Category Archives: Activism

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When and How to Be a Political Activist for Liberty

Recently I argued that liberty advocates should remain or become active within the Republican Party rather than join a minor party (unless a viable new party can replace the GOP, which I doubt). This gave rise to a number of questions: Does that mean everyone should be a Republican? Should everyone be active at the level of party politics? Do people even need to be active in politics at all?

My answer is that most liberty advocates should indeed be active in politics at some level—not as some alleged moral duty, but as a means of protecting their values. Only for some people does this mean activism at the level of party politics.

My previous article addressed the choice of whether to be active in the GOP or in a minor party; the article took for granted that a person had chosen party activism. Now I want to back up and look at the broader questions. When should people become active in politics, and how should they do it in broad terms?

Liberty as a Value

The context here is people with the philosophic maturity to understand what liberty is and why it matters. Here Ayn Rand articulated the essential issues: To consistently pursue our values by our own judgment, we need to be free from the coercion of others, whether street crime or rights-violating government actions. Proper government exists to protect people’s rights and morally may not seize their wealth, throttle their productive activities, or the like.

Liberty is critically important in an advanced economy such as ours, in which we rely on an intricate network of producers to trade the goods and services we need to live and prosper. Rights-violating government actions undermine the pursuit of values in a market economy and thereby threaten our prosperity, our health, and sometimes our very lives.

Consider just a few examples. When government forcibly restricts people from earning a living by offering car rides, they are less able to support themselves and travelers are less able to get where they need to go quickly, economically, and comfortably. When government forces parents to finance schools that serve their children poorly, they have fewer resources and fewer options for educating their children as they judge best. When government forcibly prevents doctors from offering and patients from trying path-breaking medicines and procedures, it undermines medical advances and takes many people’s health decisions out of their hands. When government throttles reliable energy and subsidizes unreliable energy, consumers must sacrifice part of their wealth and pay higher energy prices.

Most people do not make politics part of their careers. But just because your profession does not involve political activism, doesn’t mean that politics does not involve your profession. Whether you work in banking, health care, energy, auto repair, or any of countless other fields, you spend your professional time producing and trading the goods and services people need to live and thrive, not engaged in politics. But, given the alphabet-soup of federal regulatory agencies, the reams of federal and state regulations, and the massive tax burdens now imposed on producers, politics almost certainly has a major influence on how you spend your productive hours.

Politics even heavily controls your recreation, whether by forcing you to pay heavy taxes on beer or by regulating the ebooks you buy and the internet services by which you stream movies. A modern American simply cannot escape the pervasive economic influence of politics.

Regarding so-called “social” policy, government within the United States has in fact murdered people for selling the “wrong” drugs or doing so in the “wrong” way; locked countless people in cages for doing the same; threatened to punish doctors for offering medical services in a politically disapproved way; sought to punish people for speaking about politics in the “wrong” way or at the “wrong” times; and in countless other ways unleashed government force against those violating no one’s rights.

Because government in the United States routinely violates people’s rights and often fails to protect people from other sorts of violence, we are less prosperous, less wealthy, less healthy than we otherwise would be; less able to produce and use life-advancing goods and services; and more prone to suffer violence at the hands of government agents, criminals, and terrorists.

Obviously people who do not grasp the above will not become advocates for liberty and a government that consistently protects individual rights.

People who do grasp the nature and importance of liberty will thereby understand the value of protecting the liberties we still enjoy and working toward the expansion of liberty.

So should people who understand the value of liberty work to advance liberty? Put that way, the answer is obvious: Yes, except in unusual circumstances, such as when an individual suffers a crisis of finances or health (or the like) or works in a career (such as the military) that precludes political activism. Assuming you do value liberty and are willing and able to help advance it, how can you effectively do so?

There are, of course, many ways to actively promote liberty, and different individuals will find that different sorts of activism mesh better with their broader values. Here I will summarize some major forms of political activism. My ideas in these matters are drawn partly from Friedrich Hayek’s essay, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” and Ayn Rand’s essay, “For the New Intellectual.” Incidentally, a few years ago I gave a talk based partly on those essays:

Incorporate Intellectual Activism in a Career

Some people make intellectual activism an essential part of their careers. They become university professors in the humanities (who properly may advocate their views in appropriate ways), work for think tanks and legal groups, or work in advocacy journalism. Consider, as examples, the books of Thomas Sowell, the efforts of the Foundation for Economic Education and the Ayn Rand Institute, the legal suits of the Institute for Justice, and the columns of George Will.

Support Professional Liberty Advocates

If your career and other values leave little time for politics, you can still play a crucial role in political advocacy by financially supporting people you trust to work for liberty. To be effective in this, you need to discover the essentials of the types of political ideas and actions worth supporting, find people who effectively advocate your shared beliefs, and support those people when and how you can. You can contribute funds to university programs, think tanks, publishers, writers (ahem), and others who support your values in the realm of culture and politics.

Financially supporting professional liberty advocates is a little like investing in businesses. You don’t engage in the primary activity yourself, but you do sufficient research to know your resources are used well. Just as you look for a financial return on your business investments, so you should look for a cultural-political return on your activist investments.

Advocate Liberty Part-Time

If you enjoy writing or speaking and want to take the time to master one or more areas of policy, you can write op-eds, issue papers, and letters to the editor, or produce podcasts or the like, on a part-time basis.

A great example of this sort of activist is Paul Hsieh, a full-time radiologist who writes about politics (and other cultural matters) on the side. Hsieh has a regular column at Forbes, and he is now the main force behind Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine.

If you want to write on a less-ambitious scale, you can write letters to newspapers and other publicans. (Some years ago I gave a talk on writing letters to the editor.) And of course you can advocate your ideas via social media (just avoid flame wars and the like).

Share Ideas with Peers

If you enjoy social engagement but want something less confrontational than party politics, you might consider starting or joining a liberty-oriented reading group, speaking group, or meeting group. The purpose of these, in terms of activism, is to help yourself and your allies better understand and advocate the principles of liberty.

Here are a few examples. I helped to lead an Atlas Shrugged reading group near Denver (and Diana Hsieh later wrote up extensive study notes), and I ran Liberty In the Books (and developed study notes) for several years. Quite a few Colorado activists are now involved in Liberty Toastmasters groups, Liberty on the Rocks groups, and other social networking and education groups.

Get Involved in a Party

All the political theorizing in the world makes no practical difference until it is reflected in public policy. In today’s world, political parties are the primary way that political ideas make their way to legal application.

As a party activist, you have many opportunities to articulate your views to others in your party, influence your party’s platform, seek to persuade office holders, support candidates who share your views, and network with other activists.

For most liberty advocates, I think getting involved with the Republican Party is the way to go. Recently I discussed my participation in this year’s Republican caucus system in Colorado.

If you think you will have an immediate and large impact on a political party, you are setting yourself up for failure. The idea here is to join with other like-minded activists and slowly push your party in a more liberty-oriented direction. This is not an easy task, but it is, I think, a necessary one.

Joining a political party is not for everyone. If you enjoy public meetings, debates, and the thrill of the campaign, you’ll fit right in. If not, you’ll probably want to migrate toward other forms of activism.

Incidentally, I do think that some people might do better in the Democratic Party, especially if they live in an area dominated by Democrats or are most concerned about issues (such as abortion) where Democrats tend to be better. By contrast, I think third-party participation is a complete waste of time.

Look to the Future

Regardless of how you get involved, if you hold liberty as a value, it is probably in your interests to take action to support it. How you do so depends on your other interests and values. If you enjoy writing in solitude, perhaps you should consider writing op-eds or blog posts over joining a political party. If you have little time to spare, you might focus on finding worthy recipients of your financial support.

You might long for an imaginary world in which you didn’t have to devote much time to politics in order to protect your values from rights-violating policies. But we don’t live in that world.

Even if in the future we achieve a world in which government consistently protects people’s rights, it will still be important to keep advocating the right ideas and fighting the wrong ones.

Unfortunately, the fact that previous Americans in many cases did not do their “due vigilance” means that we have to pick up the slack now. We have to fight for everything we’re worth to keep our nation from sliding into the muck of Venezuelan-style or nationalist-style socialism.

Imagine the future we can have if we achieve a government that protects the rights of producers rather than continually assaults them, that spends its resources checking initiatory violence rather than fanning it, that offers individuals true security to pursue their values rather than security theater and the surveillance state, that protects what you earn rather than loots it.

Imagine a future in which individuals consistently interact and trade by consent, not force.

Imagine a future in which the political ideal of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is fully realized.

I hope you agree this is a future worth fighting for.

Please join Ari’s email list or Facebook page.

Related:
· Why Liberty Advocates Should Join the Republican Party, Not Abandon It, Despite Trump
· Reason and Rights Republicans

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Why Liberty Advocates Should Join the Republican Party, Not Abandon It, Despite Trump

Disgusted with Donald Trump’s success within the Republican Party, some Republicans are burning their party registration cards. More people are checking out Libertarian Gary Johnson, who is actively seeking the support of disgruntled Republicans.

