Category: Uncategorized

Reflection on Dr. Art Laffer

On Wednesday, October 24, 2018, Dr. Art Laffer ’63 delivered a talk on “Trump, Taxes, and Trade.” Dr. Laffer served as a member of President Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board for both of his terms in office (1981-1989), and was the architect of the administration’s tax cuts in the 1980s. His accomplishments have earned him the distinction of being called “The Father of Supply-Side Economics.”

By: Ward Hanser

Dr. Laffer began his talk by giving a broad overview of his personal economic philosophy. This is highlighted by his 5 Pillars of Economics, which, he explains, are the foundation we must build upon if we are to achieve sustained and reproducible economic growth. The 5 Pillars are a low rate; broad base flat taxation to minimize personal and economic negatives; restrained spending; sound money to allow for contracts and future planning; minimal regulation; and free trade.

While these are all crucial, Dr. Laffer emphasized the need for free trade. When asked about the trade war with China, India, and other nations, he re-acknowledged our need for trade but did not see much of a problem with President Trump’s brinkmanship. In his eyes, the United States is still the most free-trade nation in the world; however, he believes a world with no trade barriers would be most beneficial for economic prosperity. Other countries’ currency manipulation, tariffs, and other barriers to trade (as well as our own) prevent this goal. If countries are unwilling to meet to talk about trade, he sees no alternative in order to truly get them to agree to talk on how to reduce trade barriers.

Dr. Laffer’s favorite Beach boy’s song is Barbara Ann.

Ward Hanser is a sophomore in Pierson College.

Interview with Michael Johns, Co-Founder of the U.S. Tea Party Movement

Michael Johns is an American conservative public policy leader and business executive. In 2009, he co-founded the U.S. Tea Party movement and has since served as one of its leading strategists and spokespersons. Michael has served in executive and management capacities with McKesson, Eli Lilly and Company, and Gentiva Health Service. He has served as a White House speechwriter to President George H. W. Bush and a senior advisor to New Jersey Governor and 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and U S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe. He frequently appears on cable networks, such as Fox News, Fox Business News, CNBC, BBC, France 24, in addition to numerous media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, and National Review. Michael is a graduate of the University of Miami, where he majored in economics and graduated with honors.

By: Declan Kunkel

When did you get your start in politics? What made you become involved in the Republican Party?

Michael Johns: I think it’s an interesting story. I essentially had two very contrasting experiences growing up, and both got me thinking about government and public policy for the first time but in very different ways. I grew up in a small eastern Pennsylvania town in the Lehigh Valley region of the state called Emmaus in the 1980s. It was a region whose economy was based very extensively on manufacturing. Bethlehem Steel, the second largest steel manufacturer in our country at the time, was based there. Mack Trucks had a large presence there. Casilio Concrete and Air Products were based there. It was a region where there were abundant opportunities for people who worked with their hands, what we commonly call “blue collar” workers. At that time, Bethlehem Steel was the place to work. The wages were good, and the perception was the job stability was too since there would always be demand for steel. But competition from China, Japan, and other regions of the world hit the Lehigh Valley in a very detrimental and disproportionate way. I watched friends’ parents lose their jobs. These were people very deeply rooted in the Lehigh Valley. They could not pick up and leave for a job somewhere else. They had kids in schools there. They had aging parents nearby. And after spending a couple decades learning how to smelt steel in blast furnaces, steelmaking was what they knew and loved. A little to the north of where I grew up, in the Coal Region of Pennsylvania, it was the same story: I saw hard working Americans who took pride in their work and worked hard but found themselves losing these opportunities because of macro trade and global economic forces that were ultimately totally beyond their control. My paternal grandfather was a small town mayor in the Coal Region in addition to being a coal miner and a World War II Purple Heart recipient.

At that time, I saw a lot of fear. I saw a lot of anger. I saw a lot of frustration. All of it got me thinking for the first time about government and communities for the first time, and my first instinct was very rudimentary: Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this, I asked myself? I quickly saw that very powerful forces were at play: Foreign governments subsidizing industry and operating with cheaper labor and regulatory standards than were required here. And subsidized product dumping designed to put American manufacturers out of business. I don’t think my initial views then were either conservative or liberal at the start. They were just practical and instinctive. It troubled me to see harm done to communities and to see our government so unresponsive to that harm. And so I started to think for the first time about how I could play a constructive role and what I could do. I started to get a passion for some of these issues and dived into learning all I could about them. I read a lot for the first time on my own about politics and public policy, about history and economies, including many of the conservative classics. I found myself talking to others about these topics and challenges in casual ways, and I started to see a lot of commonality of thinking about what was happening and yet just as big of a consensus that government was seemingly unable or unwilling to do much about it.

Then I got to the University of Miami in Florida, and I found a similar set of circumstances with many of my Cuban-American friends whose families had been driven out of Fidel Castro’s Cuba after the 1959 revolution there. They told me about arbitrary jailings and killings, about property being seized by force by Castro’s government, about really brutal abuses of human rights by the Cuban government, about what life was like in a genuine communist tyranny. As I heard these stories, I found myself asking the same question I asked back in the Lehigh Valley: Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this? And yet, there were real differences between what I witnessed in the Lehigh Valley and the stories I heard in South Florida. In the first case, I started to realize, it was basically a case of government not protecting and defending the interests of its citizens. In essence, government was not doing enough. Yet, in the case of the persecution of Cubans, it awakened me to the reality that sometimes government can do worse than nothing. Governments can do real life harm. Governments can steal. Governments can kill. Governments can be dangerous and hostile and even at the core of evil. It was at the University of Miami where I became an anti-communist. And in about five minutes after becoming an anti-communist, I concluded that being an anti-communist meant supporting the Reagan administration, which was then entering its second term, and also being a Republican.

All of this led me through a bunch of first steps in the fields of public policy. I was elected president of University of Miami College Republicans. I interned with my Congressman from Pennsylvania, a really great and bright and dedicated public servant named Don Ritter, who was the only scientist in the U.S. Congress at that time and spoke Russian fluently. And I went through a great program in D.C. called the National Journalism Center, which introduces conservatives to the basics of journalism. I got a little taste of Washington, and I decided that I was going to do everything possible, everything within my power, to be a force for good in public policy and that I would likely have more influence there than anywhere else. So I got right to Washington, D.C. after graduating from The U and worked five great years at The Heritage Foundation, where I was an editor and then a foreign policy expert.

