Author Archives: Sarah Baker

Why Trump’s Message Resonates With Working-Class Voters

This is the tl;dr version of my contribution to the TLP Round Table on Donald Trump’s rise to the status of presumptive Republican nominee.

Various motivations for Trump’s popularity have been posited over the course of the election cycle. Tribalism and xenophobia. Social order authoritarianism. Anger at the establishment. Anti-PC backlash. A yen for creative destruction.

I even have some sympathy for that last one. What is the point of preserving a GOP that has failed so resoundingly to deliver on the promise of limited government? Why not blow on the tiny orange flame of a Trump-match and see if it catches fire? Some wildfires make the ecosystem stronger.

But that is not my point here. There is another faction of Trump support, which has been overlooked amid all the self-righteous indictment of his surprising success. That faction consists of working class voters who spend their lives on the financial brink, who could not come up with $400 to face an emergency, but who, as a result of the statist, two-party-dominated system, cannot escape the inevitability of big government.

We advocates of free markets too often fail to explain, cogently, why free trade and voluntary exchanges deliver the best outcomes for the most people. We fail to explain why it is not just big corporations, businesses and entrepreneurs that get hurt by government interventions into the free market—but also the workers. And when those workers complain about the various ways in which they struggle to make ends meet, we too often dismiss it as a deficiency of effort, rather than a legitimate complaint against the system.

This makes no sense. We know better. We know that over-regulation, barriers to entry, excessive government spending, crony capitalism, and welfare for the rich are all bad for the economy and particularly bad for workers. We know these policies cause work to be less remunerative and hit poor people the hardest.

Why then, when they complain, do so many of us respond by dismissing them as lazy, unmotivated, unproductive and entitled? We should be capitalizing on their complaints. They are incontrovertibly legitimate.

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University recently published a study estimating that regulatory drag has stunted the size of the U.S. economy and made Americans significantly poorer than they would otherwise be. Their numbers, while shocking, seem woefully inadequate to reflect the true costs working people pay for intrusive government.

Through “subsidies,” regulations and entitlements, government intervention into the market drives up prices-relative-to-incomes on most of the things consumers need most. Housing, education, and healthcare all far outpace inflation. Meanwhile, government consumes 36% of GDP, and on everything from contact lenses to gasoline to occupational licensing, Americans must pay more while struggling to participate in a system that is rigged against their efforts.

It is simply not possible to sell people on the wealth potential of a free market while castigating them for failing to succeed in a system that requires hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to get the mandatory license for a job washing hair.

In that regard, the Democrats have a point (incomplete and poorly made, to be sure) when they say, “you didn’t build that” or, “you’ve also been lucky.” Would-be business owners pay their extorted dues to the government-backed bureaucracy. In return, they are protected from competition by various barriers to entry, government-enforced monopolies, tax-payer funded subsidies, and other massive transfers of wealth from taxpayers to the favored recipients of government largesse. It makes a certain twisted sense to demand more compensation in proportion to their success.

One of these men understands how money and economies function. He led a grassroots movement that motivated millions of young voters. In response, the GOP changed its rules to keep him from gaining traction. The other one is the new face of the Republican Party.

One of these men understands how money and economies function. He led a grassroots movement that motivated millions of young voters. In response, the GOP changed its rules to keep him from gaining traction. The other one is the new face of the Republican Party.

Don’t like it? Great. I don’t either. Let’s repeal the barriers to entry, the legal monopolies, the government grants and below-market loans. Let’s get rid of the regulations and the occupational licensing, the mandated dues and the bureaucratic red tape and all the other bullshit.

This is, in fact, what we put Republicans in the House and Senate to do.

Yet over and over and over again, with a few principled exceptions (e.g., Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, and, yes, Ted Cruz), Republicans have broken their word, expanded government, and asked us to be patient while they focus on getting reelected.

Revealing the true direction of their priorities, the GOP establishment acted to keep Ron Paul supporters from gaining traction in their ranks. The liberty movement has not died as a result, but it may have left the party. Inside the GOP, it has been replaced by an orange-faced baboon leading an army of alt-righters shouting “cuck” repetitively as they rock back and forth in fear of outside stimulation.