I too am disgusted with the state of the Republican Party. Although I continue to disapprove of Johnson’s Libertarian affiliation, this year it’s hard to criticize any vote made in protest of the “choice” between Trump and Hillary Clinton. I’ve thought maybe people should start a write-in campaign for Boaty McBoatface. I’ve thought about putting up twin yard signs for Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich. Absent a viable independent run (possibly throwing the race to the House of Representatives), it seems like this year the American people are just hosed.

But, paradoxically, the fact that the Republican Party is in such a sorry state is a reason for liberty advocates to stick with the Republican Party (or join or rejoin it), not abandon it.

Please note that I am calling on liberty activists to officially join the Republican Party and become active in it, not necessarily to always vote for Republican candidates. (Certainly I will not vote for Trump.)

Sometimes, the most effective way to participate in a party is to refuse to support its unworthy candidates, so as to encourage the selection of more-worthy candidates down the road.

More broadly, people have got to get off of the idea that voting counts as serious activism. How you vote matters barely or not at all. The ideas and strategies you publicly advocate matter; your participation in Republican caucuses and networking events matters; your beating the pavement and making phone calls for candidates you support matter. How you vote is irrelevant unless how you vote influences how many others vote.

I sympathize with the impulse to break up with the GOP. I did that myself, long ago. I first got involved in party politics by supporting George H. W. Bush (George I); I even adorned my truck with a Bush sign. At the time, I was part of a Reagan family, so it seemed natural to support Reagan’s vice president.

But within a few years I abandoned the GOP and joined the Libertarian Party. I was even a board member for the Colorado LP, and I produced its newsletter for a few years. Eventually, I figured out that the Libertarian Party is even more dysfunctional than the Republican Party. For me, tensions came to a head when the state party nominated Rick Stanley for U.S. Senate in 2002. He was disastrously bad; Donald Trump looks sane and thoughtful by comparison. (Stanley eventually went to prison for threatening a judge.)

The Libertarian Party is unsuccessful not only because America’s electoral system favors a two-party setup, but because the LP is an ideological basket-case, an organization littered with anarchists, militia kooks, America haters, conspiracy theorists, and the like. There are also many good people in the LP, but the anti-government thrust of the party attracts plenty of crazies and always will do so.

The LP has never been successful, having never elected a single person to the U.S. Congress. Currently the LP boasts 144 office holders, only 38 of which are for partisan offices. These positions are for city councils and fire district boards and the like; hardly earth-shaking.

Johnson, having served as a governor (as a Republican), is probably the best, most viable candidate the LP has ever run for president. This year, he might even break double digits. But regardless of how well Johnson does, he will never win major office as a Libertarian, and the Libertarian Party will never build on whatever success he might have to become a serious political player.

In practice, the Libertarian Party has one and only one significant political result: It drains the Republican party of its liberty advocates, thereby leaving the GOP to the John McCains and Donald Trumps of the world.

Put simply, if you think that “voting your principles” means you should support candidates with zero chance of winning office or significantly influencing the political landscape, you don’t understand what principles are or why they matter. It is not a betrayal of principles, but rather a manifestation of proper principles, to become politically active in a way that actually matters.

That is not to say that a new party can never be achieved. Even constitutional scholar Randy Barnett, who has “long vocally opposed third parties as irrational in our two-party system,” thinks that the Trump fiasco could lead to a viable new party.

America’s original parties, the Federalist and the Democratic-Republican Parties, no longer survive. The Democrats came on the scene around 1828, with the now-defunct Whigs; the Republicans arrived with the national crisis over slavery. But today’s major two parties, through their changes, have remained stable for well over a century. It’s foolish to think that will change absent some major crisis or realignment.

I do not think the arrival of Trump will be an extinction-level event for the Republican Party. But it could mark a significant turn for the party; it could morph from the anti-slavery party of Lincoln and the free-market party of Reagan into the xenophobic protectionist party of Trump. If that happens, even more people will find themselves without a party home.

The alternative is to let Trump be a wake-up call to liberty advocates. Rather than sit on the Libertarian sidelines or the like or take the feckless “bitch and moan” approach, liberty advocates could begin the hard work of reshaping the Republican Party into their image.

But, as I’ve Tweeted, some people want to leave the Republican Party because it’s hard to reform, to join a third party that is impossible to reform. It’s like saying that passing the mountain is hard, so we’re going to sit on the side of the trail play with pebbles.

What would a new party take even to have a chance of replacing the Republican Party? I’d say that, at a minimum, it would have to have a half-billion dollars in resources and three major Congressional leaders to come aboard. If you can’t get at least that—and preferably more like a dozen Congressional leaders out of the gate—then all you’re doing is diverting precious resources to make-believe politics.

Absent a real, truly viable new party, all available resources (starting with time) are far more effectively spent reforming the Republican Party.

It is too late in the game for liberty advocates to “play house” in the political arena. Libertarians and other minor-party activists are like preschoolers who “cook” prefabricated plastic “foods” in unworking plastic “stoves” as their mother bakes bread in adult-land nearby.

It’s time to grow up and get serious about the future of our country—before it is too late.

May 12 Update: I discussed these ideas further with Andy Hooser of 1480 KQAM; I’m on for the first eighteen minutes.

Please join Ari’s email list or Facebook page.

Related:
· Still, Never Trump
· Reason and Rights Republicans
· How You Can Stop Voting Naively and Start Voting Strategically

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I’ve Given Up

After 19 years trying to pull the republican party in a more libertarian direction, I’ve mostly given up on the project. I’ve spent money going to their state conventions, and time going to the caucuses, and they just seem to keep getting further and further from both liberty and sanity. My confidence in ever being able to pull them in a liberty direction was shaken by the 2012 state convention where the Log Cabin Republicans were getting booed at the convention, but I stuck it out for another 4 years.

I’m out now though.

Those local offices may not seem like much, but that’s really the only way to try and build a party. Trying to take the presidency without building up support locally is probably impossible.

Kazriko
May 10, 2016

Ari Armstrong replies (May 12): Again, I sympathize with the sentiment, but by giving up on the Republican Party absent a viable alternative, you are only helping to guarantee that the Republican Party will continue to get worse over time. I acknowledge that reforming the GOP is a monumental task, and one that requires extensive grass-roots activism. But I think that’s the only viable path toward restoring a party that champions individual rights and constitutional government.

A Few People Can Make a Difference

Good article.

I learned several years ago (with your help) that a few people can make a difference at the state level in the Republican Party by taking one state issue and fighting for more liberty on that issue, be it health care (my issue in the years before ObamaCare), education, gun control, or whatever.

What if every state had a few good people fighting passionately for a handful of issues pushing for more freedom every year within the party?

I think the party platform could change for the better a lot faster than one might imagine. And we could have real advocates for liberty leading those changes.

—Lin Zinser
May 12, 2016

Actually Vote for Liberty

Can you avoid the voting for the lesser of two evils error? Some say you should vote for Trump because it would be worse to have Hillary. And this is repeated throughout all levels of political office. You vote for a anti-liberty Republican because you don’t want the Democrat to win. The result is the current anti-liberty Republican party. Are you willing to let the Democrat win and actually vote for liberty? If there are more and more votes for Libertarian candidates, won’t the Republicans (and the Democrats) try to court this vote? Voting for the status quo continues the status quo.

—Mike Spalding
May 13, 2016

Ari Armstrong replies (May 14): As I’m sure you know, I made essentially the same argument for years. But it’s just a bad argument. First, I’m saying liberty advocates should get active in the GOP, not that they should vote for every Republican candidate. Second, consistently voting for Libertarians has the opposite effect of what you suggest. If a Republican (or a Democratic) candidate knows a voter will pull the LP lever no matter what, that candidate will pay zero attention to that voter. On the other hand, a GOP activist who strategically threatens to vote for no one or for a non-Republican can wield disproportionate influence (as I’ve discussed).

Retrench and Continue the Fight

That was a very nice analysis of the state of the principles and practicalities involved in reforming the political landscape. It would be easy to throw up our hands in disgust at the current Republican Party, but I think it is more a reflection of the state of our culture than a problem with the party per se.

I also thought that the Republican Party was making progress before this year. Recently, there have have been a number of principled constitutional conservatives elected to Congress. Although I understand the impatience of voters with the Republican Congress, the fact of the matter is that with Obama is still in the White House coupled with the fact that a two thirds vote of both houses is required to overturn a presidential veto means that the Democrats actually retain more power in Washington than the Republicans have.

Some people have argued that Congress should have used the power of the purse more forcefully, but that is basically a game of brinkmanship which has trade-offs. House members serve for only two year terms, so anything that they do that is unpopular is going to subject them to the wrath of the voters almost immediately. Unfortunately, brinkmanship and gridlock are the only real tools that Congress has, absent a super-majority, to use as negotiating levers when the government is divided. I just hope people who are throwing in the towel understand that fact.

This could have been a very good year for Republicans, but the voters chose another course. Now is not the time to give up, but time to retrench and continue the fight.

