I’m a libertarian, and I’m supporting Ted Cruz

The other night as my wife Kelsey and I were getting ready for bed, we were talking about the 2016 presidential race and discussing how things would shape up for the first-in-the-nation caucus state – our home state – of Iowa.  We had both heard that Ted Cruz was set to announce his candidacy at midnight, and were keeping a finger on the pulse of the reaction within our liberty-heavy political circles.

My wife’s phone buzzed, and then I heard her groan. Another of our friends had asked her who we would be supporting for president in the state where politicos never sleep. Both of us knew that we were leaning toward supporting Sen. Ted Cruz, but both of us also knew that we didn’t want to have “the talk” with another of our Randian friends at 11 o’clock on a Sunday night. I had to chuckle as she tried to think of ways to defer the familiar question one more time.  Despite the fact that no candidates had yet announced, the Iowa scene had been buzzing with presidential hopefuls and their staff for months already, and battle lines had been getting drawn since before the polls closed last November.  No candidate had been more active than Sen. Rand Paul, whose candidacy banks heavily on the vibrant and growing Liberty Movement. Senator Paul has a natural base of support in Iowa, thanks to the prior presidential runs of his father, Rep. Ron Paul – and it’s a base that we have personally helped grow.

Let’s rewind to the summer of 2011.  GOP candidates were gearing up for the Iowa Straw Poll, I was a homebuilder who had neither time nor patience enough for politics, despite growing up steeped in the founding principles and the Constitution. I heard about an event in Des Moines with Rep. Ron Paul, and decided to go check it out.  I had watched Ron online and knew his message clicked with my constitutional worldview, but hadn’t ever really invested in his campaign or organization.  That day I got to meet him, ask him questions about how he would get the federal regulatory burden off the back of small businesses, and hear him lay out his vision of liberty.  Immediately, a brushfire was lit in my mind, and I knew I had found something worth fighting for politically.  I set to work volunteering and evangelizing for Ron and brought a slew of people with me to the straw poll, helping push Dr. Paul to a close 2nd place finish in that contest.

A few weeks passed, and I heard nothing from the campaign.  Due to staff shake-ups, my contacts had been shuffled out of state, and after some digging I managed to find a new guy who had just recently taken over my area for the campaign.  That guy was Adil Khan, now Executive Director of Liberty Iowa and a close friend. I volunteered for hundreds of hours leading up to the caucuses, becoming a volunteer district director in the Des Moines area. When I lost my job in November, I took the entire month of December to focus on volunteering for Ron, suffering real personal and financial hardship in order to help carry him over the finish line.  The night of the caucuses, I donned the only dress clothes I owned, practiced my speech ten times in front of a camera, and went to my local caucus, where I was responsible for the only precinct win for Ron Paul in a wealthy suburban area I often referred to as “Romney Central”.

Ron came in a strong third place, and over the next few days, the campaign began to disassemble and head to other states.  As I showed up to help pack phones and move boxes, a campaign official pulled me aside and offered me a job with the campaign. I was surprised but readily agreed.  It seemed that our work in Iowa was not done yet.  Over the next few months, we organized the liberty movement across the state to show up throughout the Iowa convention process and accomplish the twin goals of electing delegates to the Republican National Convention that would support Ron Paul for president, and overthrowing the establishment-dominated Iowa GOP to install leadership friendly to the conservatarian grassroots.  The Paul campaign began to wind down in the middle of the convention process, and it became apparent that Iowa needed a new vehicle to harness the power and energy of the Liberty Movement, and turn it into political clout.  About this time, Adil and another Iowa staffer, Morgan Pearson, came up with the idea for a new state organization that would accomplish this goal.  We all talked about it, and I signed on enthusiastically. We spent hours planning and strategizing, and ended up launching Liberty Iowa on April 15th, 2012.  I was dubbed Outreach Director, and worked hard to expand Liberty Iowa to new audiences through press and communications, direct outreach, and building coalitions with Tea Party and Evangelical conservative networks around the state. Part of my emphasis during this time was growing and maturing the movement, moving away from a single identity surrounding the person of Ron Paul, and toward an issue-based identity that would help us reach out to disillusioned Americans who had grown tired of the false choice offered by the two party system.

It was in the middle of this ramp-up that I was approached about running for a seat on the Republican State Central Committee (SCC) in my state.  I had never considered it, and since I was still looking for work as the campaign wrapped up, I didn’t think I was the best candidate for the spot. I politely declined, leaving open the contingency that if they could find no one else, I would reconsider running. To make a long story short, they didn’t find anyone else. I agreed to run for the seat, and was elected to the SCC, serving the next two years alongside embattled RPI Chairman AJ Spiker – whose principled stands for conservative ideals put him at odds with the powerful Iowa political establishment. During our tenure I worked with Chairman Spiker, RPI co-chair David Fischer, and Finance Chair Drew Ivers – all icons in the Iowa Liberty Movement – as well as other liberty-friendly members of the SCC to support the platform and grow the party with the message of liberty.  Numerous times I was smeared in the establishment blogs and radio shows for my affiliation to the “Paulistas”, but found ways to fight back, and helped others find those ways as well. During this time, Adil and I also worked with some folks across our northern border to launch sister organization Liberty Minnesota, which I’m proud to say is thriving alongside Liberty Iowa and Liberty North Dakota to this day.

Of course, living in Iowa, one doesn’t go a day after an election without thinking of the next one.  No sooner had Mitt Romney gotten off the phone with President Obama, than the 2016 whispering began. In my circles, of course, the whispers centered around Sen. Rand Paul.  Though many of us were still smarting from his endorsement of Mitt over his father, we were also excited for the possibility of a Rand Paul run at the presidency.

And then came the year of the filibuster.

In March of 2013, Rand Paul’s filibuster of President Obama’s appointment for CIA chief had the liberty movement – nay, the broader conservative GOP –  on their feet and cheering, and tweeting #StandWithRand all over the internet. I watched most of the filibuster and was impressed, not only by Rand Paul, but by the two outspoken allies on the Senate floor during his speech; two gentlemen I was only marginally familiar with.  One was Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, and the other was Texas Senator Ted Cruz.  The only thing I knew about Cruz at this point was that some of my friends from the Ron Paul campaign were very excited about him and had helped him win his longshot Senate race alongside Ron Paul, Rand Paul, The RLC, LPAC, and other organizations within the alphabet soup of American political culture.

Though at the time my attention was much more focused on Rand, I was impressed with Cruz’s loyalty and conviction, as well as his superb intellectual and linguistic command.  The “whacko bird” triumvirate kept passing the ball around until the filibuster came to an end, with the Obama administration finally conceding that it would indeed be unconstitutional for them to kill a noncombatant American on US soil.  Only later would I learn that that concession had already been extracted from none other than Attorney General Eric Holder himself, hours before the filibuster began – by Cruz.  I kept an eye on Ted in the weeks and months that followed, and my ears perked up when I heard his name come up later in 2013, as the storm clouds were gathering for the fight over Obamacare funding. When Cruz promised another filibuster in opposition to Obamacare, I popped the popcorn, brought a blanket to the couch, and settled in for a long night. Cruz’s epic 21-hour speech on the Senate floor resonated with me, as well as with virtually all of my still-awake liberty friends, who were busy lighting up cyberspace with the globally-trending hashtag #makeDClisten.  Most of us, at that point, were waiting to see a re-enactment of the earlier filibuster, and expected Rand to suit up and take the handoff from Cruz and Lee to force Reid, or at least the Republican leadership, back to the table.  But as the hours dragged on, it became apparent that Rand wasn’t going to be a significant presence in this fight.  It appeared that, having stood with Rand, Ted Cruz was now willing also to stand without him. By the time I finally clicked off the TV and dragged myself to bed, one thought lingered in my mind:  Wow. This Cruz guy is for real.

That thought was only reinforced over the next couple weeks, when details of the collusion between then-Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid started to emerge, and Cruz became a one-man wrecking ball in Washington. The government shutdown and the closure of the national monuments in DC by the Obama administration was the final straw for me, and I decided to get engaged in the fight.  On a weekend that I will never forget, a handful of brave Iowans – including a beautiful liberty activist who would later become my wife – accompanied me to Washington DC to take part in the Free DC Project, where we stormed the barricades of the Lincoln Memorial and experienced true liberty in a moment that I can only describe as life-changing.