I will not deny a certain satisfying schadenfreude at that turn of events. And there is value in knowing such a cancer festers on the right. But there is equal value in understanding that Trump would not be succeeding on their support alone. He is also propelled by a significant faction of working-class voters desperate for better jobs, a stronger economy, and higher purchasing power.

Sanders is right about a lot of problems, wrong about the solutions. Sanders supporters who can understand the distinction may be an untapped area of future liberty votes.

Sanders supporters may be an untapped area of future liberty votes.

In that regard, Trump’s message resonates with voters on the right for some of the same reasons Bernie Sanders’ message resonates on the left. If big government, high taxes, and crony capitalism are inevitable – because neither of the viable parties intends to do much about them – why not use one’s vote to fight for a bigger piece of the stunted pie? Trump at least pays lip service to the struggle. He promises jobs and protectionism, a reprieve from debt and stagnation.

Of course I know he will not deliver. Trump’s “solutions” will further hurt working class people, by driving up prices and contracting the size of the economy.

Trump is Sanders in orange-face.

The point is, if a liberty-movement aims to rise from the ashes of the Trump-fire, it must speak to the struggles motivating voter support for these two surprise candidates. It must explain why no amount of further tinkering will alleviate the real pain that government intrusions into the economy cause to real people, why the only solution is to unwind those intrusions in the first instance.

Then it needs to actually deliver.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Kevin Boyd Asked if the #NeverTrump Crowd Might Come Around

Donald TrumpThis was my response.

I do not like that Donald Trump.
I could not, would not like that chump.

I would not vote him here or there,
I would not vote him anywhere.
I would not vote him then or now.
I would not vote him anyhow.

I do not like his orange spray tan.
I do not like his tiny hands.
I do not like his gibberish.
I do not like his childishness.

I don’t like his rhetoric.
I don’t like his politics.
He has not read the Constitution.
He does not have any solution.
He does not like free trade and speech.
He does not love that liberty.
He loves walls and lots of rules.
His economics is for fools.
There are no checks and balances
To counterweigh such lack of sense.

So, I do not like him on the stump,
I will not take him with a lump,
Not with a poll jump,
Not with an endorsement bump,
Not in a trash dump.
Not with a sump pump.

I will not change my mind, I won’t.
I don’t like him, no I don’t.

I hate authoritarians.
I hate all that collectivism.
I will not support that rump.
I will #NeverVoteforDonaldTrump.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

A Lesser of Evils: Why Ted Cruz Cannot Be My Anti-Trump

I’ve never been a lesser-of-evils sort of voter. It’s too cynical and depressing an approach to life. Anyway I rarely think one of the major party candidates is “better” in some meaningful sense than the other.

This election is different. I cannot shake a nagging unease that one candidate must be avoided, perhaps with a vote for any marginally lesser evil capable of stopping him, however distasteful.

That candidate is Ted Cruz.

I’m not joking. There’s no punch line coming. I don’t think Ted Cruz believes in fundamental, unenumerated rights, constitutionally protected from political majorities at the state and local levels.

Probably many or even most of the other candidates share this shortcoming. What sets Cruz apart is his more sophisticated ability to appoint Supreme Court justices who share his views, as he has vowed to do.

Under that specter, liberty-leaning voters should ask for clarity and reassurance from the Cruz campaign on the following issues before casting a vote in his support.

Does Ted Cruz Want to Limit the Power of Judicial Review? In 1803, the Supreme Court decided Marbury v. Madison. Since that time, the Court has exercised three powers:

  1. It can refuse to enforce acts of the other branches if five or more of its nine justices believe such act was in excess of constitutional powers.
  2. It can enforce acts of the other branches of government, if five or more of the justices believe such act was constitutional.
  3. It can require otherwise constitutional acts of the other branches to be exercised in accordance with the Equal Protection Clause.

That’s it. Under the first, the Court delineates areas of individual liberty into which no political majority may intrude. Under the second and third, it enforces the acts of other branches of government. Under none of the three does the Court “make law.”