What was it like to work in the George H. W. Bush White House?

It was a great honor, of course. I was more a Reagan Republican than I was a Bush Republican, but I was impressed with President Bush’s vast experience. Much of it Americans don’t even know much about, or they’ve forgotten. But let me tell you about this man: He was a World War II hero in the Navy before he attended Yale. He didn’t have to enroll in the Navy but he did out of the same sense of patriotic obligation that I felt and feel. He represented Texas’ Seventh Congressional District in Congress, and did so as a conservative. He ran the Harris County Republican Party. And he went on to assemble the most impressive resume I think I’ve ever seen in this profession: Nixon appointed him U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in New York City. Ford made him our envoy in China. Nixon asked him to run the Republican National Committee in the middle of the Watergate scandal, a period of immense self-reflection and loss of confidence among many Republicans. He, of course, ran the Central Intelligence Agency under Ford at a crucial moment in history as the Cold War was intensifying everywhere, especially in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and as the demand for U.S. intelligence capabilities were exponentially expanding. And while Reagan beat him in the 1980 presidential primary, Reagan saw Bush as crucial to maintaining consensus in the Republican Party and made him his running mate. He was an immensely successful and engaged vice president not just in the U.S. but on the global stage. When Barbara Bush died earlier this year, I started to think for the first time that one day he will be gone too. We will see his hearse and motorcade driving down a Texas highway with red and blue lights flashing, and we’ll say: “There goes one of our greatest.” I support Trump. He opposes Trump. I’m a movement conservative with a practical side. He’s a practical politician with a conservative side. We aren’t identical but there are enough common denominators for me to say I really respect him as much as any living political leader.

But I arrived in the Bush White House at a moment when there was a pretty broad consensus that he was not going to be reelected in 1992. That was pretty shocking to many because his support had been over 90 percent earlier in his term following the liberation of Kuwait. It was difficult to ever imagine him losing. But he was, and there were many factors at play. One of the central ones was his violation of his “no new taxes” pledge. I also found that many of his appointees were actively engaged in alienating the conservative base in the country and convincing him to abandon crucially important conservative positions and promises he had made to the American people. There were many reasons he lost in 1992, one of which is the American people very rarely sustain any one particular party in power for too long, and the Republicans had been in the White House since January 1981. But I saw conservatives feeling demoralized. They were not sufficiently motivated to invest a lot in his candidacy. I think some conservatives even secretly hoped he lost so they could make some broader political point about moderation being politically detrimental, or because they felt more comfortable as an opposition political force than they did as a governing one. I did not want Bush to abandon his conservative promises, but I also admired his instinct to try to function amicably with everyone. That’s my approach too. We often hear many in this profession describe political or public policy differences at war. That’s insane. It’s important to remember: Only war is really war.

I guess the other thing I really love about the opportunity is that there is a neat little community of those of us who have served as White House speechwriters in modern times. Probably not more than 50 or so of us alive, but it’s an impressive group: Chris Matthews, James Fallows, Christopher Buckley, Peggy Noonan, Pat Buchanan, and others. Safire and Schlesinger, two icons, are gone. I admire all of them, not because they mirror my own policy views necessarily but because of their ability to communicate complex public policy themes so well. It’s a group of insanely talented individuals. Every memorable presidential speech or quote you remember since Kennedy was written by one of them. “Ask not what your country can do for you” wasn’t Kennedy. Ted Sorensen wrote that memorable line. But I guess thinking it was Kennedy’s line can be forgiven because I recently had to tell someone it wasn’t a Living Colour lyric, that it actually came from one of the most important and influential presidential speeches ever, Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address.

How can we trace the development of the Tea Party movement? Does it go back to the George H. W. Bush administration?

The Tea Party movement is the largest and most transformational political movement in American history, and I would say the sentiments that led a few of us to start it began percolating around the bank bailout in 2008. A lot of us just looked at that bailout and said, “Wait. Let me understand this. The same banks that engaged in all these unethical and ultimately bad business decisions are actually profiting from those decisions?” We did not bail out their victims. We bailed out the very banks that launched the entire subprime crisis that nearly brought down the entire global economy. With Goldman alone, $12.9 billion in counter-party payments through AIG and $10 billion in TARP relief. I think this was the moment when many of us realized this wasn’t even a partisan battle. It was a battle of Washington and Washington special interests versus the people. And things got even worse and pretty quickly under Obama. Americans saw representative democracy eroding before their eyes. They saw an alien ideology seeking to openly transform a nation they loved. They saw government overstepping its bounds in vast ways.

Then, on February 19, 2009, I was one of a few Americans who had CNBC on in the background, and I saw the Rick Santelli rant. His ability to capture all this frustration in a couple minutes of reporting from the Chicago Board of Trade got me thinking that we needed some vehicle to communicate both the frustrations and aspirations of the American people. I knew there were millions of Americans out there who shared our views and frustrations, and I knew I was not alone in feeling something needed to be done, even if it was only symbolic opposition. So we brought together a conference call of about 20 conservatives the following evening. Some of us knew a few others on the call, but none of us really knew each other too well. None of us had really ever worked together. And we all said, “This is the moment. We need to start something that can offer the American people an opportunity to get engaged.” I still have the invitation to that call, and I think it is ultimately going to belong in a museum somewhere.

Our original intent with the call was to organize a huge number of rallies–basically one in any city with more than 250,000 people or so–on Tax Day, April 15, 2009. I spoke in Boston that afternoon, and then headed down to lower Manhattan to speak at night. There were thousands of people. They just kept pouring out onto the streets. Easily a couple thousand on Boston Common, and then about 14,000 or so in New York City. It was the same thing in cities all across the country–in Chicago, in Nashville, in Houston, in Los Angeles, in Dallas, San Antonio, in Denver, Phoenix and Pittsburgh. You name it. The United States of America was changed that day. I do not think you can overstate the historical significance of the groundwork that was developed on April 15, 2009. I sort of figured and knew that we could get thousands and maybe tens of thousands of people activated. But it ultimately proved to be tens of millions. The people were looking for an avenue to bring some commonsense, foundational principles, and practicality to government. That is what the Tea Party was and is. It does not need to be any more complicated than that to be hugely transformative. And Obama was so defensive, I knew it was just a matter of time until he started denouncing us publicly, which of course he did. And then it was just a matter of time until they took action, which they did in ordering the IRS to target our organizations, for which the IRS has since publicly apologized. There is no way, in my view, that the order for that targeting came directly from the West Wing and probably from Obama himself. The administration was too rigorously managed and there were too many political sensitivities for that to have been some lower level rogue operation.