—Darrell Hougen
May 13, 2016

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Setting the Record Straight about Colorado’s Republican Caucus

“All Colorado Republicans [registered more than a month] could vote in precinct caucuses, which chose delegates to congressional and state conventions, who voted for national delegates.” That’s my (unabbreviated) Tweet summarizing the way that Colorado Republicans chose delegates to the national Republican Convention. I should know; as a Colorado Republican I participated in the caucuses.

But apparently, for some Trump supporters, my experience participating in the caucus process is no match for a Drudge headline claiming it never happened. As of the evening of April 10, Drudge claimed on its main page, “Fury as Colorado has no primary or caucus; Cruz celebrates voterless victory.”

So let’s set the facts straight, beginning with my own experiences with the caucus system.

After long being an unaffiliated voter, I registered as a Republican voter late last year, in part so that I could participate in Colorado’s Republican caucus system this year. (I plan to remain a Republican, barring an unforeseen major shift in the political scene.) I looked up how to participate in my precinct caucus on March 1, showed up, participated in the meeting, and successfully ran as an alternate delegate to the county convention on March 19 and to the state convention on April 9.

Interestingly, in my precinct, I’m pretty sure that not a single person had participated in the caucus system before. We were all “outsiders.” We even had to ask one of the party organizers to step in for a while to help us figure out the process. But we worked it out and got along fine. We even had a very civil discussion about the presidential candidates; one fellow was strongly for Trump, while several of us were strongly against him. (I only know the views of those who expressed them.)

At the precinct caucus, a number of people—both Cruz supporters and Trump supporters—complained that Colorado did not have a “straw poll” for president this year. Indeed, my precinct voted on a resolution saying we want a binding vote by all members in the future. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who voted against that resolution, on the grounds that we should further evaluate the pros and cons of the caucus system versus a primary or other system. I’m still not sure which is better (and frankly I don’t think it matters very much). I think the caucus system works pretty well and that there are some good reasons to keep it. (For what it’s worth, Justin Everett, a state legislator, favors it.)

That said, a lot of people seem to have some pretty wild misundertandings about what happened with the straw poll. So I’ll do my best to summarize what happened. In previous years, Colorado Republicans held a non-binding straw poll at the precinct caucuses. This had nothing to do with the selection of delegates to the national Republican convention, but it expressed the preference of those Republicans who attended their caucuses.

But, for this year, the national party (for reasons unknown to me) said that we could not have a non-binding poll; if we had a poll it had to be binding. So the state party decided not to have a poll at all. People are welcome to read the explanation for all this by Steve House, the state chair of the GOP (who, incidentally, won his position as an “outsider” who unseated the prior “establishment” chair). For what it’s worth, I think House’s reasons for dropping the poll are pretty good ones.

Anyway, without the non-binding poll—which didn’t actually select any delegates—Colorado Republicans selected delegates to the national convention the same way they have before, through the caucus system. Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, Colorado’s caucus system was first instituted in 1912 “as a way to limit the power of party bosses and to attract more grassroots involvement,” then replaced by a primary in 1992, then restored in 2002 through 2004.

Unsurprisingly, John Frank’s articles about all this for the Denver Post are sensationalistic, designed more to inflame people and to draw eyes to the paper’s web site than to enlighten readers with the relevant facts put in context. (I think it’s a little humorous how many of Trump’s supporters totally mistrust the media—except when it spins things their way.)

A completely fair headline of what happened this year would have been, “Colorado Republicans Select Presidential Delegates the Same Way They Did Last Time.” But the reality of the situation is so much more boring than the trumped up version of it.

To return to my experiences with the caucuses: The woman elected in my precinct as a delegate to the state convention ran on an explicitly anti-Trump platform. She made this very clear, and she was elected by the rest of us with this understanding. Claims that the rest of us were somehow “disenfranchised” are ridiculous; we all got to vote for delegates, and everyone in the room had a chance to run to become a delegate (most didn’t want to). It truly was a grass-roots process. I was elected as the alternate delegate to the state convention, also on an explicitly anti-Trump platform.

The simple fact is that the Republicans at my precinct caucus mostly disfavored Trump, and evidently that is true of most other precincts as well. Trump lost in Colorado because he’s just not very popular here.

Indeed, some Cruz supporters I talked with wanted a binding poll precisely so that Coloradans could send the strongest possible anti-Trump message. I strongly suspect that a primary would have resulted in a Cruz victory, but I’m not aware of good polling data on this.

Should Colorado give up the caucuses in the future? As noted, I’m not totally sure, but I’d like to rebut one reason for saying we should. The claim basically is that, because people have to attend a meeting and then select delegates to conventions, who then select national delegates, the caucuses are not sufficiently democratic.

It is true that, to participate in the caucuses, you have to do more than mark an “x” on a piece of paper. You actually have to (gasp!) go to a meeting. If you want to become a delegate to a congressional or state convention, where national delegates are picked, you actually have to stand up and make your case to your fellow Republican voters (and pay a convention fee). I’m not convinced this is a problem. Arguably, it is a feature, not a bug.

Many Trump supporters seem shocked to learn that American government is primarily representative in nature, not a direct democracy. Have they never heard of the electoral college? The Founders were very careful to create levels of representation; indeed, it is part of the checks and balances of constitutionalism. All we do in Colorado is keep an extra layer of representation in the process; we choose state delegates who then chose national delegates. One can argue that the caucus system is not ideal for whatever reason, but the fact that it is based on the representative model of government isn’t by itself a very good reason to oppose it.

For pointing out some of the basic facts about Colorado’s caucus system on Twitter, I was deluged by comments from Trump’s supporters, consisting mostly of insults, threats, and wild conspiracies. (For example, some people blamed me personally for the lack of a straw poll, even though I wasn’t even a Republican when that decision was made.) It turns out that such tactics don’t actually improve my opinion of Trump as a presidential candidate.

I’m glad I participated in Colorado’s Republican caucus system. From what I saw, it worked well. I’ll take this opportunity to thank the many volunteers who worked tirelessly to help organize and run the caucuses and conventions and the many thousands of Colorado voters who participated in the process. They are everyday heroes who take seriously their responsibility to participate in American governance.

Update 1: A fellow named Larry Lindsey claims that he was not allowed to vote at the state GOP convention because he was a Trump supporter. His claims seem to be fabricated in whole or in part. I was there, and I saw a number of Trump supporters in attendance. They participated just like everyone else did. They just didn’t have enough support to win delegates. Also see a media release from Douglas County Republicans about Lindsey. On further review: I’ve read the Douglas County rules, and apparently delegates to the state assembly are “nominated” at the precinct caucuses but elected at county assemblies. Lindsey did not attend the county assembly, so he was not elected as a delegate. Different counties have different rules; for example, in my county, Jefferson, we elected delegates to state directly from precinct caucuses. See also Mollie Hemingway’s write-up about Lindsey in the Federalist.

Update 2: I went on CNN for a few minutes to explain the basics of Colorado’s caucus process. I want to clarify one point: Moving from a non-binding preference poll to no poll did not affect how national delegates are selected. Obviously moving to a hypothetical binding poll would affect that. At this point I lean in favor of keeping the caucus system but adding a binding poll to it (as opposed to moving to a primary system). There are pros and cons to caucuses and to primaries; to me the biggest advantage of caucuses is that Republicans in a neighborhood actually have a chance to meet and talk about the direction they want their party to take. That is totally lost with a primary system. April 16 Update: Now I think I actually favor a non-binding poll so that people take the selection process of delegates seriously.

Update 3: For more discussion about this issue, I suggest articles at the Federalist and Conservative Review and Mark Levin’s interview with Ken Buck and further discussion (which mentions this article). See also Peter Blake’s interesting article about the history of the caucuses and arguments for changing them.

Update 4: For other accounts of Colorado caucus participants, see write-ups by Laura Carno and Pundit Pete.

Update 5: See also a short clip of my interview with Dana Loesch and my radio interview with Vince Coakley.

Update 6: It is true that one of Trump’s alternate delegates was left off of the ballot at the state convention. I believe this was an unintentional typo, and at any rate it did not affect the outcome in the slightest. NBC reports, “One Trump alternate, Jerome Parks, was not on the numbers-only ballot at #379 — instead the ballot listed #378 twice.” Trump’s own campaign team made more significant errors in publishing its slate of delegates, as NBC relates.

Update 7: In an email, State Senator Laura Woods (who represents my area), aptly summarized the essential value of the caucus system: “My biggest concern about switching away from the caucus system is this:  when voters show up at caucus, they engage with the county party, and they become block workers, volunteers, precinct committee people, district captains, etc. They also are voted on to represent their precinct at the County, Congressional and State Assemblies.”

Update 8: It’s pretty amazing to me how many Trump supporters call Colorado’s system unfair because it’s not perfectly representative of voters, even as they ignore the many ways that Trump benefits from other states’ systems because they are not perfectly representative. As I Tweeted, “Isn’t it funny how Trump never complained about the ‘undemocratic’ result when he got 100% of Florida’s delegates with 46% of the votes?” FiveThirtyEight has more on this.

Update 9: See also my follow-up pieces,”Get Government Out of Political Parties: How to Resolve the Primary-Caucus Debate” and “Jim Hoft Flubs Story about ‘Deny Trump’ Flyer.”

