be straight married. It also, ideally, takes the great things about partnership—love, companionship, commitment—and makes them the basis of the institution.

[…]

The freedom to marry someone of the same sex is the freedom to not have to marry someone of the opposite sex, which in an ideal universe should be tied to the freedom not to have to marry, period.”

The author raises some good points, but while I agree that the Supreme Court ruling underscores a new social order that more readily accepts abstention from marriage, the legal inequalities will persist into the foreseeable future. Further, libertarians, who are best positioned to spearhead this issue, are conspicuously absent from the debate.

The goal of marriage equality, as most understand it, is inherently a farce. Equality is a property enjoyed by individuals, not by socially-constructed associations between those individuals. Even if we achieve total marriage equality, extending the government-conferred benefits of marriage to those partaking in any conceivable union (polygamy, bigamy, human-animal marriages, etc.), single people will always be denied those benefits. Singles will remain, as Bella DePaulo laments, “second-class citizens.”

The social conservatives, despite their faults, are the only ones to voice a consistent answer—albeit an unsatisfactory one, for several reasons—to this inequity. They maintain that promoting marriage serves a public interest through its role in sanctioning and facilitating procreation. They would oppose extending government benefits to single people for the same reason, purportedly, that they oppose extending them to gays and lesbians.

The proponents of same-sex marriage, however, cannot consistently oppose equality for singles. If they truly believe that love, companionship, and commitment should form the basis of the institution, they should want to end government privileges for married individuals altogether. While modern liberals could claim that government privileges for marriage are consistent with democracy in that majorities can grant privileges for whomever, whenever, this too would be inconsistent with their calls for equality.

The truly perplexing case here, however, is the plight of libertarian same-sex marriage proponents. Libertarians generally do not see (or care about) a public interest in the government promoting marriage, nor are they pure majoritarians. Rather, they often assert that government has no business sanctioning marriage at all; but this makes their vacuous celebration of the Supreme Court’s ruling perplexing, since the ruling does not bring about libertarians’ ideal—it in fact reinforces the current government-marriage paradigm.

If libertarians truly wanted to achieve equality for all individuals, regardless of marriage status, why are they so fixated on the courts? A quick search of the libertarian Cato Institute’s website shows that it has filed amicus briefs in numerous high-profile cases like Hollingsworth v. Perry, Kitchen v. Herbert, Bishop v. Smith, and United States v. Windsor. But where was Cato in January of 2014, when Oklahoma legislators pushed to repeal government licensing of marriage altogether? Where were they when Oklahoma legislators tried this again in March of 2015? Where were they in April of 2015 when Alabama legislators made similar efforts? And where are they now that legislators in both Utah and Michigan have drafted bills to remove the government from marriage in those states?

Libertarians have called for “privatizing marriage” before, but their focus and tenacity in that regard has dulled, and these days the idea warrants only an afterthought. Some liberty-oriented groups, as well as several individual libertarians, grasp this challenge, but anyone who highlights these mistaken priorities, even merely implying that the courts are a counterproductive course, risks accusations of bigotry or homophobia, even from other libertarians. Why is there such hostility here?

My guess is that libertarians have for so long been relegated to the sidelines of American politics—nobody really cares about libertarians’ positions on boring ol’ fiscal policy, foreign policy, regulation, etc.—that when a popular social movement arises that (somewhat) comports with libertarian philosophy, they cannot resist latching on to it. Libertarians are so hungry for acceptance from mainstream voters, activists, and ideologues that they will follow this fad to the end of its rabbit hole, even if it takes them through the court system, and further ossifies the butchered notions of Due Process and Equal Protection that have so supplanted the original meaning of the Constitution, a document many libertarians claim is important.

Actions speak louder than words. Libertarians who yearn for true individual equality before the law should not celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision—at best, the decision is morally neutral. If they support true equality, they cannot ignore the plight of single people while remaining logically consistent. The only way to achieve true equality, for straights, gays, lesbians, singles, and everyone else, is to remove the government from marriage entirely. Any effort that does not do that is at best a waste of time.