Liberty voters should therefore ask what Ted Cruz is gunning for when he says things like:

I don’t think we should entrust governing our society to 5 unelected lawyers in Washington. Why would ya possibly hand over the rights of 320 million Americans to 5 lawyers in Washington to say, “We’re gonna decide the rules that govern ya?” If ya wanna win an issue, go to the ballot box and win at the ballot box. That’s the way the Constitution was designed.

I think we can rule out number two; he’s not complaining about acts of the political branches. His rhetoric, to the contrary, suggests that he wants political majorities unfettered by such inconveniences as meddling Supreme Court justices.

He could be taking aim at number three, in which case it is not the laws he dislikes, but the doctrine of Equal Protection. Either way, the Court is not responsible for having enacted the laws that are subject to that doctrine. The political branches are.

It sure sounds like it is the first option Cruz is targeting. He does not like the Court delineating areas of individual liberty beyond the reach of political majorities.

That is a deeply authoritarian approach to government. Unless and until Cruz repudiates it convincingly, he cannot be my “not-Trump.”

Does Ted Cruz Believe in Unenumerated Rights and Substantive Due Process? Under the view of many libertarians, the Constitution enumerates the powers of government, but not the rights of individuals. The former are few, narrow and circumscribed. The latter are many, broad and transcendent.

This is the view held by Rand Paul and other libertarian constitutionalists from organizations like Reason Magazine, the Cato Institute, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Institute for Justice.

It is also my view.

One textual source for this approach is the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits political majorities at the state and local levels from depriving individuals of the privileges and immunities of citizenship, of equal protection of laws, or of liberty without due process.

The “liberty” thusly protected has been interpreted to include economic endeavors as well as other peaceful activities integral to enjoyment of life and the pursuit of happiness. The concept that such freedoms are Constitutionally protected, even though not expressly mentioned, is sometimes referred to as the doctrine of “substantive due process.”

There are competing schools of thought. One is that only individual rights expressly enumerated in the Constitution are beyond the reach of political majorities. Under this view, the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted to prohibit racial discrimination, not to proscribe state infringement of unenumerated rights.

That is the view expressed by Ted Cruz at a hearing he conducted before the Senate Judiciary Committee exploring ways to “rein in” the Supreme Court. Cruz’s comments at the hearing suggest, on deeply personal issues from marriage to economic rights, he prefers “the Supreme Court defer to state legislative decisions rather than uphold individual rights.”

This is as unlibertarian a position as a candidate could hold. Saving the GOP from a Trump loss to Hillary Clinton is not a reason to support a nominee committed to undermining individual liberty in favor of majority rule.

Is Cruz Committed to Individual Rights? Or States Rights? Ted Cruz’s passion is not the fundamental liberty of individuals, arguably enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment. It is, rather, the power of state legislatures found in the Tenth.

He’s “a Tenth Amendment guy,” according to his wife. Indeed he once headed the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Tenth Amendment Studies. When Ted Cruz talks about limited government, he is talking about limiting federal government. His concern is federal versus state, not individual versus collective.

Then too, even on that more beloved Constitutional provision, Cruz is willing to stray if it means more power for the right kind of majorities. He was in favor of the federal government defining marriage before he was against it. He likes states’ rights when they ban same-sex marriage, but not as much when they decriminalize marijuana.

He might be a federalist, for those who don’t mind states’ rights served squishy. But he’s no libertarian.

How Far Will Ted Cruz Go to Bend the Judiciary to His Interpretation of the Constitution? Despite the “sour fruit” of John Roberts’ decisions in NFIB v. Sebelius and King v. Burwell, conservatives continue their misguided pursuit of a “deferential” judiciary. In their statist hearts, they would rather accept the big government of Obamacare than lose the power to regulate social order.

If NFIB v. Sebelius is the price of winning the next Obergefell v. Hodges, it is one they will pay.

This is not a trade-off liberty lovers should make.

Yet Ted Cruz wants to subject the Supreme Court to term limits and retention elections. As the Institute for Justice’s Evan Bernick wrote in the wake of Cruz’s SCOTUS hearing:

…[I]t is Cruz who strayed from the text and history of the Constitution, both in his histrionic criticism of Obergefell and his suggestion that the cure for America’s constitutional ills is an even more inert judiciary.