From that time forward, the courage of Ted Cruz became increasingly evident as he faced off, time and time again, against the leadership of both parties on behalf of the American people. His record in the Senate grew more impressive, as he stood against Obama’s push to war in Syria, battled the IRS, pushed Audit the Fed forward, and carved out a name for himself as a defender of internet freedom by opposing Net Neutrality. Best of all, he showcased a responsiveness to the American people that became evident to me from the first time I saw him here in Iowa.

Often accused of being a hard-headed grandstander for his contentious style in the Senate, Cruz’s real-life persona simply could not be further from it.  During my time as an Iowa GOP official, we invited Ted to speak at our Reagan Dinner shortly after the shutdown. Having lived in Iowa my entire adult life, I was familiar with being around high-profile national politicians, and was familiar with the fanfare and press crush that followed them as well.  After the Dinner, I was tasked with making sure that Sen. Cruz could escape the crowd, and escorting him to a small antechamber in which the press awaited him. Both were much more difficult tasks than I imagined. Ted gave personal attention to each and every person who pressed forward to talk to him, making dignitaries and state officials wait until the grandmotherly lady before him had finished patting his hand and telling him how thankful she was for his stand in Washington. I kept reminding his staff that the press was now waiting for him, but Ted didn’t want to go.  I was looking at a man who thrived on the encouragement of the grassroots.  This is where he gathered the courage to stand against Reid, McConnell, and the rest.  Right here among a crowd of average, everyday Americans: hearing their stories, and sharing his own.  When the crowd thinned and we finally managed to extricate Sen. Cruz, we walked to the back of the main event hall and toward the media room.  As I led the way, I heard the Senator’s voice pipe up behind me. I turned to realize that we had lost him again.  As we tried to rush him along to where all the lights and cameras were waiting, he was stopping to personally thank the busboys, servers, and event staff who were busy cleaning the tables as the crowd headed outside. As I watched him shake their hands and thank them for their work, a bible verse from my youth shot through my mind, “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” This wasn’t what I had come to expect from suited national figures, and it earned a kind of respect from me that no policy initiative or fiery speech ever could.

As Cruz began to test the waters for a presidential run here in Iowa, I got to sit across from him in several informal roundtables – including one with my traditionally-skeptical libertarian posse.  Most candidates for the highest office in the land run a tight schedule, and if you’re lucky enough to get a few minutes with one, they do most of the talking. Ted came to listen, and said as much at the outset of the meeting. Even more surprising was the fact that, facing a skeptical crowd outside his core constituency, Cruz challenged us all to drop the “softball questions” and get to the point. What followed was two hours of honest and productive discourse on Iran, marijuana laws, the military-industrial complex, executive overreach, and the CFR.  There were areas of agreement and areas of disagreement, but all of us came away with a greater respect for the courage and realism of Ted Cruz. Agree or disagree, you knew where he stood – a quality reminiscent of the principled Dr. Ron Paul. Ron wasn’t interested in winning favor from party leadership, in bumping his poll numbers, or in mixing his message to appeal to all sides of an issue.  He understood, as Ted does, that both parties are to blame for the mess we find ourselves in, and that the biggest disconnect in American politics today is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between career politicians in both parties, and the American people.

As Kelsey and I weighed the candidates, this genuine fearlessness and conviction played a big part in our decision to support Ted Cruz for president.  Is he as ideologically libertarian as we are?  Maybe, maybe not. I am the sort of far-right fringe libertarian who has a moral problem with traditionally-accepted government functions like property taxes, building codes, and drug prohibition.  I’m offended by the very existence of the Federal Reserve, and I have no use for a foreign policy that excuses perpetual wartime spending on the backs of my children. As we looked at the candidates likely to emerge in the Republican field, only two seemed to have an understanding of the principles of liberty, and while neither has chosen to discuss those principles in the way that Ron Paul did, they have both used their strengths to advance the message, and that’s something I can respect.  But since their records are “very, very similar”, the main distinction has become one of style and priority – not of policy.

We believe that Ted Cruz can reunite the conservative and libertarian base of the GOP, and can reignite the passion of the Reagan revolution – the only real presidential victory that the Right has had in my lifetime. Ted’s willingness to break from the Washington power-brokers and take his appeals to We, the American People, has inspired a grassroots movement that we haven’t seen since, well, Ron Paul 2012. Those who want to see constitutional liberty have an honest hearing in the American public again, should be ecstatic about Cruz’s candidacy – whether they intend to support him or not.  What could brighten a weeknight more than watching Rand Paul and Ted Cruz take turns hammering Jeb Bush on the debate stage?

Sadly, not everyone within the Liberty Movement views the complimentary messages of Rand and Ted as a combined positive.  Since the announcement that Kelsey and I would be joining Cruz’s team in Iowa, the pressure from many of our libertarian friends has been intense. We’ve been called traitors, frauds, and of course, neocons. But others have come alongside us, and have expressed their thanks for stepping forward in support of Cruz – it has given them the courage to join as well, and more are adding their names every day. Together, Cruz libertarians are becoming the first few drops of what is sure to be a steady downpour of constitutionalists working together with evangelicals and tea party conservatives to make DC listen this election cycle.

Because that’s what this whole thing is about.  It’s not about personalities, it’s not about who looks good on camera or who the media deems most electable.  It’s not about identity politics or tribal warfare between clans of libertarian facebook snipers. It’s about spreading the message of liberty, lighting brushfires of freedom, and restoring a mindset of independence to Americans who have had their spirits broken by a corrupt and overbearing federal government. And liberty, as one great man often reminded us, brings people together.

Ted is the one candidate in the race who has shown himself willing to stand for the things we believe in, and who has refused to play the Washington political game in order to score points and win favor and donations. He is unquestionably the candidate who is most feared and hated by the Left, and the one who inspires genuine hope within the demoralized conservative base of the GOP – that overlooked constituency without which a Republican victory is impossible.

I’m not into hero worship, so I don’t mind saying that there are a couple points on which Ted and I disagree, and should we ever find ourselves stuck in the same TSA line at the airport, I would not hesitate to try to win him over on those points. But for my money, there is no one I trust more to forge a lasting alliance within the conservative base, to fearlessly and honestly champion the principles of liberty on the campaign trail, and to destroy the One Ring of executive power while executing his constitutional duties faithfully and shrinking the federal government back within the limits envisioned by the founders.  The Ron Paul revolution has gained a hearing from the American people, but for a revolution to succeed, the status quo must be challenged.  Cruz has been the disruptive app we need, and no one in American politics today has been willing to throw down against the status quo of both parties the way he has.

I’m a libertarian, and I’m supporting Ted Cruz for president, and here’s why:

I’m supporting him because I believe that the NSA has no business collecting my phone data.

I’m supporting him because I believe that America needs to return to a common-sense foreign policy in which we are trusted by our allies and feared by our enemies, and do not engage in senseless undeclared and unconstitutional wars and nation-building halfway around the world.

I’m supporting him because he championed and co-sponsored Audit the Fed, making it a central point in his plan for the new GOP Senate majority.

I’m supporting him because he opposes the Patriot Act and opposed the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA, and authored an amendment to it requiring a DoD audit of bases, to identify waste and prioritize base expenditures in an effort to “reduce our overseas footprint”.

I’m supporting him because I believe that the internet should be free and open, and out from under the jurisdiction of a corrupt and inefficient federal government.

I’m supporting him because I believe that my family’s health care choices should be between us and our doctor.

I’m supporting him because no one has fought harder to stop the debt ceiling hikes that continue to jeopardize our future.

I’m supporting him because I oppose the abuses of the TSA.

I’m supporting him because he’s the courageous conservatarian voice that we need, and his courage has the power to inspire a transformational change in American grassroots politics.

I’m supporting him because it’s time that libertarianism rose up and reclaimed its position within the three-legged stool of American conservatism.

I’m supporting him because it’s time for America to have a president who honors the constitution, and one humble enough to willingly limit his own authority and use his office to return the primacy of power to our representatives in Congress.

I’m a libertarian, and I’m supporting Ted Cruz for president. I hope you will join me, and add your name to the list of those willing to fight alongside Ted to make DC listen.  But most of all, I hope that you will continue to see this presidential cycle as a means to an end that we’re all fighting for – restoring individual liberty and reigniting the miracle of America.