Public Education, and the Fight Against Indoctrination

Why do the supporters of public schools so abhor the idea of free choice and competition in the education industry? One of the more often-heard reasons is that allowing parents to send their children to alternative schools or to homeschool presents the unbearable risk of indoctrination. Indoctrinated children grow up to be dysfunctional members of society, so it is incumbent upon the rest of society to intervene and provide children with a standard, unbiased, and robust education, which the state is uniquely able to facilitate.

This concern by public school proponents about the risk of indoctrination seems oddly contrived, however, considering the ideology that informs public education policy prescriptions in the first place. The whole premise of public schooling is the instillation of knowledge not according to professional consensus, the scientific method, or the power of creative destruction, but according to ordained dogma of a political majority. This fact may sometimes be obscured by the implicit trust we have for our “professional” education bureaucracy, but remember that the bureaucrats are always appointed by the politicians.

That elections determine what we teach in school is an inherent volatility of public education which the system’s proponents are shockingly quick to tolerate. Does it not bother them, for example, that while evolution is currently the predominant theory of human origins taught in public science classrooms, it is possible—even likely, in certain localities—that a shift in the political winds could grant the power of crafting education policy to those who believe in the propriety of creationism as an alternative scientific theory? Having a free market in education would alleviate this volatility by allowing those who disagree to extricate their children from schools with such curricula and pursue alternative methods of schooling. Yet those who favor public schooling—a few on the right, but mostly on the left—abhor the idea of letting parents choose for themselves what kind of education their kids receive.

Why would people concerned with the education of their children expose themselves to such unnecessary risk? Why would they endlessly and restlessly struggle for control over education policy?

The explanation is simple: Public school proponents are not only concerned with the education of their own children—they are also concerned with the education of everyone else’s. As much as parents would love the freedom to teach their own children according to their own values and beliefs, having that freedom necessarily means granting it to others; but that means some parents could teach their children views which others find disagreeable. The only way for parents to have their cake and eat it too is the creation of compulsory public education, so that a majority of parents—busybodies—may teach their kids as they please while denying that same right to those without political power.

Paradoxically, their reliance on state power in the education sector displays both arrogance and diffidence simultaneously. So confident are they in the infallibility of their own ideas that they feel compelled to impress them upon all children in the pursuance of comprehensive and effective societal education, yet so insecure are they about the same ideas that they refuse to let their teaching methods and curricula stand alone in a free market without the aid of government force.

This paradox may be resolved, perhaps, by assuming that the individual consumers of education are too stupid to recognize infallible ideas, and that force is the only way to achieve proper education. If this is the case, however, then the ideas being forced upon people need not be valid or true, and consumers (voters) would have no way of holding education officials accountable for not providing true and valid curricula in the schools anyway.

Regardless of the particular rationale used to defend public schooling, we should ask ourselves—based on actions rather than words—who truly seems more worried about indoctrination? Those who believe in a competition of curricula and ideas, or those who seek to impose upon everyone else what they sincerely believe must always and forever be the correct worldview?

Border Crisis Highlights Lack of Effective Security Metrics

In the midst of the crisis on the southwest border involving the housing and free passage of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, the White House continues to peddle the claim that President Obama has bolstered security of the U.S.-Mexico border, citing as evidence the increased number of apprehensions of illegal immigrants and the unprecedented number of border patrol agents employed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).[i]

Even disregarding the current crisis, the argument is laughable: 88 percent of the increase in border patrol agents took place even before Barack Obama took office.[ii] This blatant propagandizing provides a useful exposé into the (double) standards of the Obama administration: An economic anemia persisting five years after the transition of presidential power can be forever blamed on George W. Bush, yet enhancements to border security for which Bush was largely responsible are actually the accomplishments of his successor. As Pat Condell would say, “If not for double standards, they wouldn’t have any standards.”

Momentarily forgetting about the proper allocation of credit for border security enhancements, we can focus on a more pertinent problem: The southwest border is actually very unsecure.

This problem is obscured by the common floating of a few misleading statistics. In addition to the numbers on border patrol agents and border apprehensions, supporters of the President’s immigration policies often note the zero-to-negative growth rate in the population of illegal immigrants within the United States in 2011 and 2012 (though the growth rate has recently trended positive again).[iii]

Those who push these numbers commit a couple basic logical errors. First, they assume that because net growth of the illegal immigrant population is practically zero, the border is secure. But the number of people who illegally enter the country has no bearing on border security. The border is secure only when we have the capability to keep people out. The fact that people are choosing not to immigrate does not mean that, should they change their minds, they would be unable. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) attributes a considerable portion of the increased percentage of apprehensions to the decline in immigration which accompanied the 2007-2009 recession.

