Standing on the Sidelines is Not an Option for the Freedom Movement
Below is the speech I gave last night at the FreedomWorks’ Spring Break College Summit at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington, DC.
Before I get down to the crux of my talk this evening, I’ve gotta say, watching Senator Rand Paul’s epic 13-hour filibuster on Wednesday was nothing short of inspirational. For more than half a day, Senator Paul — aided at times by some of his colleagues, including Mike Lee and Ted Cruz — gave a brilliant defense of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and challenged the notion of perpetual war.
While Democrats in Congress have claimed to be champions of civil liberties, it was the Tea Party, led by Senator Paul, defending due process. It was the Tea Party making the case against a government that could arbitrarily kill its own citizens on American soil. And it was the Tea Party who was fighting against an extraordinary expansion of executive power.
The message got out there. Senator Paul gained some 40,000 new followers on Twitter and the social media service reported that over 1-million tweets were sent about the filibuster. Ironically, it was Politico that recently suggested that hashtags were no longer relevant. The hashtag, #StandWithRand, pretty much killed that notion.
C-SPAN confirmed that they had received viewership that was on par with events like the presidential inauguration. The filibuster also had the profound effect of gaining support from individuals and groups who aren’t typically fans of Republicans, including John Cusack, Van Jones, and Code Pink.
And not only was this a courageous stand against a President who has abused his authority, but it was also a rejection of the GOP’s past, and they’re losing their minds because of it. We saw that the next morning when John McCain and Lindsey Graham had a complete meltdown on the Senate floor.
The Old Guard GOP — represented by McCain and Graham — continue to push Americans away from the Republican Party. These guys are the primary reason why Republicans can’t have nice things. They speak, and voters — especially young voters — run away.
We all owe Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz a huge “thank you” for their courageous stand.
I didn’t come close completing college. I took a year off after high school to work, play music, and have a good time. When I finally did go, I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I had always had an interest in politics, but for some reason I didn’t pursue that course — at least not at that time.
I decided that I didn’t want to keep my political opinions to myself, so I started a blog covering local and state politics. Not long after starting my blog, I was getting so many tips that the local paper was using my blog as a source of information. Erick Erickson, who some of you may know as editor of RedState.com, gave me the chance to contribute at Peach Pundit, the most widely read political blog in Georgia.
Using that forum, I was able to help influence legislation from time to time. For example, my focus on cutting government waste out of the state budget, particularly state funding of various halls of fame, led to an investigation by an Atlanta-based news station. That eventually led to appropriators slashing or entirely eliminating funding for what should’ve been private endeavors.
In 2009, I started running United Liberty, where we spend much of our time today writing commentary about current news, elections, policy, and the freedom movement — and by freedom movement, I’m referencing a broad coalition of individuals and organizations, ranging from the populist Tea Party to fiscal conservatives to libertarians. We may have disagreements on certain issues, but we unite around the free market and the fundamental rights protected by the Bill of Rights.
While United Liberty may be the name of our blog, it’s also a term that we should remember as we move forward this thing evening, and as we go back home.
The Issues Facing the Country
During an appearance on The Late Show back in September, President Barack Obama told David Letterman that Americans shouldn’t worry about the national debt. This is the same guy who said adding $4 trillion to the national debt over eight years was “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic.” Of course, George W. Bush was president at that time and, because of his unpopularity with Americans, was an easy target.
Our short-term fiscal problems are troublesome, and it has been made worse by President Obama’s spending binge. There is a $16.6 trillion river of red ink raging toward the American taxpayer and, unfortunately, it’s growing in size every single day. Of course, we’ve heard President Obama say that he’s worked with Congress to cut $2.5 trillion. If only that were true. The Congressional Budget Office recently reported that budget deficits would exceed $9.4 trillion over the next 10 years.
Driven by the cost of entitlements, the national debt will be so high by 2023 that it will, according to the CBO, “increase the risk of a financial crisis, during which investors would lose so much confidence in the government’s ability to manage its budget that the government would be unable to borrow at affordable rates.”
This, of course, doesn’t absolve his predecessor. But if Bush was irresponsible and unpatriotic, what does that make Obama, who has now added $6 trillion to the national debt in a little over four years?
The long-term is even more of a challenge, but that’s not because of a lack of tax revenues. The most pressing challenges before the United States exist because of anticipated growth in entitlement spending, such as Medicare and Social Security.
By 2037, the government will spend 35.7% of GDP, which is on par with European welfare states, and the national debt will be nearly twice the size of the economy. Even with the out of control spending we’ve seen under Obama, that sort of growth in government is difficult to grasp. And keep in mind; Greece fell apart when its national debt hit 115%. Our debt is already equal to the size of our economy. We may not be Greece yet, but we’re not that far off.
While the problem facing us isn’t solely a creature of his presidency, Obama has never showed any real leadership on budget issues that face the United States, in the short-term or long-term. We’ve heard a lot of talk and a lot of browbeating, but nothing that comes close to an actual solution.
There is no question that the youth vote was key to President Obama’s re-election in 2012. However, there was a time when this voting bloc went for Republican presidential candidates. Just after the election, Jason Riley noted at the Wall Street Journal that both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush actually won the youth vote. Riley also points out that “George W. Bush lost young voters to John Kerry by only 9 points and lost them to Al Gore in 2000 by less than that.”
But according to CNN’s 2012 exit poll, 60% of voters between the ages of 18 to 29 cast their ballot for Obama, highlighting the problems that young voters have with Republicans.
Despite their support for President Obama, young voters are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to his policies, and that’s not just limited to spending. Let’s look at President Obama’s signature domestic achievement — the so-called “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” or, as we know it, ObamaCare — for a moment.