Cruz’s most fundamental error lay in the premise of the hearing itself: The most pressing threat to constitutionally limited government today is not “judicial activism” but reflexive judicial deference to the political branches.

We can have a judiciary that reflexively defers to the political branches or we can have constitutionally limited government — but we cannot have both.

Liberty voters must consider whether they want Supreme Court appointees to facilitate the powers of political majorities or to protect individual rights from the overreach of such exercise. Ted Cruz appears to be on the wrong side of that choice.

Until he convinces me otherwise, that puts him on the wrong side of mine.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Lessons From POTUS 2016: Around the Bonfire of the GOP

I hate POTUS 2016.

I hate all the candidates who aren’t libertarians.

I hate the voters continuing to lend their support to the authoritarian politics of the two major parties.

Most of all, I hate the endless raving about a possible Trump candidacy.

Trump Isn’t the Problem. His Supporters Are. An ocean of words has been written about Donald Trump’s detestable politics and undiagnosed personality disorders. Every one of those words is true. He is a sleazy multi-level marketer with a cheap spray tan and a bad comb-over; a low functioning bully with the attention span of a second-grader, whose first policy instinct will always be authoritarianism and who lacks even the most basic conceptions of constitutional governance, separation of powers and individual freedom.

If nominated, he will, without one shred of doubt, lose the general election to Hillary Clinton.

Nonetheless, anyone who thinks the GOP establishment can do much to stop this slow motion train wreck misunderstands the nature of government.

Government is not the party elite, big money donors, or the politicians in Washington. Government is us. We the people. The voters (and non-voters) who put and keep those politicians in office. Ourselves, our neighbors, our friends, family and co-workers.

The establishment cannot fight Trump because he is not the target. His supporters are.

How has endlessly pointing out how racist, xenophobic and stupid they are worked thus far?

Squeezing out other candidates won’t force any voters to shift their support to an establishment pick. As Trump himself discerns, with his trademark narcissistic clarity (but his detractors somehow miss), those supporters might just as well shift to Trump. And squeezing him out won’t force any of them to turn out for some other, better, more respectable, nominee in the general.

Therein lies the rub.

Trump’s candidacy reveals something ugly and festering on the American right, something with the potential to do nuclear-level damage to the GOP’s credibility with everyone from moderates, independents and swing voters to Christians and mainstream Republicans.

On the other hand, if the party squeezes him out—whether through an onslaught of establishment attacks or a brokered convention—it risks alienating his pissed off contingency of Republican voters.

At a time when voters are fleeing the major parties in droves, the GOP is between a rock and a hard place. A Trump candidacy might be fatal, but so might the loss of his fans. To move forward without them, the party would need to replace its Trump-wing with a new supply of liberty voters.

There’s a lesson in the numbers, for a party willing to make hard choices, and it’s not the only one of the 2016 cycle.

Identity Politics Has Failed, and Pandering Is an Antiquated Campaign Strategy. Women are not breaking for Clinton. Evangelicals are not breaking for Cruz. Hispanics are not breaking for Cruz/Rubio.

It turns out those demographics, like all the others, are not stereotypic representatives of monolithic groups, but individuals with political concerns that transcend gender, heritage and religion. Candidates who ignore this modern reality will continue to be confused about why Evangelicals and Hispanics are voting for Trump—and continue suffering backlashes for their insulting rhetorical devices (like the importance of beginning each day on one’s knees or special places in hell for free-thinking women).

Money Does Not Buy Elections. There’s some evidence money buys politicians and pundits. But Trump’s candidacy annihilates the myth that an entrenched two-party system, dripping in advertising wealth, subliminally messages clueless voters into supporting the status quo.

Neither establishment donors nor the politicians themselves are in control this election cycle. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and their respective Super PACs paid through the nose to perform poorly in the early voting states. Trump, on the other hand, without the support of any Super PAC, is paying minimally to outperform expectations.