What is CBP’s actual capacity to apprehend illegal immigrants? Before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued changes to the methods for measuring border security in 2011, CBP used a gradient of security classifications to describe the security of the southwest border (see Table 1). The Border Patrol considered a particular stretch of the border to be under “operational control” if its security fell among the top two designations: “controlled” or “managed.” These designations were determined based upon the amount of resources and surveillance capabilities CBP has for a particular sector, and how useful those resources are in deterring or stopping illegal entries.

Table 1: Border Patrol Levels of Border Security 
Levels of Border Security Definition
Controlled Continuous detection and interdiction resources at the immediate border with high probability of apprehension upon entry.
Managed Multi-tiered detection and interdiction resources are in place to fully implement the border control strategy with high probability of apprehension after entry.
Monitored Substantial detection resources in place, but accessibility and resources continue to affect ability to respond.
Low-Level Monitored Some knowledge is available to develop a rudimentary border control strategy, but the area remains vulnerable because of inaccessibility or limited resource availability.
Remote/Low Activity Information is lacking to develop a meaningful border control strategy because of inaccessibility or lack of resources.

Source: GAO analysis of U.S. Border Patrol ORBBP documents.

A 2011 study by the Government Accountability Office, in examining the methods and results of the U.S. Border Patrol, found that of the 2000-mile southern U.S. border, only 873 miles were under “operational control,” and of those 873 miles, only 129 miles (15 percent of the border) were “controlled,” meaning that the Border Patrol has the ability to detect and apprehend all illegal immigrants upon entry. For the rest of the 873 miles, CBP was only able to apprehend illegal immigrants after entry (sometimes 100 miles or more away from the border). For most of the southern border, apprehensions upon entry range from difficult to impossible.[iv]

Since 2011, under direction of the DHS, CBP has abandoned the operational control metrics for assessing border security, and are currently in the process of developing new metrics. In the interim, CBP has used the number of border apprehensions as the standard of measurement for border security. As alluded to earlier, however, this method does not take into account our actual ability to repel entrants, and is too heavily influenced by other factors, such as the United States’ economic health, which partially determines how many potential immigrants attempt a crossing in the first place. In addition, CBP has not yet developed objective goals or targets that would indicate effective control on the border, and this lack of reliable measurements seriously “limits DHS and congressional oversight and accountability.”[v]

Aside from their relative obscurity and lack of accountability, however, the interim metrics’ main problem is that they are simply ineffectual: The GAO found that “studies commissioned by CBP have documented that the number of apprehensions bears little relationship to effectiveness because agency officials do not compare these numbers with the amount of cross-border illegal activity.”[vi] This is generally because, as apprehensions increase along one portion of the border, cross-border activities increase in other areas.[vii]

If the President and his DHS want to regain some semblance of credibility, they should reinstitute border security measurements for CBP based on well-defined goals, rather than sheer inputs or activities. Operational control was a good metric, but no matter what they ultimately choose, it should allow for congressional oversight and accountability to Congress and the DHS. Finally, despite the obfuscation on this issue, we should take this case of bureaucratic mishandling as a renewed impetus to secure the border.

[i] The Whitehouse. (2014). Border Security. Retrieved from: http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration/border-security

[ii] United States Border Patrol. (2013). Border Patrol Agent Staffing by Fiscal Year. Retrieved from: http://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/U.S.%20Border%20Patrol%20Fiscal%20Year%20Staffing%20Statistics%201992-2013.pdf

[iii] Pew Research Center. (2013). Population Decline of Unauthorized Immigrants Stalls, May Have Reversed. Retrieved from: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2013/09/23/population-decline-of-unauthorized-immigrants-stalls-may-have-reversed/

[iv] Securing Our Borders – Operational Control and the Path Forward: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security of the Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives, 111th Congress. (2011). (testimony of Richard M. Stana). Border Security: Preliminary Observations on Border Control Measures for the Southwest Border. Retrieved from: http://www.gao.gov/assets/130/125500.pdf