Update 10 (April 27): On April 23 Dave Levine had me on his radio show (1490 KMET) to further discuss Colorado’s Republican caucus.

Related:
· Reflections on the Presidential Race after Super Tuesday
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State
· The Needed Political Realignment

Image: Ari’s photo of the Colorado Republican Convention, April 9, 2016

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Some Colorado Counties Had Informal Straw Polls

Thanks for your good article. I have one clarification for you and your readers: each county handled the straw poll differently. In Adams County, we had a straw poll which of course was non binding and it had nothing to do with choosing delegates. We had Trump supporters, Cruz supporters and others too. The caucus system worked really well even though most people there were new to the process.

It was a lively (and friendly) atmosphere for the most part and it was great to have engaged voters in their local precincts participate equally regardless of whom they supported.

—Nancy

Not All Can Attend Caucus Meetings

So I work 3PM-11PM in surgery at one of the main hospitals in Denver. I cannot take off work to go to a meeting. I guess my voice does not matter, I just need to be there in case someone you love gets hurt or injured? I will write in Trump once Cruz is shown to just be a puppet to get Rubio, Ryan, etc. as the nominee. Once this election is done I will never vote republican again. I have been R all my life casting my first vote for Reagan in 1980. Hopefully you all will learn not to disregard what the people want, if not have fun with Hillary, who is easily going to stomp anyone the RNC “chooses” over what the voters want.

—Richard Hutson

Ari Armstrong replies: To my mind, the fact that a lot of people have trouble attending the caucus meeting undergirds the strongest criticism of it. However, I would point out that it would be possible to add a binding or non-binding straw poll back to the caucus system, and extend this to absentee voters. Also, I find it a little humorous how many people assume I’m some sort of puppet-master within the Republican Party, even though I just (re)joined it a few months ago.

Biased against Trump

The whole caucus thing is new to me, having spent the first 40 years of my life in California. On primary day, we vote and delegates are awarded. Then I discovered the absentee ballot, which I mailed in two or three weeks before election day, and I never had to bother myself with standing in line or trying to find someone’s garage/polling station.

For a number of reasons, including my reluctance to publicly state my voting preference for professional reasons, I haven’t been to a caucus. It just doesn’t make sense, especially in a country that has embraced the secret ballot for a couple of centuries.

The elimination of a popular vote—”straw poll,” if you insist, but it’s an actual popular vote—made the process even more mysterious. I again chose not to participate, partly because of a prior commitment that night but also because I didn’t want to spend two or three hours merely casting a vote.

It’s clear to me that the party leadership in Colorado saw this as an opportunity to prevent Donald Trump from collecting delegates for the national convention. Instead, actual voters should have had the opportunity to see to that. We in the Republican Party talk a lot about trusting the people. We could and should have done that this year, complete with a secret ballot.

—Anonymous

Ari Armstrong replies: Although many of Trump’s supporters are quick to point to conspiracy theories to “explain” the results, I’ve seen no actual evidence that Colorado party leaders made any effort to bias the results one way or another. Notably, Trump’s own supporters in party leadership joined in voting to suspend the straw poll. I absolutely think that, if there had been a non-binding poll again at caucus, Cruz would have won by a landslide. So I think it’s too bad we didn’t have one. Anyway, you certainly wouldn’t have had to drive for two hours to attend your local precinct caucus; those are highly regional. The various conventions are another matter, of course; I had to get up at 5:00 am to make it from the Denver area to Colorado Springs on time for the state convention.

Political Parties are Private Organizations

The Colorado GOP is a private entity. Not public. Therefore, they get to make whatever rules they want.

—Dave Barnes

What About the Fee?

In this post Ari Armstrong said that if you want to be selected as a delegate you must pay a convention fee.

Is this legal? Having to pay to vote?

—Don

Ari Armstrong replies: See the comment above; political parties are private organizations. The fee goes toward funding the conventions, as is appropriate. However, I do think the GOP should have a “need” exemption for the fee.

What About the People?

I will make this more simple than your explanation of Colorado’s republican caucus. For most Americans the system you have in place is far too complicated. Most Americans don’t care nor understand the delegate process. The delegate system takes the voice of average American citizens away from outcomes that will effect their lives. Indeed the system is legal and was supported by you and your fellow caucus members/supporters. That said, I bet if you did “another pole” in Colorado or any state for that matter and asked the public this question, “If you were given a choice to vote for a candidate to represent your party for POTUS or let a small, very small group of people vote for you” you would find no support for the caucus. People want a vote. Should anyone or any group be allowed to decide for the masses? In my humble opinion, I think not. I have a funny feeling this system will be changed soon, maybe not soon enough though. I am a proud Republican but I’m loosing faith in our party by the day.

—D. Holmes

Ari Armstrong replies: For one thing, private organizations have no inherent moral or legal obligation to operate by pure democracy. For another, the Founders were extremely skeptical of pure democracy, which is why they instituted many checks to it. Whoever does not wish to participate in the Republican Party (or any other party) is free not to.

Many Trump Supporters Didn’t Show Up

Thank you for your well written article about your personal experience of the Colorado Caucus system this year. I too, went to my precinct caucus, and was elected as a county delegate and as an alternate to the state. It was my first time investing this much time & energy and Saturday was a long 12 hour day and although some alternates in my county got to vote, I did not. I did not feel cheated, but I was ready to vote for the Cruz slate if I had the opportunity. At my precinct caucus I was one of only 3 people who showed (out of about 200 registered republicans). All 3 of us were Cruz supporters. Not sure where all the Trump supporters were, but they had an equal & fair chance to show up, but did not. Anyways, thanks again for taking the time to write honestly about your experience and accurately about our state’s caucus system.

—Perriann

Caucuses Are Too Indirect

Your article correctly outlines the process and I have no hidden agenda with either of the remaining GOP presidential candidates. However, I do have a problem with the GOP primary process, in Colorado.

Here you vote for a delegate, who votes for a delegate, who is supposed to cast a vote for a candidate. It’s too indirect of a process, designed to keep the existing structure in place. It not only discourages change, in actively inhibits it. I’d like for the Colorado GOP to go to a proportional primary, where a candidate who gets 40% of the vote gets 40% of the delegates.

As it is, the existing power brokers will remain in power, the Colorado GOP will continue to slot moderate candidates wherever possible and the conservative citizens of Colorado will feel disenfranchised and unrepresented. The Colorado GOP will lose it’s base and eventually just be part of the Democratic party.

I can’t wait. Then a party that represents its members (instead of a party that dictates to its members) will evolve, to take the GOP’s place.

—Charles

Don’t Complain If You Don’t Get Involved

Thank you for the first-hand account of how Colorado’s process works. I find it’s usually the people too lazy to get involved in the process who complain the loudest. If you don’t like the rules, get involved and work to change them.

—Melody Warbington

Cruz Had the Support at Caucus

Thanks Mr. Armstrong. This is great! I sent Drudge a message earlier and may forward him this link too. As a pro Cruz person I was sent to the county assembly. Everyone there from my district who wanted to attend the state convention was approved. 9 delegates and 9 alternates. 18 people volunteered. The Cruz supporters won the delegate slots and the few Trump supporters there were won the alternate slots. It was all very reasonable and involved at the local level and I too truly thanks those who involve themselves time after time with these details.

—Terri Goon

Feigned Outrage Over Results

Ari Armstrong, thank you for a calm and clear explanation in defense of our CO grassroots voice!

Hopefully, your detailed and patient explanation may put to rest some of the honest misconceptions. I’m a bit too cynical to believe there aren’t many who will prefer to ignore the truth because whining and feigned outrage suits their purpose best.

—Denise E. Denny

Respect the Process

Thanks for writing about your experiences. I went to the Nevada caucuses and found it a good experience too. The fact that Trumpsters can’t respect a legitimate process says a lot about them and their candidate.

—Jess Solomon

Caucus Participant Is No Insider

Ari, well written.Your experience was similar to mine and my feelings about caucus vs primary are similar to yours. I was also a delegate to the CD assembly and thought that process went better than expected. I also am no insider. Last time I was elected to represent our precinct was in 1996.

—Doug Drees

Hold a Vote of the People

I think you did a good job of explaining what goes one. I will always think that a vote of people should be held and the numbers speak for themselves. A lot of people will take time to go to the booth. Going through the caucus system myself I still would rather see a Vote of the People.

You did a good job.

—Douglas Rushing

Cruz Had Support at Caucus

I similarly went to the republican caucus this year. There were maybe twenty-five or so people there. You’re completely right in that there were a majority of Cruz supporters there. In the end, we had an informal, non-reported straw poll and it was something like twenty Cruz to four Rubio and one Trump. The two delegates we sent to state were for Cruz and Rubio. The Trump supporter voted for themself, and the wishy-washy-whatever-the-room-wants establishment guy didn’t win. There were plenty of new people, but I recognized at least eight people from four years ago.

—Kazriko Redclaw

Trump Backed Out of Convention

Thanks for making this so clear. I agree with you 100%. I had similar caucus experience and ended up at state. Trump was coming to the convention, then backed out. I didn’t get one mailing from a Trump supporter. Seems he and his people want to be bottle fed and do no work. I’ve been called names too. People are so childish. Thanks again for a well thought out article.