There has been a lot of scholarship by scholars who say that the Tea Party was a reaction to the Obama Administration and Obama electoral coalition. What caused the Tea Party movement?

Yeah, I joke that if you think the Tea Party movement hasn’t generated economic growth and prosperity, tell all these professors who wrote these Tea Party history books about us to send back their advances. And by the way, I know almost none of the guys who’ve written these books. They’d publish a 250-page book on the Tea Party movement. I’d ask, “Who did you speak with in the Tea Party movement.” “Oh, no one,” they’d reply. Shocker that those books are mostly filled with stale and inaccurate liberal cliches and botched historical interpretations of what has actually gone on these past nine years.

But the answer to your question is that the Tea Party movement’s creation was a classic “supply and demand” story. The American people did not feel comfortable with the direction of the country in 2009. They did not appreciate Obama disparaging America, or traveling the world apologizing on our behalf, or telling entrepreneurs and small businesses “you didn’t build that,” or expanding government at a record pace, including a plan to take over the $9 trillion healthcare industry that touches the lives of every citizen in our nation. Yet, there really was no role available to the average citizen to get engaged in doing anything about these things before the Tea Party movement. You might say, “Well, there’s the Republican Party,” but the Republican Party both then and now is too narrow. And despite liberal allegations to the contrary. the Tea Party movement wasn’t and isn’t a Republican Party vehicle anyway. There were and are many Tea Party Independents and some Democrats. And there were many Americans who had never done anything at all politically, including vote. So I would say the Obama administration was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but the reality is the frustrations even predated it. Americans simply were not feeling that anyone in Washington, D.C. had their back, or even grasped their concerns. And honestly, they didn’t. Washington, D.C. is an island onto itself where lobbyists will represent either side of a cause, where Congressmen and Congresswomen dart from fundraiser to fundraiser collecting checks to sell out the voters who sent them there, and where the suffering of Americans right before their eyes gets ignored. Like Reagan used to say, politics is the second oldest profession in the world, but it resembles the oldest profession in the world in hauntingly similar ways.

The Tea Party movement also taught me that we really do have some unifying themes in this country. I always suspected it, but the Tea Party movement has proven that most Americans insist that we adhere to the U.S. Constitution and are troubled that we are weakening in that commitment. Most Americans believe government needs to exist but that it is too large and too self-serving to be blindly trusted. Most Americans feel overtaxed. And we’re literally in a country where local regulators will shut down a kid’s lemonade stand. They feel over-regulated too. Mostly, though, they do not feel represented. They call their Congressional office, or write, and they get voicemail or a meaningless, thoughtless form letter back. Their Congressmen don’t even hold town hall meetings. We have a handful of legislators–and this remains the case today–who huddle with K Street lobbyists behind closed doors and decide what legislation will and will not manifest. I have spoken to most Republican Members of Congress, and this is shocking to many Americans but they feel the same way. Many go to Washington hoping to change the world and quickly end up demoralized, realizing it’s like any other job. Leadership and lobbyists tell them what to say and what to think and how to vote. This was not what our founders intended, and the genius of our Tea Party movement is that we did not look at all this and seek to create a whole new ideology or set of ideas to counter it. We know, as most Americans know, that this nation was founded by some of the bravest and brightest people the world has ever seen. Our country evolves. Things do become more complex. But the reality is that the founding principles of the nation–truths that our founders deemed self-evident–are still self-evident truths today. We believe in these truths and defend them.

In my wildest fantasies, I have sometimes wondered if Jefferson, Washington, Paine, Adams, Hamilton, Franklin, Madison and others could reemerge for a few days and speak with us, would they be proud of what our Tea Party movement has done? I’ve thought enough about it and concluded, yea, they probably would. But I think they would have immense disappointment in many of the deviations from our founding principles. Some say, “Well, they would not recognize the United States today.” That is true, of course. But the reality also is that they were aware then that things would change in unpredictable ways. They did not give us the U.S. Constitution and say, “Here. These are the rules. Period.” They gave us the Article V amendment process for a reason. They gave us balance of power. They gave us an independent judiciary and rule of law. In doing all of this, they knew that the ideas and challenges of the nation would evolve but that however it changed government must remain accountable to the people, not vice versa. They also knew quite well that government’s ability to hurt was just as powerful if not more powerful than its ability to help. So that is one commonality throughout the Tea Party movement: A recognition that we are a unique nation founded by extraordinary individuals, and that our founding principles need to be defended and applied. Our nation was founded with a deep and justifiable skepticism of governmental power. Our founders saw those systems in action, fled them, and ultimately launched a war against them.

How did the Tea Party interact with the Romney 2012 Presidential Campaign?

The Tea Party movement was the driving force behind Republicans winning back the House in 2010. Everyone engaged even a little bit in American politics in that election cycle saw that we were the brains, the energy, and the blood behind that historic victory. Some of the most prominent conservative politicians today emerged from that election cycle and ran as “Tea Party Republicans.” We picked up 63 seats and defended many others in the House alone. It was the biggest seat pickup by a single political party since Republicans won 72 seats running against FDR. So, two years later, we entered 2012 with a feeling that anything was possible and that the race was winnable. We never hear this from the mainstream media, but Obama’s popularity was never much greater than Trump’s is today at that time. Obama entered the 2012 presidential race with about a 50 percent approval rate, meaning half the nation did not approve of his direction. And I would say even his 50 percent approval rate was inflated. Many felt uncomfortable telling a mainstream media pollster they did not approve of Obama because they knew the mainstream media did. And that’s the problem with polls. People respond with what they think a pollster wants to hear, not what they actually believe. So a pollster asks, “What radio station do you listen to?” They’ll say, “Oh, I listen to NPR.” They’re really listening to Destiny’s Child and Ariana Grande on Z100. What television shows do you watch? “I watch PBS.” They’re really watching Jersey Shore reruns. So we had a media telling us every day how great Obama was. I knew that Americans would feel reluctant telling a pollster from these same outlets, “I totally disagree with you.” They either didn’t take the call, or they told them what they wanted to hear so they could get off the phone.