Rand Returns to His Roots

Nobody thought that former US Representative Ron Paul would show up in Iowa this week to stump with his son, Kentucky Senator and likely 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul; but when Rand took the stage to deliver the keynote at an “Audit the Fed” rally hosted by Liberty Iowa, there was a whole lot of Ron in the room.

Ron Paul shirts, Ron Paul hats, and Ron Paul stickers adorned many of the roughly 120 people that gathered in Des Moines to hear the younger Paul speak. Even the speech itself sounded a lot more like the fiery Texas Congressman of yore than the polished, diplomatic tenor that Rand has worked to fine-tune over the course of his fairly recent emergence on the national stage.

While at times Sen. Paul has shied away from his libertarian heritage, he seemed to embrace it fully on Friday night – to the applause of an energetic crowd of Liberty activists from around Iowa. “Anybody here want to audit the fed?” Paul bellowed to the cheering audience as he took the stage. His opening line was a shot over the bow of the Federal Reserve, and an indicator that recent competition from the rest of the 2016 field may have pushed him back into consolidating the liberty vote, before expanding his appeal to other groups in the often-cliquish Iowa GOP.

Throughout his nearly 20-minute speech, he threw out plenty of libertarian red meat to his audience, hitting on executive overreach, prison sentencing reform, and foreign non-interventionism. After tearing into the lack of transparency and accountability demonstrated by the Federal Reserve, Paul discussed the more specific problem of backing currency with undisclosed federal “assets”, which according to him constitute taxpayer liabilities. “Once upon a time, your dollar was as good as gold. Then for many decades they said your dollar was backed by the full faith and credit of government. You know what it’s backed by now?” Paul quizzed. “Used car loans, bad home loans, distressed assets, and derivatives.”

Claiming that the practices of the Fed were also connected to the problem of income inequality, he took the opportunity to zing the Obama administration on the issue. “Yeah, I think there is (income inequality). It seems to be worse in cities run by Democrat mayors, states run by Democrat governors, and countries run by Democrat presidents,” Paul challenged, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.

He then pivoted to criminal justice reform, where he touted his willingness to work with the Obama administration and former Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder, shortly before his departure from the AG office, effectively barred civil forfeiture – a practice in which suspects could have assets seized by government agents without any formal charge or complaint filed against them. Paul praised the decision to end the practice, but took a shot at President Obama’s current nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, for openly supporting the continuation of civil forfeiture. “She confiscated 100 million dollars from people who were never charged, she’s ignored the reforms, she’s not filed the paperwork, she’s not trying to prove anybody guilty – she just takes their stuff,” Paul fumed. “That is turning justice on its head, and we should defeat her.”

Paul also delved into the separation of powers within the federal government, quoting Montesquieu and condemning the executive branch for assuming legislative powers through federal regulatory agencies that he claimed were never permitted by the Constitution. “Congress writes the laws, the President executes them,” said Paul. “But the President does not write law, and we need to stop him.”

He then proceeded directly to the holy grail of the Liberty Movement – and possibly its most distinguishing feature in a Republican Party that almost universally pays lip-service to limited government ideals: foreign non-interventionism. While calling for a robust debate about sending troops anywhere to defend vital American interests, Paul said that the decision to go to war belongs to Congress alone, and called it “the most important vote that any legislator will ever take.” Taking a swipe at the more hawkish national defense wing of the GOP, Paul pledged that whether as a Senator or a presidential candidate, he would continue to promote a return to a constitutional foreign policy. “There will be one loud voice in our party saying, ‘think of the unintended consequences…think about what we want to accomplish and whether it will work before we go to war,'” he promised.

His willingness to speak candidly on issues of great importance to the Liberty Movement was refreshing for some in the audience. James Schneider, of Cedar Falls, who showed up in a Ron Paul tee shirt, said he’s very concerned about the Federal Reserve. “The four-trillion-dollar debt that Rand just talked about tonight, I want to know who’s buying that up, and what that’s all about, and why we’re accepting this.” Schneider, who has a favorable view of Liberty Iowa, was impressed with Rand’s speech but is open to hearing from other potential 2016 candidates as well. “I’d be very interested in hearing Ted Cruz speak, if he were to come through and do something like this as well,” said Schneider. “I’d probably listen to Scott Walker as well, but Ted kind of stands out there a little more.”

Others in the audience are sure that they have found their man for 2016. Taylor Egly, a 2012 Ron Paul supporter and 2014 candidate for the Iowa House, acknowledged that his mind is made up. “I like Rand’s track record, I like the bridges he’s built; I think that’s very helpful to build those coalitions,” said Egly. “I’m pretty much on board with Rand 100% at this point.”

Paul’s natural appeal to the Liberty audience could prove to be a critical factor in what is sure to be a crowded 2016 field. In Iowa, the strident Liberty Movement seems willing to give him a look for the presidency, and at least for now, Rand Paul may find that the best way to grow his appeal, is to return to his roots.

Cruz to Liberty Movement: No Softballs

Nearly two weeks ago, just prior to his appearance at Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz carved out some time to meet with leading liberty activists from around Iowa. The low-key meeting, held in Des Moines, was many activists’ first time to meet the libertarian-leaning Tea Party firebrand. It was also Cruz’s first time fielding questions from a crowd comprised almost exclusively of members of the thriving Iowa Liberty Movement. Cruz opened with high praise for former Rep. Ron Paul’s rapidly-maturing political army. “The power, the energy of the Liberty Movement is inspirational,” said Cruz. “I think it is starting to change the almost inevitable currents of Washington.” He went on to discuss his appreciation for libertarian thinkers like Hayek, Bastiat, and von Mises, keying on areas of agreement with his audience.

Cruz, who recently challenged Republicans to “lighten up a little”, also threw in some of his characteristically disarming humor. Admitting himself to be a “geek” while discussing his high school pursuits, the 44-year-old Senator related an instance in which he recently dropped a Star Trek reference to his younger policy staff in Washington. As the story goes, the Senator sat at a desk, picked up a computer mouse inquisitively, and proceeded to speak into the mouse with his best Scottish brogue, “Computer! Computer!” as though expecting the computer to respond to his voice. When his staff greeted him with bewildered stares, Cruz had to explain that he had been imitating the Enterprise’s affable engineer, Scotty, in a comedic scene from Star Trek IV. “It made me feel both old, and really geeky,” Cruz confessed, spurring laughter throughout the room.

The questions started rolling, and Cruz fielded broad queries about executive overreach, shutting down government agencies, and changing the culture of Washington. But after the first couple questions, the Senator paused and threw down the gauntlet. “Let me make a brief request, which is just in general: no softballs,” he challenged, “Ask the hard questions. I suspect not everyone here is right now inclined to support me, so ask the hardest questions you have and let’s have a conversation.” Emphasizing the importance of forthrightness, he added a promise on his end. “I’m not gonna blow smoke at you. Where there are areas we agree I’ll tell you, where there (are areas) where we disagree I’ll tell you… And I hope you will come to conclude that where we are on the same page you can trust me to say it.”

Though several faces in the room full of notoriously-combative libertarians registered surprise, they certainly took up the challenge.

The next hour saw a blitz of questions about a wide range of issues, from Cruz’s own eligibility for the Presidency (a challenge Cruz insisted had no legal or constitutional merit), to states’ rights and marijuana legalization, to the Patriot Act and the NSA’s domestic spying scandal. There was even a question regarding Cruz’s rumored relationship to the Council on Foreign Relations – a group generally despised by the Liberty Movement.

Though the Senator managed to navigate two hours of pointed questions without much disagreement, several activists did take issue with what they saw as an ambiguous answer regarding his criticism of the Obama administration for failing to enforce federal drug laws, as well as his assertion that the greatest threat to US national security was a nuclear Iran. “Greater than the national debt?” Quizzed one activist. “Yes,” Cruz responded, “And I am very concerned about the national debt, but the national debt is not going to drop nuclear weapons on us.”

Throughout his responses, Cruz maintained a theme of action over talk. “All of us are cynical on politics and distrust politicians. And you know what? I agree with you – Do not trust any one of us,” said Cruz. “Every one of us should ask any politician, ‘you say you believe these principles? Show me. When have you stood up and fought for them?’ Don’t even ask people what they believe – they can pander. Just ask a real simple question: ‘what have you done on this issue?'”