—Theresa Sorenson

Most People Didn’t Attend the Caucuses

You’re wrong on a few points. Number one, most people didn’t show up to caucus. In my precinct (446) we had forty out of how many thousands? Ours is one of the larger in El Paso county as we had 10 delegates for county and 3 for state. How can 40 people represent the will of the people in a large precinct?

Which brings me to the second point in that as a delegate your vote is not who you prefer, but rather who the people prefer. Most delegates, including you apparently, don’t understand that and had picked “their guy” long before the caucus. In my precinct it was pretty much equally divided between Cruz and Trump with one for the third guy with only forty people. If this is at all representative of the other precincts your assertion that Trump just isn’t popular in Colorado is totally speculative. Lastly, as a delegate that was actually at the State Assembly and El Paso County I can say it seemed there was again equally divided support for both Cruz and Trump on the floor with a very small group for the third candidate.

—Mark Whitaker

Ari Armstrong replies: I think registered Republicans in a precinct tend to number in the hundreds. The delegate in my precinct was elected explicitly on her anti-Trump platform. I similarly make my preferences quite clear, and was voted in. Obviously Trump did not have nearly the support that Cruz did at the state convention.

Trump Didn’t Campaign in Colorado

My experience as well in my district caucus—we did take a poll informing our elected delegates of who our preferences were. In our poll Cruz was number one, Tramp two. Ben Carson received one vote I think. The fact that Trump did not even campaign in Colorado, instead relying upon staying in New York in a state where he’s heavily favored, I just don’t understand how he expects to receive support in Colorado.

—Bruce F. St. Peter

Primaries Don’t Handle Large Fields Well

Thanks for your article! I have been a Sate Delegate in Utah. It is frustrating how many people don’t take part in the process, then complain when the don’t understand how it works. Could you imagine what a mess a regular primary single election would be like if we had sixteen candidates to choose from? The process we have helps cut down the field and still give everyone a chance. This year is a good example. Trump and his supporters brag about all their votes, yet still can’t get past 37%. That isn’t that popular. If it were just between Cruz and Trump from the beginning, my guess is Cruz would be winning. Therefore if he comes out the winner at the convention, then the voice of the people will have been heard.

—Stan Jackson

Media Fed False Narrative about Poll; County Organizers Miraculous

Thanks, Ari, excellent summary.

This was my fourth State Assembly. Your experience sounds much like mine. I was elected to State at Precinct 231, favoring Rubio. (As if this isn’t complicated enough, El Paso County pushes election to State and CD down to the precinct level, bypassing County.)

We had two slots for State and two for [congressional district] CD5. Cruz supporters won three, and then there was me, a couple Cruzers defected to me out of sympathy, because I served as Chair when nobody else at all wanted the job, and felt I should be rewarded. At the end of the evening, we broke with the “no straw poll” rule and held our own private straw poll which we did not report—nine for Cruz, eight Rubio, four Carson, four Trump, one not voting. Only one of the Trump people wanted to go to State or CD, but he only got four votes.

I was disappointed with the turnout; it was lower than previous Presidential years, by half or even less (I was a Newt guy last time). Prior to the Caucus, there were many, many people saying “haven’t you heard? Caucus doesn’t matter this time, there’s no poll. I had to correct dozens of people before March 1st. The Trump supporters were the most adamant that there was no reason to go to caucus, so sad. I blame the press for this, I’m so glad you actually got to CNN. I must have spent a dozen hours in the last six weeks trying to break into “Journalism World” and clarify the boatload of falsehoods and half-truths bandied about by the people who should be informing us and striving for accuracy. Such an incredibly frustrating experience. Some people lost faith in politics in the last couple months, I lost faith in the seriousness of American journalism.

Part of the problem we have in Colorado is that a primary election has to be conducted by the State with tax dollars. The caucus/precinct system is (miraculously) funded by the poverty-stricken party. All the spending regulations come down very, very hard on the Parties. It’s impossible to keep money out of politics, money will find its way, but perversely, donors are very limited by law in how much they can give to candidates’ campaigns and especially to the parties. Therefore the Super-Pacs, they are the only place to which money can freely flow.

El Paso County contains 31% of Colorado’s registered Republicans, but has 1.5 paid employees (and my gosh, the paperwork is enormous). The office looks almost like a struggling body shop. That they can pull this off with volunteers at all is nothing short of miraculous. They are “the establishment,” the despised, the sometimes hated, it really bothers me to hear all this abuse. Why was I Chair? Because I was at GOP HQ for a small open meeting with Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, and was persuaded by someone to put my name on a party “volunteer list.” A few months later they called and begged me to chair the Caucus, as the previous Precinct Leaders had moved out of state. They did not know who I supported, they did not ask, for all they knew, I was a Communist three-headed purple hippopotamus. They just begged “please, please help us out, you’re on the list, we have so many spots to fill.”

Thanks for making things more clear for people, the current system is certainly too complicated, I would like to see a more streamlined caucus. And better communication, from the party and from the press.

—Phil Beckman

Republican National Committee Out to Get Trump

Hi, thanks for a very informative and even-handed explanation of the Colorado system. I have been following the various primaries and caucuses and was curious about what had happened in Colorado. The only thing I would say is in fairness to Trump and his supporters, even if everything in Colorado was completely fair and above-board, they have plenty of reason to mistrust the party and the media. The RNC has been out to get them since day one. There hasn’t even been any secret about it. That sort of thing breeds the mistrust you are hearing now from the Trump supporters.

—Lou Filliger

Have a Vote of the People

The long meetings (I’ve heard between two to three hours just at the precinct level) are unpalatable to the average voter imho. I don’t think that means they shouldn’t get a vote. I also don’t see the comparison between the electoral college and Colorado’s current selection process. There are typically two candidate to vote for in a presidential election (regardless of who the actual electors are), not six-hundred people whom you know nothing about. As far as I know, there’s nothing that compares to “an unpledged delegate” in the presidential election. We don’t really vote for delegates in the national election (I understand that the electors’ names are on some ballot, but it’s just a name—we’re voting for the candidate) so I don’t get why the primaries would be any different. Seems like something to bring before all the people of Colorado for a vote at the next election—that’s seems like a “We the people” kind of thing to do.

—Jason

Ari Armstrong replies: Actually, in the general election, you’re “really” voting for members of the electoral college. My point about the electoral college is that politics in America is not, and never has been, about direct democracy. This is even more true for parties, which are private organizations. Participants in the caucus process have every opportunity to learn the views of the people they’re selecting to represent them.

Washington State Politics Is Complex

First off, thanks for the great article. I am writing this comment because it sounds like you would be interested in more information about using primaries or caucuses for selecting nominees.

I live in Washington state, which has probably one of the most complicated systems for choosing a nominee: Caucuses by precinct, which select delegates and alternates to go to county conventions. The county convention includes caucuses by Legislative district to select delegates and alternates to go on to the State convention. At the state convention caucuses are held by Congressional district to select the delegates and alternates who will be sent to the national convention. We also have a primary a few days after the state convention, the result of which binds the national delegates, by Congressional district, for the first ballot.

The caucuses are closed, with a deadline set two to three weeks prior. The primary merely requires not having been a part of any democrat caucuses that year (the WA democrats do not hold primaries for presidential nominations.)

As addendum, two items: First, this is the first year when I have been old enough to engage in this process, and what a year to start! Second, and more interesting, is that Snohomish county, where I live, and where much of Seattle lives, managed to elect primarily Cruz delegates to go to state, and only one trump supporter got huffy.

Once again, thank you for your writing, and thank you for your time.

—Jeremy West

Vilified for Participating

I too was at the Colorado Assembly as a delegate. We went from a small town in southern Colorado. We had, from our district, about twenty that came, alternates and the delegates.

To become a delegate you had to go to meetings (oh dear) and find out what is going on. We had one Trump guy in our district and on the floor where we were. We voted him in to go so he could represent his thoughts.

The number of Trump voters was very small. They were not very vocal, since Trump himself did not even deem our state important enough to send a higher profile person to win over hearts and minds—nothing but a unknown. That was foolish in my view.

After it was all over, the Trump vote was small. Another non-establishment guy, Darryl Glenn, won hands down with this crowd. He had a powerful, faith-filled speech.

All in all we enjoyed the process. I hadn’t even voted yet and posted I was at the convention and was vilified as a sellout—insanity, showing zero grasp of the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Not a wise, winning play. Now Trump and his supporters are whining about everything. Sour grapes I’d say; get better organized.

I will vote for Cruz or Trump if either wins. No Democrat, period.

—Karl

Shocked at No Binding Poll

As a recent registered Republican in Colorado, I also was unaffiliated but changed last year in order to participate in the nomination process. I was totally shocked to learn the Colorado Republicans would not have a binding poll at their caucus.

Yes I understand your reasons. But in considering caucus vs primaries please consider the following: On caucus day many may be traveling, hospitalized, serving in the military, attending to family, working, or have any number of other legitimate reasons that would prohibit them from attending a caucus. A primary with early voting ends that problem and equalized the playing field.