[v] What Does a Secure Border Look Like?: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security of the Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives, 113th Congress. (2013). (testimony of Rebecca Gambler). Goals and Measures Not Yet in Place to Inform Border Security Status and Resource Needs. Retrieved from: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/HM/HM11/20130226/100300/HHRG-113-HM11-Wstate-GamblerR-20130226.pdf

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ordonez, K. (2008). Securing the United States Mexico Border: An On-Going Dilemma. Homeland Security Affairs. Retrieved from: http://www.hsaj.org/?special:fullarticle=0.2.5

Net Neutrality Politics: Moving Us Away from a Free, Open Internet

Net neutrality is an issue of rather esoteric beginnings—not many but a few technocrats and policy experts knew even remotely anything about it. With the help of corporate sponsors, however, it has now garnered time in the national spotlight. Unfortunately, as with most ideological fads, net neutrality’s popularity has expanded far more rapidly than peoples’ understanding of it, and a few critical myths persist which require elucidation.

But first, a brief background on what net neutrality means:

The term “net neutrality” refers to a principle under which all different types of content on the internet are sent and delivered at equal speeds. This means an e-mail from your grandmother will download to your computer at the same rate as a Netflix video. A non-neutral internet, by contrast, could entail that some content gets transferred at elevated speeds, necessarily slowing the rest. Content producers and end-users tend to be in favor of net neutrality because they benefit from a vast diversity of contents, and no one wants to run the risk of having their preferred content throttled. On the other hand, opponents tend to consist of internet service providers, such as DSL, cable, and satellite companies, who believe that tailoring their networks to fast-track certain types of content may lead to better end-user experiences and cost savings.

Today, net neutrality has become more than a mere principle, having manifested in several legislative acts and proposed administrative regulations over the past eight years. Each of these would, to varying degrees, restrict by force of law the business practices of internet service providers.

Like the proponents of most government regulations, net neutrality supporters will often wrap their advocacy in the public interest, the protection of some disadvantaged group, and/or the promotion of economic efficiency. Touchy-feely catchphrases such as “keep the internet free and open” and “all bits are created equal” abound, along with the assertion that net neutrality will bolster marketplace competition by relieving the burden of startup costs on bandwidth-intensive tech companies, and by preventing ISPs from arbitrarily censoring (competitors’) content on their networks.

While the proponents of this proposed government regulation seem to concede the benefit of competition in a marketplace—a refreshing sign—they nonetheless fail to see the contradiction created by invoking it. Free-market adherents correctly recognize net neutrality as a hindrance to marketplace competition, rather than a facilitator. Innovation is a key part of competition in any marketplace, yet the net neutrality regulations imposed by the Federal Communications Commission, recently struck down in January, would have stifled innovation among internet service providers. As Larry Downes noted in November:

In all, the FCC’s Open Internet order itself cataloged a dozen major non-neutral technologies, protocols, and business arrangements that have long been necessary parts of the Internet. Sensibly and of necessity, the agency granted exceptions from the rules for each and every one of them, recognizing that the “open” Internet, at least from an engineering standpoint, was anything but. For the Internet to continue functioning at all, the rhetoric had to give way to reality.

But there was no way for the rules to preemptively grant similar permission to any future network optimization technologies, other than to caveat all of the rules with exemptions for “reasonable network management.” That term couldn’t be defined, however, meaning that any future innovations will require FCC approval before large-scale implementation.[i]

In a world of rapidly growing internet traffic,[ii] a moratorium on innovation and experimentation on network management practices could spell higher costs and a far lesser quality of service for end-users and content providers alike.

This seems like a terrible tradeoff, since even an absence of government net neutrality regulations would not preclude the possibility of internet service providers adopting net-neutral business practices; and if consumers demanded such practices, they could simply switch from one ISP to another. The same is true for content providers—not only the giant companies like Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon; smaller companies and (yet to exist) startups may also switch between ISPs if they believe that their content is being discriminated against. This would be a system of true market competition.