But the reality is, even knowing what Romney surely knew about the vast populist reach of the Tea Party movement and the fact that it was the Tea Party movement that forced Nancy Pelosi to hand that gavel to John Boehner in January 2011, Romney’s campaign was run by the usual Republican consultants. And they thought and acted like the traditional and predictable consultants. They did not really reach out to the Tea Party movement like they could have or should have, though Romney did address one Tea Party event in Philadelphia. And the result is that many conservatives did not feel sufficiently inspired by his candidacy to get out and vote. Millions stayed home, and those millions were the difference makers in crucial must-win states. Romney’s candidacy definitely had some moments of greatness–like the first debate in Denver. You could sort of see the arrogance of Obama, and Romney delivered a few major blows. Romney did well in the Hofstra debate in Long Island too. But the real reason Romney lost is he simply did not inspire the voter base like Trump did in 2016. All of that started by not engaging the Tea Party movement from the very beginning. As soon as I saw that we were on the margins of that campaign, I knew–and I think every Tea Party member knew–it was unlikely he could win. And it’s a shame because, as opposed to being the junior Senator from Utah, I think he could be in the second term of his presidency if he had engaged the Tea Party movement in a meaningful way.

Was the 2012 failure a result of Romney’s lack of understanding of the Tea Party and the Republican base, or was it a difference of ideology?

Probably a little of both. I was entirely comfortable with his ideology. Others weren’t, especially of his healthcare plan in Massachusetts. Others were skeptical that he was too establishment. But he was surrounded by people who I’m sure were telling him, “Oh, those guys aren’t going to help you with swing voters, or with the suburbs.” That’s totally untrue. And the reality is that we also had major House and Senate races in 2012 with candidates who did reach out to us and were proudly running as Tea Party Republicans. It was tough for many to justify taking time away from them to support a guy who never really asked for our support. Had Mitt Romney stood up at his Stratham, New Hampshire announcement speech in June 2011 and said he shared the frustrations and aspirations of the Tea Party movement, he would have been our 45th President. All of that said, I did everything I could to help him, and I obviously voted for him.

What are the major victories of the Tea Party movement?

Obama promised a fundamental reformation of the United States of America in his 2008 campaign. But the reality is that he did not change much of anything, and that’s because the Tea Party movement engaged tens of millions of Americans against his policies and then won both the U.S. House in 2010 and the U.S. Senate in 2014 to essentially block his most radicalized legislative ideas. In fact, the Resistance movement today was basically founded by a few liberal Congressional staffers who said: “We were on the inside, and we saw the way the Tea Party movement stopped the entire Obama legislative agenda.” It isn’t even a secret. They published a whole report arguing that and trying to replicate our tactics.

So we held some very disastrous policies at bay. As bad as you think things could have gotten, it would have been even worse absent Tea Party movement opposition. We may never have recovered. Yes, I believe the Tea Party movement can be credited with saving this nation.

But political victories come and go. I think the real victory of the Tea Party movement is creating an avenue for centrist political activism for Americans who share our three founding principles: adherence to the U.S. Constitution, limited government, and lower taxes. Many Americans who share these values were standing demoralized on the sidelines because they had no one they really identified with. It is the Tea Party movement that said, “We know things look bleak. We know we have no political leverage right now in Washington. We know you feel kicked and downtrodden. But things are going to change, and we are going to change them.” And in reshaping dialogue back to our founding principles and educating the American people on those principles and on what powers are and are not afforded the federal government under our Constitution, we got many Americans to recognize that our founding principles are and must always be enduring principles. Of all of the bold things I have done in my life–standing in the middle of the Angolan jungle with anti-communist resistance forces in the middle of a major Cold War civil war, for instance–I don’t think anything compares to my promises to the American people that we would win. I know they needed to know we could win to be inspired and engaged, and I knew without them being inspired and engaged it was hopeless. But I first needed to feel comfortable intellectually that we could win before going out on a limb and promising it. Had we not prevailed, I guarantee I would be reminded every day for the rest of my life how wrong I was. I’d be a running joke on Brian Williams and Lawrence O’Donnell. I knew that too. But I concluded the opposition was vast and that we could turn the entire federal government–and state and local governments too–around. And I promised that, and so did many others.

How does President Donald Trump interface with the Tea Party Campaign? How does the Tea Party interact with Trump? How will the Trump administration effect conservatism in the future?

I endorsed President Trump on the first day of his candidacy, June 16, 2015, because I know he has the sort of fortitude necessary to stand against political pressures and the swamp culture. That takes a special kind of strength, and he was the only candidate I saw who was forcefully addressing our trade crisis, our immigration crisis, our cultural crisis. It is less known but President Trump also spoke at a Tea Party rally in Palm Beach back in 2011. He was and is a supporter of the Tea Party movement, even though some of my colleagues opposed his candidacy. I know for a fact he came out of that Palm Beach Tea Party rally, got in his limo, and said: “Wow. That was great.” In the Tea Party movement, I think the President saw for the first time the promise that a successful populist national political campaign was really possible. Some questioned my conservatism in endorsing and supporting him. Rich Lowry said on Fox News I was handing the White House to Hillary Clinton, for instance. These guys never reemerge to apologize, of course. But I knew I had spent more time in the grassroots than these people. I knew Trump was serious in his love of country and placing us first, and I knew that he has personal traits that are extraordinary and unmatched in modern political life. This is not a perfect man, but this is a man for this moment. And I was convinced enough Americans would see all these things too.