One other problem. Colorado includes mountain communities. I live in Nederland and would have had to travel over 25 miles to attend a caucus in a strange community. How is that fair? It certainly doesn’t put me in touch with my community. Nor would I know anyone there. We do not have many Republicans in Nederland. So I had no say in anything.

Thanks for reading. Please consider others if you are in a position to help Colorado represent all Republican voters.

—Pat Everson

Ari Armstrong replies: It’s silly to say you had no say; you got to vote for delegates to conventions and run for delegate yourself if you wanted. True, if you live in a lightly populated area, you probably have to drive further to meetings. To repeat: I think a caucus poll plus a mechanism for absentee votes would work well.

Taxpayers Shouldn’t Have to Fund Primaries

I like your idea of eliminating primaries and just using the caucus system. As a former precinct captain, I found that the caucuses did a great job of representing the folks who bothered to attend. And I object to forcing taxpayers to pay for state run primaries. The parties should use their own funds to decide who to run for office.

—Mike

Cruz Favored at Caucus

Very good article. I’m in Mesa county precinct 10 and Mr. Trump got one of 12 votes. Mr. Cruz was clearly the favorite in our Precinct.

—Lynn Ensley

Trump Favors Controversy over Truth

I’ve become more convinced that whatever Trump says is designed to create controversy and attention for himself. He doesn’t care about the truth.

I went to my precinct caucus in Boulder, CO. I hadn’t been to one in 20 years. I felt like I’d put my two cents in this time. I was a delegate to the 2nd CD convention 20 years ago. I can’t remember if I was eligible to go farther than that, but that’s where I stopped. I wasn’t interested in being a delegate this time, as I know that drill, and I have other goals I’m focused on right now. I was hoping to vote for at least one Cruz supporter at my precinct who could go on to be a delegate to another assembly, who would hopefully vote for Cruz delegates to the national. (None at the precinct level are committed to vote for anybody’s delegates to the national. They just talk about their personal preferences.) I was the only Cruz supporter in my precinct. There were five of us. There were about ten-plus precincts in the caucus. Except for myself, I think there was only one other person in my precinct who had been to a caucus before, and he had participated in the IA caucuses four years ago.

I wasn’t prepared to make a pitch for Cruz, but I did my best on the spot. Everyone except for myself in my precinct was for Rubio and Kasich. They didn’t think Cruz was mainstream enough to win the general election. We were supposed to vote on two or three delegates (I forget how many now) from our precinct. I didn’t vote on delegates, which was fine with me. I showed up, did what I could, which was vote on party resolutions, and left.

The Boulder County Republicans conducted an unofficial straw poll at their caucuses, and Rubio eked out a “win,” with 32% of the vote. Cruz came in just behind at 31%. Trump had something like 23%, and Kasich got something like 14%. That was a surprising result, since Boulder is such a left-leaning county. Since Rubio dropped out of the race after the FL primary, I imagine most of the Rubio support went to Cruz and Kasich, though it’s interesting that Kasich didn’t appear to be a factor at all in the conventions. You’d think with Trump’s charge of Establishment corruption, Kasich would’ve done great here, since he’s their first choice. If they had their way, he’d be the clear leader in delegates by now.

[April 19 Update:  remembered later I left out votes for Carson when I talked about the straw poll. Rather than rely on my unreliable memory, I went back and checked the published results in my local paper (http://www.dailycamera.com/ci_29588088). They were Rubio 33%, Cruz 31%, Trump 19%, Kasich 10%, and Carson 7%.]

The thing about this is that every Coloradan who is registered Republican has an opportunity to be involved in the process. They won’t make it all the way through the process, since it’s designed to winnow down the group that gets to the state convention, but even if you don’t make it all the way (or want to), you have an opportunity to influence the process by dealing with the people who are your neighbors, and are in your region. People like yourself, or them, get the opportunity to be involved at higher levels in the process, even becoming national delegates. It’s not an insider clique that meets by itself, and selects delegates on its own. Another thing about the convention process is it doesn’t exist just to select delegates to the national convention. Candidates for state office and Congress appeal to convention delegates for their votes, so they can either appear on the Republican primary ballot, or be nominated outright by the delegates in attendance to appear on the general election ballot, if there is no primary. The thing is, you have to be interested in the Republican Party, not just their candidates, and you have to at least consult a local party office to participate, so they can tell you how to do it, but that’s all you need. You don’t have to be a mover and shaker, winer and diner, muckety-muck.

—Mark Miller

Dirty Politics

People, in general, don’t follow politics as a rule of thumb. They don’t go to Drudge, don’t typically follow pundits at all. They do note however, when they are supposed to vote, and generally who they are going to vote for. Regardless of “the rules” set out by the RNC, they are not expecting to have their vote not count. So while all of these shenanigans may be legal, the average voter dud not know that they could vote for their delegates, what that meant, or when the vote was taking place. So they are angered that they do not now have a voice and feel it has been stolen from them. Rightly so I might add. I see this as dirty politics. Something the democrats would do. This kind of behavior is why they want Trump in the White House. They’re sick to death with politicians; that’s why Americans from all parties with differing views on many things are all on the Trump Train together. The RNC should take note, because they feel, rightly or wrongly, if Trump loses the nomination because of tactics like these, Trump supporters will follow Trump wherever he goes. But they will not vote Cruz or Kasich. If they must, they will stay home.

—Shane Carroll

Ari Armstrong replies: I think if people join a private organization, such as a political party, they should expect to have to follow the rules of that organization. If you want to change the rules, get involved. Burning the house down isn’t the answer.

A Primary Is More Accessible

Thank you for your explanation on caucus system. I see now that we need to change to a primary voting system where all people up to 100 yrs. old, the disabled and those in military, etc., can vote quickly and securely. Shouldn’t have to convince a “delegate” to support our candidate choice.

—Lorain Kaiser

Process Needs Reform

You explanation of the process is pretty accurate. I have been going to caucus for more than twenty years and have been to several state assemblies. The problem we face as a party is how people are feeling about the way the process is working. Trump’s campaign has brought people to the conversation that have never participated before. They just want to cast their vote and go home. They have no interest in playing the political game. They just want to pick a leader and go on about trying to survive the fallout from Obama’s failed policies. The PERCEPTION is that their vote didn’t count. You can not argue people out of how they feel. We have to respond to how they are feeling and correct the perceived injustice. Asking people to comprehend and participate in our arcane caucus system is not going to win over these folks, and we need them to win the white house and more importantly the SCOTUS. The GOP is getting hammered for not listening to its people; the Democrats have the same problem. The process needs to be refined so that its less like making sausage, and more like carving a steak.

—Marla

Losing Our Nation to Mob Rule

Your article concerning the Colorado Convention was great. I live in New York and have always taken my responsibility to be an informed voter very seriously. I value our constitution and understand the sacrifice made to protect our freedoms. I believe the caucus is what our founding fathers had in mind so that those who take the time to participate and not just shout like a mob will protect us from tyranny. I fear we are losing our nation to mob rule and people who have no understanding of our constitutional principles.

—Michael Dyckman

Politics Is Too Dirty

Ari, thank you for the very informative article. I am from Iowa, another caucus state, and although some like to criticize the caucus, it does work very well. I am also a Trump supporter and like many others, find myself disappointed that the Trump Campaign was not on top of this. I do agree that delegates chosen in this process should be binding.

I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, and my opinion is that Colorado was not the main issue going on that weekend, but has been used by the media to divert attention from other issues.

Just like Colorado, delegate conventions were being held in many states. As the day progressed, there were several reports of ballot irregularities. Delegate names being misspelled, names omitted, double delegate numbers, etc.

As informed voters, we see that it seems to be a pattern and our hearts actually ache that our country’s core is constantly disrespected and trampled on.

Most of us feel the GOP is dead, but it is because of what they have become. Politics have pretty much always been dirty, many are finally deciding it has gotten too dirty to be able to wash and wear. It is time to throw it out, dirty water and all, and replace with brand new.

—Alice Cronin

Ari Armstrong replies: Any complex process, whether a caucus and convention system or a primary vote, will inevitably have a few errors. This is especially true when volunteer activists play a huge role, as they do in Colorado’s caucuses. I am aware of a few minor errors, but nothing major, and nothing that would have changed the outcome. I believe these were all innocent. Trump’s own campaign made numerous errors in promoting its slate of delegates. I encourage people not to fall into confirmation bias. If you think Republican “leadership” is out to get Trump, you’re bound to see examples that seem to support that belief, and you may be tempted to ignore the many examples that run counter to it.

Show Up to Participate

Great job explaining the Colorado delegate selection process. I live in Illinois but can read the Green Papers and understand Colorado’s rules. From what I heard approximately 65,000 people voted in this caucus system and many Trump supporters complain that the non-binding straw poll was eliminated. Cruz understood the process and his campaign had been working the ground for months ensuring Cruz supporters showed up to the Mar 1 caucuses. Trump didn’t have permanent paid staff in the state until after the Mar 1 caucus.