In response to this fact, net neutrality advocates are quick to point out the abject lack of competition in the broadband internet market, which is a valid concern. The FCC has reported that of the 132 million households in the United States, only 47 million (roughly 35 percent) have access to four or more video programming distributors (i.e., cable, satellite, and telephone companies); cable companies alone have a market share of 56 percent among these distributors, and of the roughly 1,100 cable companies in the United States, the top five of them (in market share) account for nearly 82 percent of all video programming subscribers.[iii] Given that all of these companies also provide broadband internet services to many of their customers, the competitive outlook for the broadband internet market looks incredibly weak.

Acknowledging the interminably uncompetitive nature of the internet service market would seem to undermine the free-market competition argument against net neutrality. Since Comcast and similar companies so effectively control their respective markets, there is virtually no recourse for a dissatisfied customer. This cornering of the markets removes the normal incentives which spur companies to improve services and cut costs.

For most people, unfortunately, this is where the debate ends. While many will concede the benefits of market competition for internet service, they now dismiss those benefits as immaterial, since an effective monopoly exists in the largest internet markets. Now the only available option they see for ensuring fair or neutral business practices is through government-imposed net neutrality regulations. But this requires the erroneous assumption that the monopolistic structure of internet markets is a natural, otherwise unending state which only government power can mitigate. Because this completely disregards the question of how the internet market reached its current structure, it precludes the possibility of treating the underlying disease, rather than a mere symptom.

What we should instead do is ask, “Why is there an effective monopoly in internet service markets?”

Basic economic theory informs us that monopolies can only endure as long as no smaller, competing companies enter the market to provide the same (or better) service at a true market-equilibrium price. So why have so few companies entered the markets and upended the entrenched giants?

There are a number of up-front costs associated with starting a cable company and/or entering a cable market. Investment in building the initial cable infrastructure is one of these costs, but another significant, yet often unmentioned cost is that of acquiring cable franchises. In most states, cable companies must obtain a cable franchise from each and every municipality in which they want to do business. Large companies can easily expand into new markets because they have copious amounts of cash with which to pay the licensing fees, but for smaller/startup companies, the licensing requirements present an insurmountable barrier to market entry. Encouragingly, 21 states have passed cable franchise reform bills, meaning that cable companies need obtain only one license to operate within the entire state. In the 29 remaining states, however, cable companies must still work through the old, inefficient system. As usual, we see a monopoly that only persists with the help of government supports.

Evidence indicates that the entry of competitors into previously uncompetitive cable markets does reduce cable prices and provoke efforts from the incumbent cable companies to improve services. In response to entry by AT&T, who offers video services over internet protocols through telephone lines (and thus is not subject to cable franchise requirements), Comcast of Santa Rosa, CA, rushed to deliver “new features [video-on-demand, more channels] in Santa Rosa because rival AT&T has started offering its own digital TV service.”In Houston, similarly, Comcast pledged to offer more “linear and high-definition channels, video-on-demand titles and digital phone features” over the following two months, again in response to AT&T’s encroachment. [iv] A Bank of America study also observed basic cable price reductions of between 28 and 42 percent in areas of Virginia, Texas, and Florida where Verizon rolled out its FiOS video service.[v]

The solution is clear: If we can reintroduce competition into the internet service industry, we can entirely abrogate the need for government neutrality regulations while simultaneously improving consumer choice and quality of services, and lowering prices. Instead of wasting time on net neutrality, which will only stifle competition and innovation, governments at all levels should work to reform (with the goal of eventual repeal), the onerous cable franchise requirements which bar entry from new competitors. That will be a crucial step toward having a truly free and open internet.

 

[i] Downes, L. (2002). What Verizon’s Net Neutrality Challenge Is Really About. Forbes. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrydownes/2013/09/11/what-verizons-net-neutrality-challenge-is-really-about/

[ii] Cisco. (2014). Cisco Visual Networking Index Predicts Annual Internet Traffic to Grow More Than 20 Percent (reaching 1.6 Zettabytes) by 2018. Retrieved from: http://newsroom.cisco.com/release/1426270

[iii] Federal Communications Comission. (2013). Fifteenth Report. Retrieved from: https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-13-99A1.pdf

[iv] Singer, H.J. (2007). The Consumer Benefits of Telco Entry in Video Markets. Retrieved from: http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/workshops/telecom2007/submissions/228100.htm

[v] Bank of America Equity Research. (2006). Battle for the Bundle: Consumer Wireline Services Pricing.

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?