So they were wrong and I was right about him in multiple ways. They said he couldn’t win. Period. No chance. He got 304 electoral votes. And they said he was not a real conservative, but he is the best thing to happen to conservatism since Reagan and maybe ever. His tax and regulatory cuts are aligned with our Tea Party agenda. In Gorsuch and Kavanaugh and many federal judicial appointees, he’s advancing the principles of conservative jurisprudence and original intent that we champion. He is undeniably the most pro-life president since Roe v. Wade. And I think, and most would agree, that it was the Tea Party movement that gave birth to modern conservative populism that allowed Trump to not only run without Republican Party support in the primary but to run pretty openly run against the Party establishment. It was the Tea Party movement that built the foundation for mass rallies as an effective 21st century means of political organization and communication. Without the Tea Party movement, I think Trump would have been forced to run a much different and certainly less populist campaign. I think we paved that road, and thank God we did. So his winning the primary was not a Republican Party victory. It was a victory over the Republican Party whose top leadership did not want him the race and repeatedly urged him to get out and did everything possible to undermine his candidacy up to the Cleveland convention when they finally aligned with him.

How do you think that commentators like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson will change our political culture?

I’m not sure exactly. I think you need to decide who you are ultimately. Both of those guys are more commentators than political leaders if I understand them correctly. If you have the guts to walk into a room of hostile liberals, as I have done and as they have done, and preach truth, I respect you greatly. That takes guts in 2018. But it’s ultimately not enough. We aren’t going to win because we have great authors and college lecturers. We are going to win because we have a winning and understandable message being transmitted through a vast and organized collaborative political movement. If you have the former and not the latter, it’s useless. So I instruct fellow conservatives: Do not assume that we are doing everything correctly, or that your voice is meaningless. Just realize that your voice alone has its limits. Combine with one other person and you double your persuasiveness and reach. Combine it with tens of millions and it will be exponentially so. I see our prospects for success answered in a few very simple questions: Can we all organize together? Can we all work together? Can I count on you? Can you count on me? And I don’t mean, can I count on you to show up and give a lucrative college lecture. I mean can I count on you when the hours are long, when the the opposition is playing hardball, when we are losing, when there is no obvious reward at the end of the rainbow except knowing we did the right thing to live another day? We have a lot of work to do on those fronts. It takes a movement, and that means collaboration. We need to be bending over backwards to work together and help each other.

How can the Tea Party movement interact with the changing demographics? How can the conservative movement stay fresh and accessible as we move forward?

I think our Tea Party movement’s demographics very closely mirror those of the general electorate. African American and Hispanic representation is roughly what it is in the general population, though it should be higher. Women are very well represented and are some of the Tea Party movement’s most effective leaders and members. Our age demographic probably tilts a bit over the median, but that’s not uncommon in political advocacy. I think we need to do more to take our message into urban communities and liberal-leaning suburban communities and say, “You may think you know us based on what Rachel Maddow tells you about us every night, but let me really tell you the truth about what we stand for.” Let me stand here for as long as you like and answer every question you can think of. Just give me a hearing, and you’ll see I definitely keep it real, I listen attentively, and if you have a better idea than mine I will toss my idea and embrace yours. The only parameters are not comprising on our Constitution or on ethics. Those are red lines.

I see successful political organization as a conversation. It’s about speaking principles but also hearing the realities of people and understanding the things they think about when they wake up each morning and the things that might keep them up at night. It’s about responsiveness to the problems confronting Americans while defending the great principles upon which this giant experiment known as the United States of America is built. It’s about ensuring your priorities are my priorities because if they aren’t, what’s the point? That’s the game, and defending this nation and ensuring we leave it better than we found it must always be the goal.

Content originally published in The Politic.

Declan Kunkel is a senior in Morse College. 

Interview with AEI’s Peter Wallison

On October 30, 2018, the Buckley Program hosted a dinner seminar with AEI scholar Peter Wallison. Mr. Wallison served as general counsel of the U.S. Treasury Department, and had a significant role in the development of the Reagan administration’s proposals for the deregulation of the financial services industry. He also served as White House counsel to President Ronald Reagan. Mr. Wallison discussed his latest book, Judicial Fortitude: The Last Chance to Rein In the Administrative State, in which he argues that the administrative agencies of the executive branch have gradually taken over the legislative role of Congress, resulting in what many call the administrative state. 

By: Carson Macik

CM: Thank you Mr. Wallison for sitting down with me today. I’m sure you have many insights to share, and I can’t wait to delve into the issues with you.

PW: It’s my pleasure.

CM: So, after the 2008 financial collapse, many were left wondering what happened. Some even theorize the lack of an explanation gave rise to the economic system of socialism. Of course, you’ve written a book about the issue [Hidden in Plain Sight: What Really Caused the World’s Financial Crisis and Why it Could Happen Again, 2015], and your work has pushed you into the eye of critical economists like [Paul] Krugman. What did they get wrong about the cause of the 2008 collapse?

PW: They did not understand. They refuse to accept the idea that the government’s housing policy actually caused the 2008 collapse. I can understand why they would believe that after all. They’ve always thought the government did everything right. This book, my book, makes clear that it was the government’s housing policy that caused the huge bubble and then the collapse which ultimately caused the financial crisis.

CM: In my economics class that I took in high school, we learned about the FDIC. It was portrayed very positively, that it was this safety net which saves banks from overstepping their bounds. What are your thoughts on the FDIC?

PW: Well, I do think people want a very safe investment for their savings. I don’t really think we can do without a government-backed deposit system. Once you get a government-backed deposit system, the FDIC or some other agency must regulate the banks, because people deposit their money in the banks believing that they will be able to get out of the banks if a problem arises. They won’t care whether the bank is “safe” or not. The government has to protect itself by regulating [the banks]. I do think the government over-regulates the banks. They [the banks] should be given more authority than they have to venture into new areas, but I can understand why people would be reluctant to do that. Once we establish that you should have safe deposit accounts, we have no choice but to implement a regulatory system for the banks.

CM: In that case, it would seem like some sort of regulation is needed. The administrative and regulatory state, as you’ve written about, has become a pressing issue among conservatives especially since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the escalating rise in government spending, and the ever-constant intervention of bureaucratic agencies into the lives of Americans. What role do you think the Fed, the IRS, and other financial agencies play in maintaining the American way of life? And have any meaningful changes come from this administration addressing that?