For those complaining they were disenfranchised because the non-binding straw poll was removed, please see the 2012 results:
http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/primaries/states/colorado

Apparently they were disenfranchised then as well (sarcasm).

Bottom line is if you don’t show up to the game, you can’t say you were cheated.

—Travis Brown

Reason and Rights Republicans

Is political activism a total waste of time in today’s context, or is there something that reasonable, liberty-loving, reality-oriented people can do that might actually make a difference in the political realm?

Minor-party politics in today’s context is a total waste of time. You’d be better off doing practically anything else than squandering resources on minor-party activism.

So what is my alternative? First, let me point out that political activism is not a mandatory activity. It’s far more important to educate people about individual rights and free markets than to engage in partisan politics. That said, I do think it’s possible to accomplish real and significant political goals and to use party politics as an educational tool.

I loathe today’s Republican Party—which is why I’ve recently rejoined it. I am sick and tired of theocratic conservatives and immigrant-hating, anti-market nativists ruining what used to be the party of Lincoln.

A big part of why the GOP has degenerated in recent decades is that many liberty advocates have abandoned it. Some joined the Libertarian Party (as I did), which is worse than useless, and some left politics altogether.

In today’s context, I think there’s really only one feasible political strategy for moving the country in a freer direction: Rejoin the Republican Party and turn it into the party of individual rights and free markets. No, this is not an easy task. But do not offer as an “alternative” a pie-in-the-sky fantasy that cannot possibly work (such as starting a new party without any resources or support by major political figures). There is no silver bullet. There is only hard work and countless hours of advocacy.

The alternative to my approach is to do nothing—or worse, to do nothing while pretending to do something. We are past the point in this country when self-delusion is an excusable political stance. We need to get serious, and we need to get serious now.

What I now call myself, having recently rejoined the Republican Party, is a “Reason and Rights Republican.” I think that name aptly captures the essentials of my political position. I hope you will join me. We’ve got work to do.

My article from December on “The Needed Political Realignment” has more of my thoughts on these matters. (Note: I originally wrote this post for Facebook.

May 27, 2016, Update: Originally, before the phrase “minor party politics,” I had included the sentence, “Recently I’ve been made aware of the so-called American Capitalist Party, which, so far as I can tell, is like the Libertarian Party in purpose except even more hopelessly inept and inconsequential.” I included this note at bottom: “I’m aware that the Capitalist Party has a different ideological stance than the Libertarian Party, but the purpose is the same in terms of its basic political strategy of trying to create an alternative to the GOP.” But I was wrong in my characterization of this effort. Through Twitter exchanges with one of its cofounders (Mark Pellegrino), I gleaned that it’s more like a “model party,” not with the purpose of running candidates or drawing liberty activists out of the Republican Party (at least at this point), but of helping to educate people about the nature of capitalism. That’s an effort I can totally get behind; read about it online.

See also my follow-up articles “Why Liberty Advocates Should Join the Republican Party, Not Abandon It, Despite Trump” and “When and How to Be a Political Activist for Liberty.”

How You Can Stop Voting Naively and Start Voting Strategically

Some people are naive voters, their votes accomplish nothing, and, for them, voting is a complete waste of time. Many people are strategic voters at a gut level, but they don’t understand how their voting is strategic or how they might pursue more complex voting strategies. My goal here is to turn naive voters into strategic voters and to turn gut-level strategic voters into self-consciously strategic voters with greater political influence.

But why would I want to help make other voters, including my political opponents, more strategic in their voting? It’s not like I can publish my advice and hope that only my allies will read it. Aren’t I just encouraging both sides to up their games, resulting in no net gains? I think not.

A major problem with politics today is that egalitarian “eat the rich” primary voters largely drive the Democratic party, while theocratic primary voters largely drive the Republican party. That is, both parties are disproportionately driven by ideologies that most Americans do not share. I think that if more voters become more strategic, that will help diffuse political influence and improve both parties over time. Or so one can hope.

I’m writing this article  partly in response to feedback, much of it explosively angry, that I’ve received via email and social media regarding two of my recent articles about Ted Cruz.

Here’s the backstory in brief: I like many of Cruz’s policies and pronouncements, but I’m more than a little irritated with him for lurching hard toward theocratic conservatism. I’m so irritated over one particular incident (his dalliance with Kevin Swanson) that I declared I’ll vote for any Democrat over Cruz, unless Cruz apologizes.

Even though I wrote a follow-up piece explaining some of the reasoning behind my political strategy, various respondents continued to basically misunderstand what it is that I’m up to. A typical response amounted to (and I exaggerate only very slightly), “Oh my God! You mean you’d actually support the dastardly Marxist Islamofascist-loving Hillary Clinton, who will leave America in smoldering ashes, over the shining knight of reason and liberty Ted Cruz, who will lead America to renewed greatness? You are evil.”

I ruminated over how such respondents could be so dense as to totally misunderstand the nature and purpose of my political stance. Then it occurred to me: Such people have actually never thought seriously about political strategy, and they have no grasp of it. To the degree that they’re strategic voters, it’s by accident, not conscious design.

Obviously political strategy is an enormously complex topic, so here I want to narrow the discussion only to basic voting strategies. I want to discuss naive voting, which here I call “duty voting,” and five types of strategic voting.

Duty Voting

A naive voter looks at voting as a social duty. A duty voter will examine the candidates, pick a slate of candidates, quietly fill out the ballot, and consider the duty fulfilled—all without giving any thought to the impact of the vote.

A duty vote has no impact. Duty voting is a total waste of time, at least in the context of large-scale (national) elections in which one’s vote will almost certainly never impact the outcome of any election. (By contrast, individual votes actually have some realistic chance, however remote, of making a difference in very-competitive regional races.)

In all seriousness, duty voters would be better off staying home (or leaving their mailed ballots unopened) and doing something else. So let’s turn to the various types of strategic voting.

Social Pressure Voting

Most people, at some level, understand that their purpose in voting is not merely to cast a single ballot in a large-scale election. Rather, their purpose of voting is to mutually encourage their allies to vote, too, and thereby to achieve an outcome they favor. Such social pressure voting is the most widely practiced form of strategic voting.

To put the matter in terms of public choice economics, voting is “irrational” for the individual voter, because an individual vote will not sway the outcome of the election. However, if I and all of my allies sit home, and our opponents show up to vote, then we will all lose out. So voting becomes what the economists call a “free rider problem”—individual voters are tempted to free ride on the efforts of other voters, but, if all the voters of a given camp free ride, none of those voters get what they want. In these terms, social pressure voting is a way to overcome the free rider problem in voting.

As a matter of strategy, social pressure voting is very simple. It amounts basically to publicly making it known what political team you’re likely to support, publicly announcing that you’re going to vote, and suggesting that you might be irritated with those of your allies who don’t vote. This could be as simple has having a water-cooler discussion about the election or posting a remark on Facebook.

Social pressure voting is the most widely practiced form of strategic voting, and it’s important. It does not, however, exhaust the forms of strategic voting. Other forms of strategic voting can have even more impact in an election, for those who wish to pursue them.

Endorsement Voting

I suppose that the second-most common form of strategic voting is endorsement voting. Here the idea is that, not only do you encourage “your team” to go out and vote, you publicly articulate a case for voting for a particular candidate. This type of strategic voting often is more important during primaries, when many candidates with similar views vie for a chance to appear in the general election.

The purpose of endorsement voting, quite simply, is to try to persuade people sitting on the fence, whether they are other primary voters or swing voters in the general, to embrace your candidate of choice.

The public pronouncement is an essential element of endorsement voting. Whenever you promote a candidate on social media or among your friends, in the context of explaining your pending vote, you are practicing the strategy. Of course, you could endorse a candidate without voting at all, but the idea here is that, by endorsing a particular candidate and publicly declaring your intention to vote for that candidate, you help drum up support for the candidate in terms of voter turnout. (There are many other ways of supporting a candidate that I won’t discuss here.)

Lesser of Evils Voting

If you openly declare, “I’m voting for Candidate A over Candidate B, not because I like Candidate A but because I regard that candidate as somewhat less-bad than the other,” that is the essence of strategically voting for the lesser of evils.

Again, the public pronouncement is the key to this sort of strategy. Electorally, the outcome of actively endorsing a candidate, versus declaring you’re voting for the candidate only as the lesser of evils, is identical (and totally irrelevant, because your single vote doesn’t matter). The purpose is to put the candidate and that candidate’s party on notice that you’re not happy with your choices, and they better shape up in the future if they want your continued support.

NOTA Voting

Threatening to vote for “none of the above” (NOTA) rather than the candidate you’d normally be presumed to support is a very powerful political tool. Among Republicans, two groups routinely use this strategy to great effect: Religious conservatives and gun owners. Groups that advocate abortion bans routinely threaten candidates in this way. I’ve heard it plausibly argued that gun owners sitting home out of a sense of Republican betrayal has swung at least one presidential election (although Dave Kopel argues Bush the Elder still would have lost to Clinton, just not as badly).

The strategy of NOTA voting essentially communicates, “My candidate or party has betrayed me so badly that I’m willing to sit on the fence this cycle, even if the other candidate wins.” NOTA voting takes the long view: The goal is primarily to alter the course of one’s favored political party long term, not influence the current election.

