A Letter to Ms. Julia Cohen

Dear Ms. Cohen,

I spend a significant portion of my life participating in politics. When I’m not reading about it, I’m listening to it on the radio, otherwise I’m thinking about it. Likewise, I come across many articles on the subject, but rarely do I feel compelled to respond directly to columns. Yours is different. “What about the Moderates?” strikes me as a particularly important piece because you touch upon an issue that every American wrestles with if he/she is politically inclined–where do I fit into the binary party system? I’d like to argue, first, in favor of our two party system, and then, in support of one of those parties. I hope to offer you some clarity on your political journey.

You and I share some commonalities: I started my political journey on the Left and moved rightward when I was young, for example. To give you an idea of how liberal I was, I was torn between voting for Ralph Nader and Al Gore in 2000. I emailed my professors about my dilemma, and talked to my entirely liberal family about what I should do. 2000 was my first election. It meant something to me–about my integrity, my values, and my commitment to my country. I wanted to make the right choice.

Like many liberals, I found the Democrat candidate too far to the right, too beholden to corporate interests, too timid to fight for liberal values and to stop the right-wing hate machine in its tracks. Ralph Nader made his career on these liberal values. He championed the people as a consumer advocate. He always thought outside the two-party box on political issues, even though he spent the majority of his political life ensconced in the Democrat Party. He represented the real liberal choice for 2000, but he didn’t stand a chance.

When I hectored my liberal professors and family members for advice, they told me not to “waste my vote.” They told me that I had to compromise my values for a candidate who can win. They told me that American politics moves incrementally, and that if I wanted to advocate a leftward shift in the Democrat Party, I would have more success doing so from within the party rather than from the outside.

They were right.

But what lesson does this impart to the independents, moderates and radicals who find no home in our political parties, but want to express their patriotism by affecting positive political change?

The lesson is blunt–Get Real.

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable,” Otto von Bismarck famously states. The United States consists of more than 300 million people with twice as many competing preferences and values–each nuanced and based in strongly-held beliefs of varying degrees of rationality. Boiling these preferences down into like categories, and then creating coalitions–parties–around people who share the same preferences would lead to thousands of parties. To some, a multiparty system would represent a positive development in American politics, a reality akin to that in countries like Italy. In practice, what results is dysfunction: hordes of frustrated people who, for some reason or another, never create enough momentum among the disparate parties to move the country in the right direction. In short, politics becomes futile–unable to realize “the possible,” unable to attain anything.

I support our two party system because it represents a logical stasis point. Our two party system is not divided along issue lines, rather it is divided between two competing philosophies of rights and the proper role of the State. The Left–liberals, Democrats–believe that rights derive from the State, and that the hierarchy of rights can be affirmed by a consensus of philosophy and theory. The Right–conservatives, Republicans–believe that an external Creator bestows rights upon us. These rights cannot be curtailed by a government, lest that government forfeit its legitimacy. Through religion, and tradition, we discover and protect these rights, thereby upholding social order by avoiding the chaos associated with the Left’s capricious definition of rights.

In other words, actual policy positions are subordinate to the overarching philosophy on how to order society. The question independents, moderates, and radicals need to ask isn’t “Which party represents my values,” but rather, “Which party agrees with the way in which my values should be argued and implemented?” Once that question is answered, the best thing to do is to choose a party and work to push it in the direction of your choosing.

That’s what I did. I voted for Al Gore, and lost.

As I wrestled with the philosophy of rights, my political journey took me rightward, into the welcoming arms of the Republican Party where I happily reside today. Our Republican Party is a big tent, Ms. Cohen. You can be “a good Republican” and disagree on some policy points. There’s plenty of room for you and I to debate marriage equality–and I hope we do. Most importantly, I enjoy the opportunity to stand alongside a fellow Wildcat, working together toward a strong foreign policy, lower taxes, a better party, and a better country.

The Redistribution Reality

Democrats Face a Nation Increasingly Skeptical of Their Mission


Two fascinating pieces at the New York Times last week reveal liberal anxiety over American views of wealth redistribution. The first, by Thomas Edsall, recounts how the political discussions surrounding Obamacare turned Americans against wealth redistribution. The second, by Neil Irwin, wrestles with why Americans reject efforts to “soak the rich.” Both highlight the supreme shortcoming of the Obama presidency–the Democrats’  failure to allay Americans’ skepticism about the ability of the federal government to solve everyday problems. More importantly, these pieces expose a problem for a Party and an ideology facing an election in 2016.

“With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, the share of Americans convinced that healthcare is a right shrank from a majority to a minority. This shift in public opinion is a major victory for the Republican Party,” Edsall writes. Gallup provides polling numbers supporting Edsall’s assertion. Irwin points to similar polls showing a growing reluctance to tax “the rich” to fund programs for the poor. Understanding why these shifts occurred represents Democrats’ greatest challenge.

Edsall quotes Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard’s School of Public Health, to conclude that the debate over Obamacare’s specifics changed the public’s opinion about redistributing wealth in the healthcare realm.

“Critics started raising concerns about the cost of these plans–higher taxes and premiums for those with coverage, more government interference in physician choices, and of course the potential of abortion coverage.”

If you’re a conservative, Irwin argues, you account for this shift by claiming that Americans are coming to their senses. Americans understand that the high taxes of the middle 20th century came at a high economic cost whereas lower taxes on the wealthy spurns economic growth. If you’re a liberal, Irwin claims, you likely attribute this shift to the seductive charm of right wing rhetoric that misinforms the electorate and transforms phrases like “spread the wealth around” into perjoratives. Of course, no liberal theory would be complete without intoning that its opponents object to serving “someone with a different color skin.”

Irwin refrains from substantiating either the liberal or conservative accounts for the attitudinal shift, and instead, promotes the claims from a National bureau of Economic Research working paper written by Jimmy Charite (et.al.), and another working paper from the Brookings Institution. Charite finds that Americans are more willing to redistribute wealth if they know that the rich people being taxed are nouveau riche.

“Rich people who have been rich for a while have gotten used to their money, so it would be unfair to tax them heavily.”

Brookings claims that Americans reject redistribution if they believe that they will lose their own benefits to serve someone else.

Charite’s research misses the mark entirely, as most Americans care less about how long someone’s been rich than they do about how someone made their money. Brookings’ conclusion strikes me as so obvious that it warrants no further examination.

Therefore, of the three explanations for why Americans increasingly dislike wealth redistribution, Edsall’s (or Blendon’s) makes the most sense. The crux of Edsall’s conclusion supports the conservative assertion that Americans have come to their senses about wealth redistribution. In theory, Americans can be convinced that anything can (and maybe should)  be free. When the details of a policy to make that a reality surface, though, we recognize that wealth redistribution leads to worse outcomes for everyone.

This represents bad news for the Left. Democrats strive to equalize Americans’ wealth through redistribution–wealth they believe is concentrated not based on the principles of the free market that rewards creativity, risk taking and hard work, but rather by chance, vice and, of course, oppression. Fewer Americans supporting redistributive efforts threatens a key claim to Democratic legitimacy. With the 2016 Presidential race creeping to the front of Americans’ minds; Congress and governorships nationwide controlled by Republicans; a field of dynamic Republican candidates focused on winning the White House; and a singularly uninspiring Democratic presidential candidate representing liberals’ only choice; this news could not be more dire for leftists.
No wonder the topic yielded so much attention at the New York Times.