PW: Here’s my problem with the administrative state. It has nothing to do with the American way of life. It has a lot more to do with whether we are going to live in a democracy or not. If we actually have a democracy, that means ultimately the American people, through their representatives, have to make the major decisions for what the government does. The administrative state, unfortunately, and all these agencies of the executive branch, are functioning without any approval from Congress. And that is dangerous. If the American people come to believe the government is acting without any support from them or any control by them, they will no longer support the government. We see this happening in Brexit where citizens there, at least the majority, thought the rules coming out of the European Union were falling on them without any control or representation. So, they wanted to eventually withdraw from the European Union. That can happen in the United States: not a withdraw, but a sense that the government is no longer legitimate.

CM: I think that’s becoming more prevalent now, especially with Trump being president. I think many people feared the state more than they feared Trump.

PW: Well, the election of Trump has the implication that a very large portion of our population was tired of all the regulation from Washington. This isn’t just the business community. These are ordinary people who felt disillusioned by the regulations. They said, ‘this has got to stop.’ They felt that Congress wasn’t responsive.

CM: Organizations like the Mises Institute advocate for abolishing the Fed[eral Reserve] and returning to the gold standard. Frederick Hayek, who they quote very often, even went so far as to advocate for the private competition of currencies. Where do you draw the line with government regulation and to what extent do you think these limitations can be implemented in the bureaucratic state?

PW: I’m unsure about the whole issue of currencies and what the Fed does, whether it could be done without government action. I just haven’t studied this, so I’m unwilling to say anything definitive about it. I have many friends who are conservative economists, and yet they won’t go so far as to say the Fed should be replaced or eliminated. So, until I know more about monetary economics, I guess I’ll have to pass.

CM: That’s fair. As I’m sure you’re aware, insurance premiums are skyrocketing and are predicted to hit new records in 2019. Is over-regulation the cause of this price-hike and are there free market solutions this late in the game of government-regulated healthcare?

PW: So, I’ve always had the view that we don’t have enough consumer sovereignty in the healthcare industry. People should be able to make choices based on the cost for various kinds of healthcare services; and to the extent that they do that, to the extent that they have a number of providers, a number of services, and a number of medications, that system will drive down costs. By creating the Medicare system and Obamacare, and regulating insurance providers and imposing costs on service organizations, the government has made it very difficult for that to occur. We have a competitive system for everything, including food. If you take the case of food products, where one supermarket is trying to compete with another supermarket and there are different products within the supermarket competing among each other, you can see how the very efficient, free market system could work in the delivery of healthcare.

The data shows, for example, that automobile prices are stable over time since maybe the mid-1960’s through today. Automobile prices have remained the same in relation to the median income of the American people. It’s almost a flat line. Why is that? It’s because the automobile companies are competing with one another. They keep improving the quality of their services and the goods that they provide, but they also keep the prices down to compete.

The same thing is true in the home-construction business. If you look at the prices of homes, you see the same thing. The prices of homes increase incrementally and then crash suddenly. But, if you look at the cost of building homes, the line is flat. Why is that? Again, the answer is that the cost of building is negotiable on the free-market basis among the contractors on the one hand and the builders on the other, and that keeps the prices stable. When the government steps in, you get these giant bubbles which naturally collapse. If we had a free market in housing, we would have a stable market. And if we had a freer market in healthcare services, we would also have stable and much less expansive governmental role.

CM: That’s interesting how, in principle and in practice, the free market can be applied across many different fields.

PW: Well, if you look at most of the things in the United States, they’re completely open to the free market without government regulation. The government regulates a little bit, but it doesn’t control. It doesn’t have a major role. And when the government is not involved, you get a stable market over time. You don’t have the government causing all those collapses.

CM: The power of the free market is truly incredible. It’s quite astounding. So, you grew up in New York City, hardly a town known for its conservative populace, and then graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law, went on to work in the Reagan administration, and now hold the position of co-director at AEI’s [American Enterprise Institute] program on Financial Policy Studies. That’s quite a distinguished career. What motivated you to reach the place where you are now, and what advice would you give to aspiring conservatives?

PW: Well, of course, I always wanted to be a lawyer. Now you don’t have to be a lawyer to be conservative: you can be an economist, or a business mogul, or anything really. But, my observation is what I said before. That is, if you look at the economy as a whole, if the private sector is left on its own largely, it produces a stable market, low prices, and a lot of innovation. If the government gets involved, it’s a terrible situation. One of the things I did when I was practicing law was representing banks and financial institutions that were heavily regulated. I could see the problems that came out of that. There are reasons why financial and investment firms need regulation, but the real problem is that the government, once it gets involved and begins manipulating things, causes problems. Then the government comes into solve those problems, only making things worse. What’s going to happen in the housing field right now? We are going to have another serious crisis because the problems that caused the crisis of 2008 have not been solved. In fact, they haven’t even been touched. When it occurs, I can guarantee you people won’t say ‘the government should get out.’ People are going to say ‘we need more government control over the housing business,’ and that’s what will have caused the problem.

CM: Thank you so much for your thoughts. I think you really gave some valuable insight into the role of government regulation.

PW: Sure. That’s just my perspective, and I think it has plenty of support among economists, but unfortunately too many people can’t imagine a world without government control. That’s a continuous fight, and I hope that the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program will pick up the baton and run with it. There’s a lot to be said for the free markets.

CM: We will certainly lead the charge. Thank you.

Carson Macik is a first-year in Saybrook College.

Firing Line Debate on Gun Control: A Conversation with the Legal Minds of D.C. v. Heller

On Friday, September 21, 2018, the Buckely Program hosted Joseph Blocher and the Clark Neily for a Firing Line debate on gun control.  Joseph Blocher is a Professor of Law at Duke University and a graduate of Yale Law School. He focuses primarily on Second Amendment law and legal history. Mr. Blocher provided much of the legal thinking behind the D.C. government’s argument that their handgun ban was constitutional in the landmark Supreme Court case D.C. v. Heller. Clark Neily is the Vice President for Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute and served as co-counsel to the plaintiff in Heller.