That Trump is a phenomenon unto himself might explain why it costs him so little to win. It does not explain why Bush and Christie have paid so dearly to lose.

What does explain it is that rebellious primary voters are not beholden to any amount of campaign advertising, political spending, establishment credibility or ideological purity.

The GOP Might Not Survive the Trump Campaign, But the Country Undoubtedly Will. Trump is a monarchist who wants to use the office of President to crown himself king and savior, while cutting through the red tape for his next casino parking lot. Unfortunately, all too many people—including plenty of Republicans—are ready to go along with the cult of an imperial presidency.

Notwithstanding that problematic trend, we still have Congress, the Constitution, and the limits on presidential power set forth in Article II.

That might not be true if Ted Cruz got his way and turned SCOTUS into just another political branch of government. Party loyalists desperate to stop Trump may not understand how dangerous that is.

Scalia did.

As a libertarian, I have never enjoyed an election cycle in which the viable candidates were anything but clowns. For me, 2016 is just par for the course. The rest of the electorate is now feeling the way I always do.

Maybe now is a good time to ponder what they’re so desperately trying to save.

Unless It Can Reinvent Itself, the GOP May Not Be Worth Saving. I suspect my political aims are vastly different from those of most Trump supporters. I nevertheless also suspect we have similar reactions to the prediction that he is going to destroy the GOP and/or conservative movement:

Are we supposed to conclude that’s a bug…or a feature?

Amid all the handwringing about the wreckage that will be left in the wake of Trump’s candidacy, precious little is devoted to convincing voters there’s anything worth saving.

Remind me again, what is the point of the GOP?

muh roadsIt’s clearly not to restrain spending. Once they obtained control of both houses of Congress, Republicans drove a stake through the Budget Control Act, broke budget caps, suspended the debt ceiling and doc-fixed Medicare to the tune of $500 billion. Along the way, they extended No Child Left Behind, passed a $305 billion highway bill (muh roads!), and reauthorized Ex-Im.

They ended last year with a $1.8 trillion omnibus spending bill.

Senator Marco Rubio did not even show up to vote.

If they aren’t going to rein in the scope of government, cut spending, and balance the budget, what do we have Republicans for again, exactly?

I’ll grant them abortion. That’s one. What else? Carpet-bombing and traditional marriage?

This is me yawning.

If the GOP wants voters like me to come to its rescue, it’s going to have to start selling something we want to buy. It will need to cut lose the growing horde of populist authoritarians, the seedy underbelly of racists and xenophobes venturing from their closets, and the dying remnants of traditional marriage zealots. It will need to replenish its base instead with the growing numbers of liberty-minded voters currently spread out across the two major parties, a few third parties, and the sizable ranks of swing-voting independents.

It will need to unite its disparate factions around common principles of limited government and apply those principles consistently across social, economic and national security issues.

And it will need to convince us that this time it means it.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

The Growing Cult of the Imperial Presidency

Yesterday, President Obama used executive orders to further burden the fundamental right of self-defense. On the same day, in an effort to defend his Senate absenteeism, GOP candidate Marco Rubio gave his implicit endorsement to the concept of the imperial presidency.

Let us consider Obama’s action on gun control first. His executive orders grow the size of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), commit taxpayers to additional spending on programs he likes, and purport to expand the scope of existing background check requirements.

This did not constitute circumventing Congress, according to Senior White House advisor Valerie Jarett, because Congress “made it very clear they are not going to act.”

It is unclear what practical effect will be achieved by the expanded background checks. The existence of a loophole seems to have been exaggerated in the first place. Any change likely would not have made a difference in the high profile shootings supposedly motivating the President. As Jacob Sullum at Reason’s Hit & Run noted:

[The President] recited a litany of horrific, headline-grabbing mass shootings while proposing policies that would have done nothing to prevent them. Anticipating that his non sequitur would draw criticism, he boldly proclaimed that good intentions matter more than actual results…

The Obama faction of the cult-of-the-president does not care. They conceive of rights as things we get from parent-like leaders. Like well-behaved children, we ought to be grateful for the privileges we are permitted—not whining over the prerogatives of adults.

