Three Things We Already Knew, but the Election Reinforced

But before I get to that, I just want to point out that I followed the 2012 Presidential election almost entirely via Twitter on a plane. Absorb that for a second. For all the vitriol around the election, it’s a pretty damn fantastic time to be a human, and an American one at that. Except maybe if you live in Florida and your state just cannot figure out this whole crazy thing we call “voting.” But I digress.

1. The Republican Party is not currently nationally viable. I don’t know how anybody is surprised by this. Imagine for a second that you were going to found the current GOP and you’re talking it over with your friends to try to sell them on it.

YOU: “Hey, I want to start a party that is built on the foundation that smaller government is better – that limited state presence in our lives is what the founders of this country really believed set us apart.”

FRIEND: “That sounds pretty great! How will you go about making government smaller?”

YOU: “Well, that’s the thing, we won’t actually do that. We’ll just say it in lieu of having any meaningful ideas about reforming they way we spend and tax (beyond ‘taxes = bad’ of course). In fact, we’ll actually add some entitlement programs, push for an absurdly expensive military and support a foreign policy that puts us in a state of near constant war while rapidly eroding domestic rights in the name of security.”

FRIEND: “What? That sounds terrible. The only thing that would make it worse is if you allowed the party to be co-opted for casual bigotry and misogyny in the name of scoring some culture war points.”

YOU: “You’re one step ahead of me!”

But while everyone is all “OMG TEH DEMOGRAPHICS” I think that masks the bigger problem with the Republican Party. They are starkly devoid of ideas. Mitt Romney – in a campaign that ran concurrently with one of the bleakest economies in modern history – could not honestly articulate even one novel idea about sparking economic growth. Contrary to what liberals will tell you, this was not some nationwide endorsement of the “print money, throw it aimlessly around and maybe create a cabinet position?” approach to problem-solving that the Obama administration is deploying. CNN’s exit polls still show that more than 50 percent of voters think government is doing too much. But what did Romney offer? Essentially, “Trust me guys, I’ve got this.”

And you know what? I actually believe he would have been a more effective economic executive (it’s a low bar!). But that’s only a hunch. I had more to go on when Obama swore up and down that he would reverse the alarming attack on American civil liberties (egg on my face!). Come up with meaningful ideas that are accessible to people, you guys. Those demographics that everyone is soapboxing about? They’re full of young people. People who are sure as hell open to hearing about 1) how you can improve a wretched job market and 2) how you can make a meaningful impact on the country’s long-term fiscal health. But if the Republicans had any answers to those two questions, they weren’t clearly expressed in the election. Say what you will about Gary Johnson’s flat tax proposal, but it is new and it makes sense to people.

It already looks as if the Republican response is going to be “Look over here, at this shiny immigration amnesty!” and pushing Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz front and center. That’s a terrible response for a whole host of reasons, not least of which is the blatant shallowness of a national party essentially saying “But we totally have Hispanic friends!” It won’t work, anyway. What the GOP should do is use this opportunity to revamp their position on immigration by basing it on the economic reality that it is beneficial for all of us when the people that want to be in this country are allowed in. The way to “crack down” on illegal immigration is not a wall, not punishment of businesses, not a law that requires you to carry your papers; it’s to make it easier to immigrate legally. Now, the amnesty horse may be out of the barn in some shape or form at the current moment, but that’s neither here nor there for the long-term viability of this party. Again, if this is the party that is claiming its heritage lies in the free market, in the wonders of individualism, and of reaping the benefits of economic freedom, here’s another chance to act like it that they probably won’t take.

2. Citizens United did not turn this country into some post-democratic robber baron-controlled hellscape, so STFU about it. I’ll turn this over to Jacob Sullum:

Whether we are talking about self-funded campaigns like McMahon’s (which have always been legal) or super PACs (which became possible thanks to Citizens United and a subsequent appeals court decision), money can’t buy you love. It can buy you, at best, an opportunity to be heard, but if voters don’t like what you are saying all the airwave-clogging negative advertising in the world will not deliver an electoral victory. In addition to McMahon’s double fiasco, striking illustrations of this point from the 2012 election cycle include Wil Cardon, who spent $8 million of his own money on the Republican primary in the Arizona Senate race and lost to Jeff Flake by 48 points; Eric Hovde, who lost the Republican Senate nomination in Wisconsin to Tommy Thompson despite outspending him by 2 to 1; and John Brunner, who outspent Todd Akin by 3 to 1 in the contest for the Republican Senate nomination in Missouri but lost by six points. “Money is a necessary condition for electoral success,” Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, tells the Times. “But it’s not sufficient, and it’s never been.”

Of course, we knew this. Liberals love to decry money in politics, but they’re totally failing The Cutler Test when they do that. Even though something about “outside” spending feels illicit, time and again, it’s proven that it doesn’t really have a substantial effect on anything with the possible exception of allowing more candidates to enter the field and increasing turnout. Those are both good things.

This was really driven home in the Wisconsin recall, an event that is still held up by opponents of Citizens United as a sinister indicator of the future that awaits us. But there’s no “there” there. The same candidates were running for the same office with essentially a control election (the 2010 governor’s race) to measure against. The difference in margin of victory for Walker? An increase of 1.1 percent. Something so statistically small that political scientists will tell you it is comparable to the effect of inclement Election Day weather. The horror. Of course, pretending some nefarious outsiders swooped in and bought the election is a lot more palatable than admitting “Voters heard our position and rejected it” which was the actual result of the Wisconsin recall for liberals (bears repeating: Walker won 38 percent of the union vote).

3. There’s a lot of liberty-loving people out there. I knew there were! I just totally whiffed on how they would express it (hoping more than 1% would vote for Gary Johnson). But look at what happened on Tuesday:

  • Voters in Colorado and Washington became the first in the world to legalize marijuana
  • Virginia voters passed eminent domain reform
  • Maryland, Maine and Washington voters legalized gay marriage, while Minnesota voters defeated a constitutional amendment that would have outlawed it (how great is this video? Kudos again to my friend @katebrickman who worked tirelessly on the Vote No campaign in Minnesota.)
  • Maryland voters expanded their state’s gambling laws

These are people pushing government out of their lives. We’re grown-ups. Let us live our lives, spend our money how we want, and do what we want to do, provided it doesn’t hurt others. It is at the same time wonderful and sad that, depending where you are in this country, you might be able buy pot for recreational use, or you might not be able to buy a large soda pop. In the midst of the creepy, over-the-top Election Night outpouring of hatred from one side and adoration from the other on Twitter, I most enjoyed a tweet wishing, ruefully, for “a President who just wants to leave me alone.” Maybe someday.

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