By: Grant Gabriel

First, a formality, I recognize the elephant in the room: a “Firing Line” debate on gun control… it is hardly subtle. Indeed, given our present political climate, the proposition seems rife with peril. Invite Professor Joseph Blocher, who helped draft Washington, D.C.’s argument in defense of the handgun ban overturned in D.C. v. Heller, and the Cato Institute’s Mr. Clark Neily, plaintiff’s counsel in the same case—two leading legal voices on one of the most politically contentious topics today—and the Buckley Program might as well have countenanced a duel.

Accordingly, when I sat down across from Messrs. Blocher and Neily for our pre-debate interviews, I came loaded for bear. I was prepared to probe both sides of the decision in Heller and cover the well-trodden ground of Second Amendment interpretation. From the very beginning, however, it was clear that these two intellectuals refused to succumb to the lesser angels of our present politics. Though their legal positions in Heller might have been antithetical, the two began their interviews, conducted separately, expressing a nearly identical sentiment: litigation is not the solution.

“I think that everyone should accept the precedent as it stands….” If this opening concession from D.C.’s advocate was surprising, Mr. Neily’s was just as telling: “Up until this point, and to a pretty high degree of certainty going forward, judicial protection of gun rights has been trivial.” The two, that is, now agree on a fundamental point. The Second Amendment protects the personal right to keep and bear arms, and the courts are highly reluctant to carve out Second Amendment protections beyond that central holding.

The reality of judicial non-intervention in Second Amendment jurisprudence may very well result from Professor Blocher’s assertion that “It was a closer decision than people on either side would like to admit.” Recognizing this situation, and fearing the potential political backlash historically associated with holding large portions of party platforms unconstitutional (see e.g. Dred Scott v. Sandford and more recently Roe v. Wade), the courts may very well be reluctant to take too active a role. Indeed, while proposals for Australian-style gun buybacks may run rampant on Ivy League campuses, both Professor Blocher and Mr. Neily agreed that the majority of gun control advocates have accepted the premise behind Heller and have adapted their proposals accordingly. As Professor Blocher put it, “[Heller] is not antithetical to the Democratic Party in the way Roe has been to the Republican Party.”

Professor Blocher called for the courts to develop a more robust Second Amendment doctrine to help draw out some of the vagaries of Justice Scalia’s opinion. Namely, he hoped for more clarity in parsing the “common use” test—hinging protection on a firearm’s “common use” in society. He suggested drawing on the three-pronged Miller Test from obscenity doctrine for guidance. But ultimately, with the courts’ reluctance to test the bounds of the political acceptance of Heller, both men turned their sights to the realm of policy.

Though maintaining that he held little hope of altering his opposition’s underlying opinions about firearms, Mr. Neily seemed armed with facts tailored to create political common ground. He emphasized the disproportionate enforcement of gun regulations against African-Americans. “47.3% of federal gun convictions are African Americans, which is a greater racial disparity than with drugs,” an outcome of a criminal justice system in which “African Americans are arrested for gun crimes at a rate five times that of whites, [and receive much harsher penalties] when they are prosecuted.”

These disparities represent a cruel irony considering that the inability of African-Americans to trust their own defense to the state in the Reconstruction South played a key role in solidifying the conception of a personal right to keep and bear arms outside of militia service. Yet, Professor Blocher stressed that African-Americans, often living in the communities most heavily impacted by gun violence, are among the most likely to support stricter gun laws. Nevertheless, he decried what he considers a false dichotomy between those who support the Second Amendment and those who advocate for gun control.

Contending on opposite sides of D.C. v. Heller,these two accomplished attorneys began from opposing legal positions. When I interviewed them, they made clear that they were intent on marching towards political solutions. Later that evening, they engaged not in an antagonistic debate but rather thoughtful discussion. This “Firing Line,” hosted by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, made clear the imperative of civility in political and legal discourse. I encourage all who get the chance to watch the recording of the dialogue posted by the Buckley Program. If I could, I would make it mandatory viewing for my classmates in the law school. If these two former foes can engage in this manner, then surely, the rest of us should aspire to nothing less.

Grant Gabriel is a student at the Yale Law School. 

 

Oren Cass on “Overheated” Climate Change Coverage

Oren Cass addressed Buckley Fellows in a lecture on Monday, April 23rd to discuss his work on overdramatized analyses of climate change. A fellow spoke with him before the talk, and his thoughts are printed below. 

Oren Cass is a Senior Fellow with the Manhattan Institute, where his focus includes energy, the environment, and poverty, as well as corresponding policy issues. He previously served as domestic policy director for the Romney campaign from 2011-2012. He often briefs Congress on his conservative policy approaches for issues such as environmental regulation, trade, poverty, and climate change, and his work has been widely published among prominent media outlets. He received a B.A. in Political Economy from Williams College and a J.D. from Harvard University. 

By: Matthew Fantozzi

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Oren Cass to ask him some questions about his views on climate change.  Prior to my interview with Mr. Cass and his lecture that followed, I would have said that I had a good idea of what climate change was and how it would affect the globe, and I definitely would have said it was a serious issue we need to address as quickly and forcefully as possible.  With that said, I was excited to learn more about Mr. Cass’ views and to hear about how he arrived at his conclusions.

Mr. Cass’ general view on climate change can be summarized as the following: it is happening and humans are causing it, but it is not as serious or urgent an issue as most people believe.  Mr. Cass’ position is that the slight warming of the globe over a long period of time will be something humans can easily deal with, and he believes that the issue has been blown drastically out of proportion.

For my first question, I asked him why he thinks the issue has been so blown out of proportion and why the idea of global warming as an existential threat has caught on so thoroughly. Mr. Cass thinks the main problem is that people often forget how adaptive humans are, and how fast technology changes. When looking at the issue with the mindset that our society will not change as the climate does, the projected effects can indeed look quite scary.  The key, he says, is to trust humans and the technology we will discover to effectively combat climate change.  He believes this is very plausible given that climate change is a very slow-moving problem, giving us plenty of time to learn about and deal with it.  As for the reason it is viewed as such an immediate, severe threat, Cass believes it is simply marketable.  Articles about the disasters climate change will bring get a lot of clicks on the internet, so media outlets are encouraged to run more of them and the problem snowballs from there.  Articles that talk about climate change as nothing more than an interesting problem we should begin learning about now to effectively combat in the future do not tend to be as popular.  He spoke about this from experience, being someone who has himself written many articles arguing for this more reasonable approach.