Inevitably, the conversation turned to 2016 and the prospects of the dueling candidacies of Cruz and fellow “Whacko Bird” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Likening the Republican Primary to the NCAA basketball tournament, Cruz admitted that Rand was strong in the libertarian “bracket”, but made it clear that should he run, he would fight for the liberty vote as well. “I intend to vigorously contest (for support from the Liberty Movement), and I think it’s entirely consistent to fight for liberty… and to fight for conservative principles as well,” said Cruz. He also noted that he was the only candidate in the country in 2012 to be endorsed by both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum in his Texas Senate race. “Now, those are two worlds that are not normally arm-in-arm,” Cruz explained in an understatement that drew laughter from the room.

He highlighted his support for the USA Freedom Act, legislation that Paul did not support alongside Cruz and Mike Lee (the third Senator in the Tea Party Triumvirate). Paul was the deciding vote against the bill, which Cruz described as the single best opportunity to protect civil liberties. “Had Rand voted yes,” he added, “we could have taken it up.”

He also managed to indirectly implicate Rand for failing to stand with him and Lee against moderate party leadership and then-minority leader Mitch McConnell during the debt ceiling fight – reminding the room of a relationship that has consistently engendered distrust for Rand within the Liberty Movement.

Sen. Cruz also took time to tout his co-sponsorship of the Smarter Sentencing Act and Audit the Fed – two touchstone issues within the libertarian wing of the GOP. He also tapped into the non-interventionist tendencies of the Liberty Movement during a discussion of foreign policy, holding up an amendment that he successfully added to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act which required the Defense Department to conduct a review of overseas bases in an attempt to “reduce our overseas footprint”.

Cruz concluded by painting himself as the most consistently principled candidate in a soon-to-be-crowded Republican primary, and challenging his hearers to look beyond rhetoric and judge the records of those who would ask for their support. “Y’all are looking for people who are willing to stand up to the Washington corruption, who are looking to stand up to both parties, what I would suggest is look to the field and ask ‘who’s actually doing that?’ Look at the dozen biggest fights of the last two years…and ask ‘who has stood up to fight on those, and who has been willing to stand up against the establishment of both parties?'”

After the meeting ended, Cruz – already running late for his next engagement – stuck around to shake hands and take pictures with the activists, even fielding a few pop-quiz-style yes or no questions as his staff worked to get him to the car.

While noncommittal in terms of support, several of the activists in the room said that they were impressed with Cruz – particularly with his willingness to meet and address issues relating to the Liberty Movement in a candid Q and A format.

Attendee Gabe Lanz of Des Moines said he came away with a better feeling toward Cruz overall. “He was frank, didn’t run from the tough or uncomfortable questions, and gave further insight to his past that displays a record of championing and fighting to preserve conservative principles,” said Lanz.

Dr. John Bowery, Page County GOP chair and longtime Republican activist, says that Cruz carried himself well and answered questions frankly, and will be keeping an eye on Cruz’s impending candidacy. “A candidate doesn’t have to agree with me on every point to win my support, but he does need to show that he can learn and listen as well as communicate. I am looking forward to see if Senator Cruz passes that test.”

Others look forward to hearing Cruz elaborate further on issues of concern – most notably states’ rights and US-Iranian foreign policy. But one thing is certain – Cruz is serious about coming after the liberty vote, and some members of the Liberty Movement are willing to hear him out.

CRUZ ON THE ISSUES

On executive overreach: “One of the most troubling aspects of Washington is the explosion of the federal regulatory state. It’s a fourth branch of government with unelected bureaucrats that frankly are accountable to no one, and they view elected officials  like a mild annoyance that will come and go… One of the things we have never seen a president do, is use the full, Article II authority of the presidency to go directly after the regulatory and administrative state, to start dismantling this regulatory morass.”
On shrinking government: Would shut down the Department of Commerce and the Department of Education, as well as the IRS.  Wants to implement a flat tax so simple that Americans can file their taxes on a postcard, which would lay the groundwork for a transition to a Fair Tax system.

On how to change the culture of Washington: “At its core, what I have been trying to do in the Senate is bring a ‘disruptive app’ to Washington to change the means of decision-making, and to move the power out of Washington, to the American people – to the grassroots,” said Cruz. “What we have to do is to make it politically more risky to do the wrong thing, than it is to do the right thing – change the calculus. And that’s a lesson the Liberty Movement understands.”

On the Patriot Act and domestic spying: “I would not vote for a straight-up reauthorization of the Patriot Act.” Supported USA Freedom Act that would have ended bulk data collection by the US government.

 

 

On the military-industrial complex: “You want to talk about people with effective lobbies, that’s right at the top of the list. A weapons system will be built in ten different states because it is members of Congress trying to bring home the bacon.  When it comes to defense spending, I think the focus should be on ‘what are the national security needs of the country?’ not, ‘What brings jobs to my particular district?’

 

On gun rights: Referenced his now-famous exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the 2nd Amendment. Opposes any effort to scale back 2nd Amendment rights.

On foreign policy and ISIS: “I am a constitutionalist. I have been very outspoken that before military conflict, Congress needs to authorize it,” said Cruz. “We need to have a congressional debate about authorization.  What the President is doing is illegal and unconstitutional.”

 

On pain-capable right to life legislation: “I strongly support pain-capable legislation. As a matter of principle, we should not have exceptions.  But I will also take incremental gains.”

 

 

On state drug laws and his prior criticism of the Obama Administration for failing to enforce marijuana laws in states that have legalized pot: “What I was focusing on with respect to marijuana prosecution was not the Colorado and Washington state piece, but rather, Eric Holder has unilaterally instructed US attorneys not to prosecute for certain smaller amounts of marijuana possession,” said Cruz. “With respect to states that have affirmatively legalized pot, my view is a federalist view, which is (that) we should defer to the states on that.”

Cruz Courts Liberty Movement in Iowa

Tea Party champion and conservative firebrand Ted Cruz may be ready to embrace his libertarian side – and he may need to, if he hopes to find a path from Iowa to the White House.

As it turns out, the death of the Liberty Movement in Iowa may have been greatly exaggerated. While an establishment resurgence in 2014 spearheaded by Governor Terry Branstad succeeded in purging the Ron Paul element from the leadership of the Republican Party of Iowa, members of the state’s robust and often-boisterous Liberty Movement are turning their attention to greater things – namely, the 2016 presidential cycle.

Still reveling in the unexpected victory of libertarian-leaning Congressman Rod Blum in what had been a heavily Democratic eastern Iowa district, the Liberty contingent is starting to have conversations about how much effort and energy should be poured into a presidential race that – for the first time in a decade – will not feature Rep. Ron Paul.

Paul, who retired from Congress in 2013 but continues to make his presence on the political landscape felt through his new network, will presumably pass his organizational structure and much of his rabid base of support on to his son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky; but many folks in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa think it may be a tougher handoff than many would surmise.

Heather Stancil, Co-Chair of the Madison County GOP and a Ron Paul supporter in 2012, still has some reservations about a Rand Paul candidacy. “Rand seems too comfortable with those who compromise their principles,” said Stancil, echoing widespread concern over the younger Paul’s endorsement of politicians that some see as hostile to the conservative base. Kara Hadley, a central Iowa activist who identifies closely with the liberty wing of the party, is also concerned with some of Paul’s associations. “Rand supported Mitch McConnell, and I think that’s crazy,” said Hadley. “I think that Rand’s trying to play the game, and I know that a lot of people are just tired of the game.” She also feels that Rand is not working to lock down support from the conservatarian coalition that his father helped spawn within the Republican Party, but is “taking his father’s legacy for granted.”

With the apparent reluctance of many libertarian voters to “stand with Rand”, one would think that other 2016 hopefuls would be quick to court members of the Liberty Movement, 25,000 of whom helped propel Ron Paul to a close third-place finish in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. But that, too, may be a tall order for many candidates.

For as much as figures like Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, and others have helped mainstream the Ron Paul revolution, there remains some simmering resentment between the frequently-warring factions of the Iowa GOP – much of which is still directed at young libertarians who turned the party structure upside-down in 2012. Potential 2016 contenders will have to weigh the benefit of wooing liberty voters, against the cost of an association that many prominent Iowa Republicans – including Governor Branstad and Rep. Steve King – find troublesome.