But if they are upheld (by the very courts GOP candidates like Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee insist should defer to the political branches) Obama’s orders will have at least one meaningful impact, even if it is not on the homicide rate. The impact will be on the structure and scope of government power—and its increasing centralization in a single individual: an imperial president with the power and mandate to act where the people’s elected representatives have refrained from doing so.

As Bonnie Kristian, a communications consultant for Young Americans for Liberty, writes at Rare:

In most matters, contrary George W. Bush’s infamous assertion, the president is constitutionally not “the decider.”

He’s the doer.

Congress is supposed to be the decider—even (or sometimes especially) when it doesn’t do what the president wants.

Even this misses the target.

We are the deciders.

Rights are not things we are given, not privileges handed out to children by benevolent parent-kings. Rights are ours for the having unless and until we yield them. The only way to do that is via elected representatives. Even then our ability to give away rights is limited by the Constitutional framework our founders had the foresight to put in place.

It is not meant to be easy to give rights away.

Jarett and Obama are therefore wrong to lay blame on Congress’s “failure to act.” It is not that Congress has failed to act. It is that we, the people, have not in sufficient numbers directed our elected representatives to infringe further upon our fundamental rights of self-defense.

Use of executive orders to circumvent the collective will of the people’s representatives fundamentally alters our constitutional structure. The left might embrace this trend now, while their man is at the helm, and his target is guns. But how will they feel when it is a Ted Cruz or a Donald Trump circumventing Congress? When the executive power is used again to send troops to fight undeclared wars?

Incidentally, last year, Obama was the biggest seller of arms in the world, servicing buyers like Saudi Arabia and Syrian rebels (even though Congress has not declared war).

I wonder if he does background checks…

It is disappointing that on the same day Obama issued his executive orders, Marco Rubio gave his implicit endorsement to the idea that Congress is of secondary import to the will of the President.

His comments came in the context of his chronic Senate absenteeism, including for the end-of-year spending and tax bill vote, which has provoked criticism from other GOP candidates, including Rand Paul.

Well, you know, the difference between Marco Rubio and I is, I show up for work. And we had the biggest vote of the whole year, voting on a trillion dollars worth of spending, and he didn’t show up. So, yes, I think he ought to resign or give his pay back to the taxpayer.

When asked yet another question on the issue, Rubio’s attempt to defend himself was a big, depressing fail implicitly endorsing the growing cult of the imperial presidency.

I have missed votes this year. You know why? Because … only a president can set the agenda. We’re not going to fix America with senators and congressmen.

Perhaps Rubio could point us to where in the Constitution the power to “set the agenda” is granted exclusively to the President.

I checked Article II and didn’t see it.

You know how everyone has that thing? The thing drives them crazy? Like the sound of nails on a chalkboard? Maybe it is baristas misspelling names. Or your when it should be you’re. People who use literally to mean figuratively.

That song from Frozen.

For me, it is people talking about “our leaders.”

U.S. citizens don’t have leaders. We have representatives. They don’t tell us what to do—we tell them how to voteSee Article I, The Constitution.

We also have a chief executive. His job is to execute the laws passed by Congress, deal with foreign countries, and provide information to Congress. He also serves as Commander-in-Chief of the military.

But not of us.

To the contrary, we pay him for his “Services.” See Article II, The Constitution.

No one commands us. No one leads us. And no one rules us. That is what it means to be free.

The number of people who react with hostility and defensiveness to this notion is bizarre to me. It is as if they want to be led, like when I first left home and missed having my parents tell me what I should do. Being leaderless means being responsible.

So maybe deep down, those who would rather not shoulder such burdens harbor an unconscious longing for the days of monarchs. When the best-born among us led the way atop magnificent horses, swords and armor flashing in the sunlight, obliterating responsibility by demanding complete allegiance—leaving we lesser souls to imagine ourselves as scullery-maid-turned-princess from the safe distance of our own servitude.

Easier to daydream of being transported to the prince’s ball in an enchanted pumpkin wearing a gown made of magic than to actually climb up on a horse of one’s own.

But the willing subjects are as dangerous as the would-be kings.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

1 2 3 4 11