My next question asked how we should deal with this type of long-term, potentially major issue, and which long-term issues Cass finds more worrisome, given that climate change does not fall into this category. He breaks down the process of evaluating and addressing major issues into two main components.  First, we as a society must learn as much as possible about the potential issue and what effects it may have in the future. After this is done, we must work to create a society that is resilient to the effects we foresee, as opposed to trying to eliminate the causes of those effects. With specific respect to climate change, for example, we should be looking to create a society that can, in the future, accept and manage slightly hotter temperatures and a slight rise in sea level.  As for the second part of the question, he told me that he believes any risk or problem that moves quickly is significantly more worrying than climate change. Perhaps something like nuclear war or a pandemic that could cause significant damage over the course of weeks or months would pose a greater immediate threat.  One of the upsides of climate change, he says, is that it moves incredibly slowly, giving us time to prepare and adjust.

My last question for Mr. Cass asked, even if the effects of climate change will not be that drastic, whether there is harm in everyone beginning to do their part now to reduce it.  His main problem with this is that he believes everyone making their own small contributions has no measurable effect. According to Cass, the only way to make a difference, even domestically, would be with drastic government policies that would significantly alter daily life.  Such policies could come in the form of sweeping restrictions on cars and air travel.  More than that, he says, it is important to understand that climate change is not a domestic problem, but a global one. This century, between 70 and 80 percent of emissions are projected to come from the developing world. That is where we would have to focus efforts in order to make a meaningful impact on climate change, and that does not seem fair to him.  It is unreasonable to prevent leaders from developing their countries and improving the lives of their citizens because of an ambiguous problem we might have to deal with in the future.

There is an established narrative about climate change and its seriousness on campus, and it turned out I knew very little beyond that coming into this interview. According to Cass, there is ample room for criticism of this account. Climate change is definitely a problem and an interesting one, but it is important to not simply accept the mainstream view on this subject without critical thinking.  It is important to listen to people like Orren Cass because it is impossible to address any problem completely without a full understanding of the issue, including the views of experts on all sides of it.

Matthew Fantozzi is a sophomore in Pierson College.

Recommendations from AEI’s Dr. Roslyn Layton

Roslyn Layton is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute focusing on digital technology industries and net neutrality. Layton develops policies for digitally connected domains and advises on government regulations. She participated in the Buckley Program’s Firing Line Debate on Net Neutrality, and after the event, Layton provided the following reading list for Buckley fellows:

“This is a reading list to help you think for yourself and push against orthodoxy. The purpose of inquiry and debate is to seek truth, engage in dialogue, and challenge opinions. Here are some resources to help you sharpen your reasoning and inspire you to make masterful argumentation.”

Blogs and Articles

  • Debatable Premises in Telecom Policy
    • This article examines 5 statements of received wisdom that underlie much popular, political, and academic support for increased telecommunications regulation. A hard copy of this article is available from the Buckley program.

Podcasts

  • EconTalk
    • Economics for daily life hosted by Russ Roberts of George Mason University and the Hoover Institution.
  • Federalist Society
    • Offers constitutional arguments and analysis of leading legal controversies.
  • HighTech Forum
    • Explaining the technology behind modern communications.

Books

  • God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom” (1951)
    • William F. Buckley, Jr. critiques his Yale undergraduate experience, saying that the university forced collectivist, Keynesian, and secularist ideology on students and ridiculed their religious beliefs. Noting that university oversight was provided by god-fearing alumni, he argues that Yale failed its students by not teaching in a manner consistent with these values.
  • What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense
    • A bold and elegant defense of an institution maligned by popular culture, Sherif Girgis, Ryan T Anderson, and Robert George critique the idea that equality requires redefining marriage.

Professor Jack Goldsmith on Executive Power and Current Concerns

On Monday, April 9th, Jack Goldsmith, the Henry L Shattuck Professor of Law at Harvard University, joined the Buckley program for a dinner seminar. There he discussed his most recent book, Power and Constraint: The Accountable President After 9/11, and how the growth the executive branch is more important to pay attention to than ever.

By: Aryssa Damron

At the time of our meeting, questions still hung in the air over what President Trump would do in response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria. Mark Zuckerberg was preparing to testify to Congress about the huge data breach associated with Cambridge Analytica. Questions about whether Trump could or would fire Robert Mueller were being lobbed at Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on a daily basis. The state of the union certainly gave Professor Goldsmith a lot to talk about.

On the topic of Syria, Professor Goldsmith started dinner by polling the room to see how people felt about air strikes. He then set forth his argument for why we should not act as such, citing historical precedents for the use of the war power by the president and how military action not backed up by action in Congress can be dangerous. Goldsmith also argues that it isn’t a conservative position to take in Syria, as war inevitably leads to bigger government which is antithetical to conservative goals.

On the topic of Mark Zuckerberg and Cambridge Analytica, Professor Goldsmith chided people for not being aware of what social media was already doing with their data, long before Cambridge Analytica came along. But, he admits, especially in the United States we use it for free and reap the benefits with little care to what happens to our data. Nonetheless, he does see reform coming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Zuckerberg congressional testimony, possibly in the form of regulation that has been seen in Europe in relation to privacy and data protection, though Congress would find it hard to get involved with the censorship questions and questions of content because of the First Amendment.
At dinner with several Buckley fellows, Goldsmith was excited to answer their plentiful questions, which ranged from follow-up questions about what we can do in Syria (Goldsmith admits there is no clear solution) and how the revival of a national draft might be the only thing that would make citizens care about what their military is doing.

When talking about what led him to where he is today, Professor Goldsmith admits that he had no interest in national security in law school.  He studied foreign relation law, which touched on national security law, but he became an expert on national security law when he worked in the government in the early 2000s.

The Buckley Program was pleased to welcome Professor Goldsmith to Yale and delighted to have our fellows show out in force for what amounted to a great conversation about not only the state of politics but how the history of presidential power and restraint can help us better understand an often confusing administration.

Aryssa Damron is a senior in Saybrook College.