Compounding this risk is the fact that Ron Paul Republicans nationwide have earned a reputation as hard-line, skeptical, and often combative – though also intensely loyal to those they see as representing their ideals. Iowa Sen. Jason Schultz, a 2012 Ron Paul backer, acknowledges that, though it’s still too early for people to take sides, the Liberty Movement is paying attention to the rapidly-expanding 2016 field. “Liberty folks are better informed, better engaged, and more mature political activists, in my experience, and I think they’re watching”, said Schultz.

In other words, it’s a hard crowd to sell.

If recent actions are any indicator, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – a Tea Party conservative with libertarian leanings – is out to prove that he’s up to the challenge. Cruz, whose Senate candidacy was endorsed by Ron Paul, has been working to make inroads with the largely-overlooked Liberty constituency in Iowa.

Last August, Cruz sat down with a handful of influential conservatarian activists in Ames to test the presidential waters. He fielded a wide variety of policy and strategy questions, but broke stride during a response on government spending to praise Paul and his followers, while taking a swipe at the suppression of Ron Paul delegates at the Republican National Convention in 2012. “Ron Paul is someone I admire and respect, I think he was a powerful voice for liberty – still is. And I think he energized an army of activists across this country,” said Cruz. “One of the stupidest things Republicans did in 2012, was try to kick the Ron Paul people in the teeth. It doesn’t make any sense if you want people to be energized and engaged, to go after them and treat them as the enemy.”

Cruz has also taken the time to campaign with liberty candidates in Iowa, and his Jobs, Growth, and Freedom Fund recently made a major contribution to conservatarian state PAC Liberty Iowa – tied, in fact, for the Fund’s largest contribution to any person or group nationwide. Cruz has also reached out to liberty leaders in the state to set up meetings later this month when he travels to Des Moines for the Iowa Freedom Summit.

These recent moves, along with his dedication to hard-right policies in Washington, have already started to catch the eye of some of Iowa’s liberty activists. Schultz, who calls Cruz a “rising star” in the party, started paying attention to the Texas Senator during Cruz’s controversial not-quite-a-filibuster in 2013. He was impressed with what he saw. “It gave hope and energy to the base, that somebody was speaking for them,” says Schultz of the 21-hour floor speech. Other liberty activists registered a connection with Cruz based upon his opposition to Obamacare, Common Core, and Net Neutrality legislation. They are also supportive of his habitual opposition to increasing the size and scope of government, campaigns for which Team Cruz often utilizes trendy hashtag #makeDClisten.

Adil Khan, Executive Director of Liberty Iowa, thinks that Cruz’s role in the government shutdown may actually help him woo liberty activists, whose penchant for controversy and fierce opposition to government growth are becoming fashionable among millennial conservatives. He believes there could be interest in a Cruz candidacy within the Liberty Movement, while acknowledging the fact that Cruz will not start out with the immediate advantages of his Senate counterpart, Rand Paul. “Cruz has an uphill battle because he doesn’t inherit Ron Paul’s base automatically, he has to fight for each and every member,” said Khan. “But I think there are a lot of principled stances he’s taken…that a lot of people admire. That’s what they used to see in Ron – taking those principled, hard stances and not just backing the establishment every time.”

Others are more impressed with Cruz’s personal qualities. Hadley recalls, “I’ve seen the little things that he’s done, where he’s spoken and then gone around and thanked the staff that waited on the tables, people like him just don’t go and do that. That’s a huge quality.”

Not everyone, though, is sold on the Texas firebrand’s style. Former GOP State Central Committee member Tony Krebsbach, who manned the Rand Paul table at last year’s Family Leadership Summit in Ames, thinks that Cruz might struggle to appeal to some libertarians because of his tendency to cater more to mainline conservatives with his rhetoric. With regard to policy, he sees Rand as being the last stop for the traditionally-purist Liberty Movement. “The reasons that a lot of Ron Paul people don’t support Rand, would be the same reasons I think they would have a hard time supporting Ted Cruz,” said Krebsbach. While acknowledging that Cruz would be his top candidate if Paul were not likely to run, Krebsbach finds Cruz’s style to be overly-abrasive, and questions whether such a style can appeal to Democrats and Independents who might otherwise be open to libertarian principles and policies.

Others have similar concerns, worrying that the government shutdown, while inspiring the conservative base, might not have been effective at expanding that base by enticing independent voters into the GOP – something they see as a very positive component of Rand Paul’s electoral strategy. Some activists are also concerned that Cruz’s junior status – he is still serving his first term in the Senate – could dampen his appeal to some liberty voters who prefer a longer track record with which to vet candidates.

But one thing is for sure, those searching for distinctions between the two conservatarian champions will have the opportunity to find out more, as Cruz and Paul are certain to be a frequent presence in Iowa between now and the time each decides on a presidential run. Those in Ron Paul’s Liberty Movement will, for the first time, face a choice with regard to the White House – and they plan to do their homework on Cruz.

“It will be interesting to find out what happens when Cruz comes to Iowa and some of the hard questions start coming out like, ‘how involved will government get in marriage?’ and ‘how many bases are we going to withdraw from overseas?’ Those are questions that contrast Rand from a lot of candidates, so to find out where Cruz will come out on these, I think that’s going to come out in 2016,” concludes Khan. “It will be interesting to hear the difference in rhetoric, but in the end, when it comes to principle, when it comes down to the core votes, I don’t think there’s that much difference between the two.”

America Isn’t Strong Enough For Torture

Torture. Just hearing that word is enough to give one pause. It’s a bit of a superlative for pain – a word reserved for those times when “hurt”, “suffering,” and “agony” just don’t cover it. The word carries with it images of gory slasher films and whispered stories from Soviet gulags. It’s a vestige of darker times, undeserving of any place in the greatest nation in the history of the world. It’s something that is at least as universally-condemned as child molestation and cold-blooded murder.

Or was, until a few weeks ago.

With the release of classified CIA documents detailing “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by American operatives in the so-called War on Terror, a new debate has been sparked. As with every other issue that hits the headlines these days, most folks formed an opinion within milliseconds and took to social media to express it faster than you can say “Guantanamo”.

As I read the reports and articles swirling around the netscape, I was tempted to do the same. After all, it was becoming clear where the lines were forming – on one side there were traditional national-defense conservatives, and on the other side was a coalition of bleeding-heart liberals, civil libertarians, and… Ted Cruz?

In response to a related question during an appearance at the Heritage Foundation, Sen. Cruz staked out an unambiguous moral stance against torture, and so doing, may have surprisingly set himself in opposition to many within the oft-referenced moral majority of the GOP. Cruz, in fact, was essentially the only potential 2016 heavyweight to make much noise on the issue at all.

But is the moral acceptability of torturing defenseless captives something that we can afford to be silent about? If this doesn’t qualify as a defining issue for the nation founded to be the Shining City on a Hill, what does?

National defense conservatives will be quick to note that many definitions of “torture” would not include some of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed against CIA-held prisoners. They will insist that water boarding, cold detention cells, and forced rectal feeding are not worthy of comparison to the fingernail-pulling, flesh-burning, bone-breaking horrors experienced by prisoners of war and political detainees in other countries at different times between the Spanish Inquisition and the Vietnam War. And they might be right, depending on one’s own definitions. That’s a worthwhile objection, or at least an argument worth having.

But that’s not the first argument on the table.

The question at the forefront of the American moral conversation is this: if we agree that a given act is torture, is it ever morally permissible?

To say that such discussions are even going on around dining room tables and facebook threads here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is an embarrassment to our Founding Fathers, who faced existential threats just as we do, but still managed to maintain their honor. George Washington, who would have faced a traitor’s death if captured by the British during the Revolutionary War, still admonished his troops to treat captives with decency, and considered abuse of prisoners a national disgrace. In a charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force in September of 1775, he wrote,

Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.”

Washington was no fool. Having commanded troops in the brutal French and Indian War, he knew that torturing enemies could yield valuable strategic information that could save American lives. But he believed that the moral cost of such an action outweighed any potential benefit derived. Washington’s objection wasn’t based on some misguided chivalry, but on his absolute belief in the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God, which provide for violence in self-defense, but never for abuse of the helpless.