A report released by Oliver Wyman earlier this year noted that Americans between the ages of 21 to 29 who purchase individual health insurance policies could see a 42% premium hike thanks to the age-rating restrictions in ObamaCare. Oh, and by the way, you can’t just avoid this. Thanks to President Obama and Democrats, you have to buy health insurance coverage or pay a fine.
This is a lesson many of President Obama’s most hardcore supporters are learning the hard way. Admittedly, I had a good laugh when Donna Brazile freaked out on Twitter when she found out her health insurance premiums were going up. But in reality, this isn’t a situation where we can simply shrug and say “sucks to be you.”
Government intervention in the healthcare market through ObamaCare is making insurance coverage more expensive for all of us, and it could add even more to the national debt. According to the Government Accountability Office, if the cost-saving measures in ObamaCare fail to work — a likely scenario — it will add $6.2 trillion to our already overwhelming unfunded liabilities. That is a burden that will shared by you, your kids, and your grandkids.
This is a message that you have to take back to your campuses. You are frontline in the freedom movement’s struggle to reach young voters. We cannot win their hearts and minds without you. This message is bigger than Democrat and Republican, it’s about our future prosperity.
The Republican Problem
George W. Bush’s presidency was a disaster for the Republican Party. There is no denying that. Republicans wonder how Americans could elected someone like Barack Obama. It’s because Bush was that bad.
And now we have Karl Rove, who was the brain behind Bush’s brand of “compassionate conservatism,” has started a new political action committee that will help elect so-called “electable conservatives,” whatever the hell that means.
Rove and his Conservative Victory Project will no doubt pick candidates who will toe the party line, never questioning whether a particular big-government policy is good for the country. It’s not about reducing the national debt or lessening the size and scope of government to Rove and company; it’s about Team Republican — winning elections for the sake of political power.
Can you imagine this group getting behind a fiscal conservative who takes on, say, Sen. Lindsey Graham or, if he hadn’t already opted not to run for re-election, Saxby Chambliss? These guys have been the worst of the worst of Senate Republicans — they’ve been spending too much and willing to raise taxes.
Had Rove and other establishment-types gotten their way, we may not have elected some great leaders elected over the last couple of cycles, including the trio who took on President Obama on Tuesday night. They’ve shaken up the status quo, and that scares talking heads and Republican leaders in Congress who have been unable to find their voice.
For example, the messaging from Republican leaders on the sequester was nothing short of terrible. Most of us in this room realize that the sequester wasn’t really a spending cut. It was a cut to the rates of spending increase over the next 10 years. Republicans were elected to office in 2010, assisted by the Tea Party movement, on the promise that they would work to cut spending back to sustainable levels. The sequester was just a “good start” – and that’s a generous description – to that broader goal.
Always ones to steal defeat from the jaws of victory, Republicans started to sound a lot like Democrats when it came to the sequester. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Speaker John Boehner claimed that the sequester “threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more.” They ceded the argument, and their credibility. Even though the sequester was small in the grand scheme, Speaker Boehner and many House Republicans looked at the most “pro-growth spending cuts,” as CNBC’s Larry Kudlow calls them, the country has seen in years and they played right into President Obama’s hands.
The sequester took effect earlier this month. The sky didn’t fall. Society remains intact.
But their messaging was a symptom of a much larger problem — Republicans don’t believe in the limited government rhetoric on which they run. Now, there are certainly Republicans in Congress who are strong fiscal conservatives, but those running the show — such as Boehner and most others in House leadership — have not offered a real contrast to Americans between themselves and President Obama.
It’s Time to Get in the Game
Recently, I had dinner with a friend and we were talking about some of the issues in the freedom movement, including the resistance to those who are interested in our message. He explained that he found it odd that those who are the most likely to quote Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek are the same people who face so much animosity from some people in our movement. I completely agreed with his assessment.
In his book, Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman explained why economic liberty serves as the basis for a free society. From where I stand, it makes no sense for any of us to be fighting amongst ourselves when the very basis of liberty is under attack. We should have discussions along the way about ancillary issues, but we have to understand that person who disagrees with us on 10% or 20% of issues is not our enemy.
It was Ronald Reagan who said that the “heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” It was Sean Hannity who said last week that the “future of the Republican Party, if it’s ever gonna be saved, it’s gonna be because of Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee, not because of John McCain.”
It was Rush Limbaugh who said that the “power structure [in the Senate] has been totally turned upside down” because of brave members who stood strong against President Obama, rather than going out to dinner with him. And it was Glenn Beck who recently expressed what I believe is a sincere interest in libertarianism.
Guys, we’re winning. And we’re winning because we’ve worked to elect people who are willing to challenge the status quo. And we will continue spreading our message by taking advantage of online outlets, including blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Thanks to organizations like FreedomWorks, we’ll continue to organize during Republican primaries in which freedom-minded candidates are running. Everyone in our movement has a place, but it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to be a part of that.
I’ve spent time in third-party politics, where 1% of the popular vote is, oddly, considered to be an accomplishment. I’ve been a philosophical purist, and I can tell you that it’s a lonely place. What good is preaching to the choir when you’re not bringing anyone new into the church?
Regardless of how we may feel about the Republican Party and its very significant shortcomings, our movement has to engage to toward the goal of liberty. While imperfect, the GOP can serve as a vehicle to achieve a more prosperous and free society.
It’s not gonna be easy. We will continue to face resistance along the way. But as Matt Kibbe has said, sometimes you have to beat the Republicans before you can beat the Democrats. Given the current struggles in which we find ourselves, I’m telling you tonight that the fight for liberty is too damn important for any of us to sit on the sidelines.