Since that time, America has been a beacon of hope, where justice and tolerance reigned supreme, and where persecuted immigrants could find respite from the abuse they had suffered at the hands of tormentors in darker parts of the world.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to hear from a former German POW from WWII – we’ll call him Eric – who had emigrated to the United States after the war. Now a kindly, grey-headed gentlemen in his sunset years, Eric recounted the story of his capture by American forces in North Africa during Operation Torch in 1942. He said that when he was brought to the American internment camp, he was absolutely terrified. Prior to his capture, his superior officers had warned him of the brutality of the Americans: he would do well, they insisted, to take his own life if cornered – it would be a much better fate than the torture he would surely suffer if taken alive.

Eric was led to a small cell with a clean bed, and then locked in for the night. He didn’t sleep, instead sitting awake wondering what torments awaited him at the hands of his captors. The next morning the door opened and a plate of food dropped in. Not rotten, maggot-ridden scraps, but a satisfying meal, complete with a piece of real chocolate. He didn’t take the food, convinced it was poison. The next day the process was repeated, and again the terrified prisoner refused to take any comfort, believing that his captors were just trying to “soften him up” before the torture began. It never came. After two weeks of fresh food and clean sheets and no abuse, Eric finally came to the realization that “Those sons of (expletive deleted) lied to me.” His Wehrmacht officers had lied to their soldiers about the brutality of the Americans to stave off any thoughts of surrender and encourage them to fight to the last man. It was then he realized that there was something different about America, something great. After the war he returned to Germany, found his family, and came to the United States to start a new life.

While there were certainly examples of prisoner abuse by the Western Allies as well, military directives against such behavior ensured that they were the exception, not the rule. Soldiers who engaged in torture could face court-martial if their actions were discovered. We considered ourselves the moral standard-bearers in the war, and to this day still publicize stories of the mistreatment of our soldiers – including Olympic athlete and war hero Louis Zamperini, subject of the best-selling book and recently-released major motion picture Unbroken – in order to distinguish ourselves from our enemies. Things like this separated us from them. We’re Americans, we don’t torture people.

The Greatest Generation, who endured every hardship the world could throw at them, knew that America’s strength lay in our goodness, and they dare not sacrifice that moral high ground for flimsy and unreliable bits of information. While we fought from the side of right, neither German Nazism, nor Japanese Imperialism, nor Soviet Communism could destroy us.

But America is not strong enough for torture. We can face any hardship with defiance, but we cannot face ourselves in the mirror if we become a people so desperate as to torture a pleading, unarmed captive.

We can defeat any nation that threatens our security, but we cannot defeat a national disposition so devoid of conscience that it would allow for deliberate and brutal abuse of prisoners.

We can endure any calamity, but we cannot long endure a society that calls for tormenting the helpless in the name of security.

For the cost of that security would not be measured in freedom, nor in lives, but in the very soul of the nation – without which both life and freedom perish as well.

As both a Christian and an American, I can say that if I and those I care about are incinerated by a bomb tomorrow because I refused to rip the fingernails off of a captive enemy, then so be it. I stand ready to pay that price, in order to spend what life I have left on this earth with a clear conscience. There must be lines that we are never willing to cross, believing that our actions will be judged by history and the God who writes it.

Sometimes doing the right thing will win us success, respect, and allies. But sometimes setting those boundaries will cost us. Sometimes the night will deepen and we will wish that we could act like our enemies as they close in around our Shining City on a Hill.

It is the risk that all men take, when called upon to overcome evil with good.

 

The Problem with Amnesty, isn’t Amnesty

A couple weeks ago, President Obama announced that he would disregard the Constitutional process and grant executive amnesty to over five million illegal immigrants living in the states, surprising exactly no one. Equally predictable was the conservative uproar, and the ensuing accusations of racism from the Left.

Much of the conservative reaction rightly centered on President Obama’s executive end-around on Congress, but the back and forth of “you’re buying votes with American jobs!” and “you’re a racist!” are again saturating politics the way Kirk Cameron saturates Christian filmmaking.

Unfortunately, the bottom line of the immigration problem is often lost behind soundbytes and hyperbole. While I can certainly sympathize with the frustration over the President’s refusal to secure the border and his blatant breach of the separation of powers, I have to say that we as conservatives may be focusing on the wrong piece of the puzzle when we talk about the dreadful woes of the unwashed hordes of immigrants bringing drugs, disease, and Democrat votes to our country. Worse yet, it plays into the Left’s racist caricature of conservatism. When we harp on the problem of illegal immigration in terms that single out those streaming across our southern border, most Americans are able to think of the nice Mexican family down the street and immediately judge that we just hate Hispanics. And once they’ve applied the “racist” tag to us, there’s no getting that stink off. In fact, the more we protest, the more the accusation sticks in their minds.

There’s a single realization that needs to sink in with conservatives for us to begin to change the national dialogue on the topic:

The problem with amnesty, is not amnesty.

You heard me right. The fact that millions of immigrants are pouring across our southern border does not have to equal disaster for either the Republican Party or the nation as a whole. Typically, conservatives are good at winning the “everyone deserves a slice” vs “grow the pie” debate, but for some reason we’ve forsaken that argument in discussing immigration. There’s nothing wrong with calling out President Obama’s lawlessness and pointing to the problems at the border, but those arguments amount to prevent defense: it allows the other side to keep burning us with short passes like “why do you want to separate families?” and leaves us trying to deny liberal premises rather than offering a vision of real immigration reform – which is absolutely necessary in our country.

Too often we flippantly dismiss the immigration problem as though there are not real-life, heart-and-soul people affected by our backward and convoluted immigration system. Since I became involved in politics (as peripherally as it may be) the top request I’ve fielded from people in my circle of friends and family, sounds like this: “My (insert relation here) is facing deportation despite being a good person and following the law, do you know someone in government who can help?” I should also mention that in each case, this request has come from conservative Christians, not liberal Democrats.

Looking back at American history, immigration really isn’t even a close to what it used to be, and legal status used to be much easier to attain. During the height of American immigration between 1900 and 1910, almost 10 million foreign nationals poured into the US, and that’s when our total population as a nation was only about a quarter of what it is now. But somehow the influx of immigrants never ruined the economy or resulted in job shortages. Conversely, that population, amounting to nearly 10% of our total population by the year 1910, helped turn America into the economic and industrial superpower that it is today.

What happened? Why is large-scale immigration (whether legal or illegal – paperwork has little to do with economic value) such a threat to American life and business now?

In short, the New Deal happened. In the 1930s, FDR sparked life into the economic Frankenstein twins of social entitlements and the minimum wage. These two pillars of socialism were sold to an American people reeling from the Great Depression as a compassionate form of government assistance to the needy. But one of the nasty side effects of the entitlement state was that it fundamentally changed the relationship of the immigrant to the rest of the citizenry. Due to the fact that most immigrants relocate due to some form of distress in their home country, few have many assets to start off with, and many struggle to build a new life. Prior to public assistance programs, this prompted them to form tight-knit communities with their fellow-immigrants, or to work with churches and private charities here in the states. Most of all, it forced them to take work anywhere they could get it.

But since the advent of the welfare state, immigrants are increasingly viewed as a threat, due to the fact that many have learned to work the entitlement system to their advantage.

In the absence of entitlements and a government-mandated minimum wage, the private sector moves to absorb this new labor force, which then helps reduce the cost of production, thereby lowering prices for everyone. If we would remove the incentive to stay at home and collect a check while not producing any economic movement, immigrants – whether legal or illegal – would find a much warmer welcome waiting for them. But our current wage and entitlement policies hurt both the immigrants themselves and the American businesses waiting to hire them, and, as Milton Friedman so astutely pointed out, the minimum wage also subsidizes discrimination for those who are legitimately disposed toward it.

Take Joe Immigrant, who comes across the pond with nothing but the shirt on his back. Joe has few relationships, few skills, little education, and barely speaks English (despite his remarkably normal, English-sounding name). Joe sets about looking for work and runs into Mary Business-Owner, who happens to need someone to clean her store, but has little money to spare. In a free market, Mary has two options: continue cleaning the store herself, which cuts into her time and takes her away from more important duties, or offer to hire Joe at an agreed-upon wage. Any wage. Even $4/hr. From her perspective, that’s what a store-cleaner is worth – if she had to pay more, she may as well do it herself. From Joe’s perspective, $4/hr is far better than $0/hr, and he’s excited to take the chance to sustain himself while he learns skills, establishes relationships, and begins acclimating to his new home.

However, in the government-manipulated market we have today, Mary has no choice. She can’t afford to pay the required $7.25/hr, and therefore must tell him to keep moving as she continues cleaning the store herself. Worse yet, if Joe had to compete against Johnny Local applying for the same job, the minimum wage ensures that Joe has no chance of landing it. If he was able to offer his services at a lower rate than his competitor, Joe would force Mary to choose between her predisposition toward local, English-speaking workers, and her business’s bottom line. But if the law forces Mary to pay either worker the same rate, she will hire the worker whose attributes are more immediately valuable to her, 10 times out of 10. Poor Joe never stands a chance.

Which leaves him with only one option to sustain himself: welfare.

Now both Mary and Johnny find that they dislike and have become suspicious of Joe Immigrant. After all, they heard that he was living on handouts. They spend most of their time talking to each other in the store about how wrong it is that Joe gets to sit at home all day long and draw a paycheck, while they break their backs at work so that they can pay Joe’s bills.

Joe, tired of being treated like a slob and a thief, forms an immigrant-rights group and starts calling Mary and Johnny racists.

Sound familiar?

The immigration debate provides a unique opportunity for conservatives to challenge the liberal sacred cow of economic inequality, while at the same time pivoting away from the pointless and stupid discussion of whether or not conservatives are all racists. This is a discussion that deserves more time and attention than “turn off the magnet” quotables – it’s the root cause of the burgeoning racial and economic tension that the American Left continues to feed. As long as John Boehner and Co. have to deflect accusations of racism and bigotry, they’re never going to take up the mantle of the Gingrich-led ’94 Republicans and go on the attack against the welfare state that is unraveling the nation one impoverished household at a time.

It’s up to GOP leadership in the House and Senate to push the policies that conservatives want to see moved forward, but it’s up to us to frame the debate in such a way that Team Red can actually do more than hunker down behind denials and apologies.

The immigration issue is a more important issue than either the Left or the Right supposes, and far too important to become just another part of the old, tired, and rhetorically-abused debate over race relations. Not only is immigration integral to our history as a nation, it’s also integral to the growth of our nation – now more than ever.

America is still a cultural melting pot that offers opportunity to every hopeful who sets foot on our shores. Over Thanksgiving, I was blessed to spend time with some of my older relatives and hear the story of my great-grandfather, who fled Lithuania to escape the advance of Soviet troops in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. His decision to come to America is the reason I can sit behind this computer and exercise my first amendment rights all over the blogosphere. My fathers didn’t come here for free health care, free education, free food or free housing. They came for freedom. Let’s make sure future generations of immigrants to our country can say the same.

We are, after all, a nation of immigrants.

Dear Oatmeal, Net Neutrality Just Isn’t Fair

Dear Oatmeal,

As I was scrolling through my social media news feed yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice a letter you wrote to Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Your letter, in response to Mr. Cruz referring to Net Neutrality as “Obamacare for the Internet”, portended to explain to the Senator just how Net Neutrality works.

I am not Ted Cruz, but I do happen to write for a couple of reputable online publications and put a considerable amount of thought into current events and policy issues. As I read your letter, two concerns formed in my mind:

1) I’m not sure you’ve really thought through the ramifications of the Net Neutrality standards that you’re attempting to justify.

2) I’m also not sure you have even a cursory understanding of some really important concepts surrounding the whole debate – free association, free enterprise, and heck, even freedom itself.

So in the spirit of cooperation and mutual understanding (and because I consider myself a good sport), I’d like to help you out with an explanation of these concepts.

Imagine that you good folks at The Oatmeal decide to start a web hosting service. So you take out a loan, buy a bunch of server space, hire some tech geeks and graphic design hipsters, and launch your web service. Now imagine that the KKK applies for access to your web service. Or a group called “People for Torturing Puppies.” Or a competing business who plans to put up a page called “OatmealSucks.com”

Of course, since you’re providing a service at cost to yourself, you have the right to
turn down any or all of these people, for any of the above reasons – or pretty
much any other reason in the world.

Now imagine that those groups got upset at being turned down, and sued OatmealWebHosting.com for discrimination – claiming that it wasn’t
fair of you to allow others to use your services, while denying them. After all, we all have a right to internet service, just like the air we breathe.

Only, really expensive air. With wires. And towers. And routers. And devices. And maintenance. And security. And tech support call centers in other countries.

That lawsuit would be fundamentally unjust. You started the service, you created the terms of service, you’re providing the service, and you have the right to decide who you do and do not wish to conduct business with. 

That important right is called free association. And that’s the concept that the internet was founded upon – not some hippy mumbo jumbo about having a “right” to products and services provided by someone else.

Because despite the fact that it looks little like it did when a bunch of dudes with muskets fought off guys who for some reason wore bright red targets to battle almost 250 years ago, this is still America. And part of what makes America, America, is the fact that we can decide what we want to buy and sell, and from whom we want to buy and sell, for whatever reason we want.

People can decide to buy burgers from Wendy’s because they like redheads. Best Buy can decide to stop selling Apple products because they’re tired of attracting the condescending hipster crowd. Wal-Mart can move all their factories to the US and double their prices on everything so that they can raise their starting wage to $15/hr.

image004Paranoid rednecks can decide to buy large, scary assault rifles to hunt, or they can buy
them just to carry into Chipotle and piss people off.

And then Chipotle can choose to reject their future business.

These transactions, and others like them, are generally referred to as free-market transactions, because nobody tells people who to do business with or how to conduct it.

Wendy’s decides what products it carries, based on what they think people will buy. Wal-Mart decides how much it will pay for employees based on how productive they think those employees will be. Chipotle decides whether it would rather sell to suburban soccer moms or redneck Rambos, based on what they want their business model to attract.

And here’s the important part to remember about the free market: All
businesses in a free market, whether Wal-Mart, Comcast, Mediacom, or Chipotle,
owe you exactly JACK. image006

These businesses were not started to make your life easier, or to give poor people jobs, or because their founders thought it was just cool to build and sell things in their free time. They were started for one reason and one reason only, despite what cute stories show up on the TV ads or the back of the cereal box: to make a profit.

And profit, despite Michael Moore’s sanctimonious condemnation, is not a dirty word. Profit is the lifeblood of companies – both of awesome companies like Tesla Motors (which is also currently trying to fight back the government’s “fairness” regulations), and really, terribly, God-awful businesses like, say, the Oakland Raiders. Without profit, pretty much all the goods and services you enjoy on a day-to-day basis go buh-bye.

See there’s a real logical problem in your equating of “fairness” to “freedom”. They’re not the
same thing. Let me illustrate. Let’s imagine that you’re in a college Sociology class. You love the class, you get along with the teacher, and you study hard every day of the week (except Saturday, which you mostly spend hungover and exhausted, eating leftover pizza and playing Minecraft because resolution is irrelevant when the room is shaking). The midterm
approaches and you notice that you’re the only one studying for the test. So you take the test, and you ace it – even nail the extra credit essay question on Marx – but the rest of the class fails miserably. The next week when the scores are released, you find out that everyone in the class got a B on the test. Everyone.

See the problem? Everybody there had the freedom to apply themselves and study, but only some made use of that opportunity. So by failing to discriminate, the teacher is actually being unfair. You worked hard and prepared, you deserved an A. Similarly, some internet content agencies are easy to get along with, and require little from broadband providers. And some are difficult, and require a lot more. Reclassification under expanded Net Neutrality rules is actually completely unfair to those providing the services, but totally popular with the consumers waiting for what they think will be a free ride to high speed awesomeness.


But here’s how it will end up working:

Fair doesn’t mean everyone getting the same thing. Fair means everyone getting what they deserve.

That’s why fairness isn’t the same as freedom. We’re all free to pursue happiness, but only those who pursue it, attain it. You don’t enter into a legally-binding contract with a provider, and then insist that they change their end of the bargain to suit you. That’s not how freedom works.

image010

Nobody forced you to buy from Comcast, just like nobody forces you to buy burgers from Wendy’s or burritos from Chipotle. But you (and Netflix, incidentally) bought from them because you shopped around, liked their offers, agreed to their terms and contracted for their services. And now that those services aren’t up to your expectations, rather than finding a service that fits your needs, you’d rather sic government on them to force them to provide what you want (which is determined by your situation and preferences), rather than what you paid for (which is determined by those itty-bitty words in the contract you signed when you accepted service from your ISP).

“But,” you might say, “There are only a handful of broadband providers in the country – there aren’t any options that I like!” Now you’ve touched on the REAL problem – a problem that Net Neutrality cannot fix, but the free market can: a lack of competition. And that’s a problem to lay squarely at the feet of the government you’re so anxious to hand the reins over to. See it’s really hard to start a new ISP, and the reason is that the providers have worked hard to make sure that government regulates any potential competition to death.

But don’t worry.

I’m sure that Net Neutrality legislation won’t be influenced in any way by these companies that it is about to deputize as functional internet utilities… Just like Obamacare wasn’t influenced in any way by the big insurance companies whose products are
now mandatory despite much higher premiums
.

And I’m also sure that the FCC (which will be the sole enforcement mechanism for any Net Neutrality standards introduced) doesn’t have anything in common with the other federal agencies who so frequently and unapologetically trample on the Bill of Rights. In fact, I’ll bet none of them are anything like the people who recently got caught spying on millions of innocent
Americans by striking lucrative deals
 with cell phone providers. Nah, that could never happen.

I’m also sure that expanding government regulation of the internet couldn’t eventually result in either an internet tax (thanks for the heads-up on that, Sen. Cruz) or outright censorship. After all, corporate/government partnerships like those proposed under the reclassification always work out well – just ask Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the U.S. Postal Service. image012

See you’re right, Oatmeal, the internet should be free; but free of state coercion, not free of cost or competition. Giving control to government is a one-way street. If you don’t like Comcast, you can switch to Cox. If you don’t like Washington, you’re pretty much just out of luck.

So, my fiber-rich friends, I and many other blog-trolling, multiplayer-gaming, music-streaming internet enthusiasts would like to challenge you to reconsider your view of Net Neutrality, and ultimately your view of freedom as well.

image014I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite tech nerds from the 18th Century, Thomas Jefferson. Okay, maybe not exactly a tech nerd, but he did invent the moldboard of least resistance, and he had some pretty cool ideas about freedom, too. TJ, who also happened to author the Declaration of Independence, recognized that freedom, unregulated and unfettered by government, would be a hassle. But being the thoughtful, tyrant-defying, wig-sporting boss that he was, he also decided the following:

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.”

So let’s drop gub’ment controlled Net Neutrality, give the free market a chance to solve the minor problems attending our technological liberties, and watch the internet change history.

All my best wishes, with cinnamon and raisins on top,

 -Joel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rand Paul’s Plan “A”

Invincibility lies in the defense; the possibility of victory in the attack.

– Sun Tzu


Last week, Kentucky Senator and likely presidential candidate Rand Paul got in a highly-publicized spat with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council over the Senator’s answer to a question on abortion and contraceptives.

Paul – a medical doctor – was asked directly whether the Plan B pill should be legal, to which he responded, “Plan B is taking birth control… I am not against birth control, and I don’t know many Republicans who would be indicating that they are against birth control.”

His comments sent a shockwave of indignation throughout the virtual world, as pro-life conservatives took to social media to chastise Rand for “selling out” on life  – very reminiscent, in fact, of the shockwave that followed Rand’s “thousands of exceptions” gaffe last year.

As I watched the predictable and useless “I’m more pro-life than you” chest-beating erupt among conservatives, I realized that in Rand’s latest futile attempt to walk the tightrope of public opinion, he had exposed a critical flaw in the pro-life community’s mindset: we’ve been defensive for so long, we don’t know how to go on offense anymore.

In fact, if pro-lifers knew how to go on offense, we would be Rand Paul’s biggest fans.  As an expectant father and someone who believes absolutely in the right to life from the moment of conception, I have really, really high standards for politicians on the issue of abortion.  Since he took office, Rand has been the loudest, most consistent voice for the life of the unborn in either house of Congress.  His Life at Conception Act, far from the fetal pain or partial birth half-measures debated by other legislatures, has raised the bar for the entire abortion debate and fundamentally changed the legal ground on which the battle is taking place. Due in no small part to Rand’s leadership on this issue, Personhood has continued to gain momentum and national recognition, and proponents of abortion on demand have been forced to change their terminology and play the birth control game (a huge victory in itself – more on that later).

Rand, whose presidential aspirations are well-known, could have easily stayed in the middle of the road and avoided the troublesome social issue of abortion while trying to solidify his more libertarian base and expand his support into traditionally democratic demographics.  But he has chosen to make Personhood a centerpiece for his campaign, and to some extent has tied his political future to the success of the pro-life movement – a movement that now seems almost eager to cannibalize him.

It’s hard to blame pro-lifers for being suspicious of everyone – we’ve been played by every turn by moderate Republican turncoats who view unborn children as political poker chips.  As a devotee of principled lifelong underdog Ron Paul, I have great respect for people who maintain ideological purity – but only so far as that purity does not become something to hide behind. The pro-life message has been stuck in a rut for years, and is just now starting to crest the hilltop of public opinion. We’ve become so adept at defending our positions that we are generally prepared to shoot anyone and anything that doesn’t fit our particular style of rhetoric. It’s fairly easy to stay in this pose, and wait for the pro-aborts to exhaust themselves against the mounting scientific evidence of fetal personhood. But victories aren’t won in foxholes; there has to be a time to charge.

And I think that time is now.

For years, America has been trending in a pro-life direction, and right now less than 30% of all Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all circumstances.  Even more telling, though, is the migration of the pro-abortion arguments from loudly, proudly defending a woman’s so-called right to choose, to a sniveling, semi-apologetic discussion of birth control – something only peripherally attached to any part of the abortion issue. Liberals recognize, perhaps better than we do, that as prenatal science sheds more light on the miracle of pregnancy and birth, their precious moral grey area is shrinking.  So much so, in fact, that at least one far-left author is now encouraging the pro-abortion crowd to abandon the “choice” façade entirely and embrace abortion as a moral good.

But regrettably, even the best pro-life politicians seem unable to resist the media’s bait. Our guys continue to dive into the perpetually unwinnable exceptions-and-birth-control debate, allowing the Left to obfuscate the moral clarity surrounding the life issue and maintain their flimsy and obsolete arguments.

Just once, I want to hear one of our conservative leaders turn the exceptions question around on their inquisitors and say something like, “I will no longer debate hypothetical exceptions with you, because they are just your attempt to invalidate the rule. Once we as a culture establish the rule that life is sacred and to be protected from conception to natural death, then we can debate your exceptions.”

Just once, I want someone in Congress to field a question on criminalization by saying, “Your question is disingenuous and irrelevant. As a legislator, it is not my job to preempt every conceivable legal question that might arise.  It’s my job to define murder as a crime. Our judicial system is then tasked with determining when a person has been deliberately murdered, and what penalty should be imposed.”

I take that back, I don’t want to hear it just once.  Or twice. Or three times.  I want to hear every single pro-life politician and activist defy the Exceptions Police and force the conversation back to what they – and most of America – already know: that life begins at conception, and that unborn children have an inalienable right to life.

It’s not dodging the question, it’s actually staying planted firmly on the fundamental question asked 40 years ago in the United States Supreme Court – is an unborn child a person?  And one positive and immediate side-effect of such a rhetorical spearhead is that it will force the media into a defensive posture: after being blistered by a few fearless conservatives on the other end of the microphone, reporters will either drastically change their questions on abortion, or just stop asking.

We need to stop insisting that demonstrably pro-life politicians walk the plank on abortion.  Not every conservative is going to answer the same way. But those who have consistently earned our trust by walking the walk, should also earn some breathing room when talking the talk.

There’s still a battle on for the lives of the unborn, and few leaders have emerged with a plan to capitalize on the success of the pro-life movement – to go on offense with our message and start moving the laws in the direction that society is already going.

Rand Paul believes that standing for Personhood is not only the best means of restoring a culture that celebrates life, but believes it so strongly that he is willing to tie his personal success to it as well.

Maybe before dismantling Rand Paul’s plan B, we should consider following him with plan A.