Punishment Voting

NOTA voting is one method of punishing one’s candidate or party, but there’s an even more powerful method of punishment voting: Threatening to vote for the opposing candidate rather than merely not vote. If you want to call this the “nuclear option” of voting, that’s probably apt.

The electoral reasoning behind this is straight-forward. To create a simplified scenario, let’s assume there are one hundred voters in a particular race, and that the predicted outcome would be 52 votes for Candidate A and 48 votes for Candidate B. But then let’s say three of Candidate A’s supporters become very annoyed with something their candidate does or proposes. How do they get the candidate to shape up?

If they threaten merely not to vote, then Candidate A still wins, only by a narrower margin of 49 to 48. (Voting for a minor-party candidate yields the same numbers.) Candidate A, if he can predict this, might say, “I realize you three are angry, but so what? I’m still going to win, so screw you.” But if the three angry voters threaten to exercise the “nuclear option,” then Candidate A faces the real risk of losing the race by a margin of 49 to 51. What do you think Candidate A’s attitude will become with respect to those three voters, even though they constitute a tiny three percent of the electorate in this example? That’s pretty obvious.

Notice that punishment voting has nothing to do with “supporting” the opposing candidate, in the sense of expressing positive approval or moral sanction of that candidate. Punishment voting is essentially communicating to a candidate (and the candidate’s supporters), “Yes, I hate the opposing candidate, but I’m so pissed off at you over the matter at hand that I’m threatening to ‘go nuclear’ on your ass to try to get your attention.”

Punishment voting is an extreme and uncomfortable move, which is why most people never even consider it as a possibility, much less execute it. But I’m not most people, and I think that Cruz’s open pandering to theocratic conservatives completely merits the threat of punishment voting.

As with NOTA voting, punishment voting takes a long view. The idea is that, even if we (the punishers) end up throwing the upcoming election, we’re going to work toward the long-term improvement of our political candidates. Maybe a candidate we hate will win this time, but hopefully next time, and on into the future, we’ll get a candidate that we like.

Of course, there are two types of punishment voting, absolute and conditional. If you’re so upset with a candidate that there is no way that candidate could find redemption in your eyes, you might just want to announce a firm punishment vote. But if you still think there’s hope for your candidate, you might want to announce conditional punishment. That is, if the candidate shapes up, you will rescind your threat of voting for the opposing candidate. (At this point, that’s my position with respect to Cruz.)

I can understand if people want to criticize a threat of punishment voting in a given case: As noted, it’s an extreme move. But it does annoy me when people pretend that a punishment vote is something other than what it is. If you want to argue I’m wrong, great, but don’t be a complete idiot about it by ignoring the hard realities of strategic voting in our winner-take-all system.

At any rate, I sincerely hope that my allies, my critics, and my opponents all adopt more strategic voting, as I think that will make some headway toward improving the American political scene over time.

Related:

Voting, Political Activism, and Taking a Stand

Earlier today I released an article titled, “Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz.” The upshot is that Cruz chummed around at an event and on stage with a man who openly calls for the death penalty for homosexuals, just not right now “because we need some time for homosexuals to repent.” Another speaker at that event distributed literature that calls for the death penalty for homosexuals.

Incidentally, the same man, Kevin Swanson has also said that the jihadist massacres in Paris were “a message from God” because the victims included “humanist devil-worshippers.” He has also said that “there might be a connection” between pro-gay policies in Colorado and wildfires and flooding, and that Colorado is arguably “more evil than Communist China, than North Korea” because of a newspaper photo in the state of two men kissing.

And, again, this is a man that Ted Cruz actively and chummily speaks with on stage and actively pursues as a political ally.

Predictably, I got some pushback on social media from Cruz’s supporters. Rather than try to respond to those remarks piecemeal via Social Media, I thought I’d take the opportunity to discuss political activism and other matters in greater detail here.

Before turning to the matter of activism, I want to address a couple of minor issues. (Skip to the header about activism if you wish.)

First, I’m surprised by the level of anger some people have expressed over my article. The worst comment came via email; the fellow writing said that, given my remarks, he’d “truly worry about standing beside [me] in battle.” He continued, “My inclination would be to shoot you myself for fear of you turning against me and killing me and fighting with the enemy.” Thankfully, other remarks were markedly less ridiculous. Still, some were equally angry.

My response to such anger is this: If you’re more angry about me criticizing Ted Cruz than you are about Cruz palling around with a man whose stance on homosexuality is practically indistinguishable from that of Saudi Arabia, there is something seriously wrong with your priorities and with the way you think about politics.

Second, one or two people complained that I cited Right Wing Watch in drawing out the facts about Swanson. Here my reply is two-fold. My remarks about Swanson come from video of Swanson himself. It doesn’t matter who filmed Swanson or published the results; what matters is what Swanson undeniably said.

And I agree it is a pity that I had to turn to Right Wing Watch and like sites as a source on Swanson. The fact is that conservative journalists and videographers should have immediately published the relevant material about Swanson, should have immediately condemned Swanson’s remarks, should have immediately insisted that Ted Cruz apologize for appearing with Swanson and condemn Swanson’s remarks. Yet they did not.

The fact that I had to turn to Right Wing Watch and like sites to find the relevant details about Swanson’s remarks, because I could not find such details on conservative sites, speaks to the moral depravity widespread in the modern conservative movement. It is indeed shameful that many conservatives observe Right Wing Watch publish the materials and make the moral pronouncements about Swanson that conservatives themselves should publish and pronounce.

I want to hasten to add that some conservatives (including a number of my social media contacts) have spoken out against Swanson and against Cruz’s association with him. Colorado writer Thomas Krannawitter, who I think considers himself a conservative, wrote an impassioned Facebook post on the matter. He writes, in part:

[I]s this what it means to be a “Republican” today, committing one’s self to Jesus in one breath and calling for the government-sponsored execution of homosexuals in the next? If not, why not? I am not sure whether to laugh or cry over what has become of the Party of Lincoln. Either way, I for one will not hesitate to call out, condemn, and reject the proposals of Mr. Kevin Swanson. . . . [If any Republican candidate is] not willing to call this out as the irrational, immoral cultish claptrap it is, then they certainly do not deserve my vote or support.

And Michael L. Brown writes, “I want to stand with [Rachel Maddow] in renouncing this kind of rhetoric in the strongest possible terms, especially since this was a Christian-based rally.” (However, Brown inexplicably excuses Cruz’s attendance at the event where he shared a stage with Swanson.)

Some other lines of criticism I don’t find worth discussing here. But I do want to talk about criticisms pertaining to political activism.

Voting Is Not Political Activism

Apparently this seemingly obvious fact comes as news to some people, but your vote, by itself, does not matter at all in terms of shifting the political landscape. In those terms, you’d be far better off sitting at home and doing any other activist-related activity, rather than voting. This follows straight-forwardly from the fact that your vote is almost certainly never going to affect the outcome of any major election.

Yet, surprisingly (to me), some people seem to interpret my previous piece on Cruz as if the important issue is how I’m going to vote. How I’m going to vote, by itself, is of absolutely no consequence. If my purpose were merely to pronounce how I intend to vote, my piece would have been a pointless waste of time. But, as you might by now surmise, that was not my purpose. So what was?

A common complaint I saw on social media is that, however bad Cruz might be on various issues, he would not be able to make much headway with his worst ideas, and he would be better than any Democrat, who likely would be able to make substantial headway in a harmful direction on various issues. But this sort of criticism completely misses the point of my piece and completely misunderstands the nature of political activism.

If I were so stupid as to believe that one political party is consistently the Party of the Angels, while the other party is consistently the Party of the Devils (and, for the Swanson acolytes out there, I’m speaking metaphorically!), then I would consistently promise my unconditional support to the Party of the Angels. I would have no need to strategize politically or to try to influence the parties.

But, here in the real world, both major political parties threaten people’s rights in extreme ways and threaten to do so even more severely into the future. So, as a politically aware and involved person, I do need to strategize politically and to make some attempt to influence the direction of the parties.

To lay some additional context: It is pure fantasy to claim that the major parties are substantially different on most practical matters of domestic or even foreign policy. Today, both Republicans and Democrats advocate a massive welfare and regulatory state; usually they differ only on a few relatively minor details. Anyone who doubts this is welcome to (for example) ask any Republican politician, on the record, if he or she is in favor of phasing out Social Security or of repealing the national minimum wage. Although the parties are more noticeably different on matters of foreign policy, their positions are essentially variations on the theme of pragmatic “diplomacy” plus piecemeal military actions.

So let’s try to look at political strategy as grownups with our wits about us, rather than as cheerleaders for some political team. If you want to be a cheerleader, I suggest you go back to high school or join the Broncos cheer squad, because you just don’t have the mentality to be serious about politics.

What is my goal as an activist, insofar as I seek to influence electoral politics? This depends in part on where we are in the political process and what timeline I think is most relevant.

Where are we now? We are in the primaries! The candidates have not yet been selected. So my goal as a political activist (within the narrow electoral sphere) is to try to get the best candidates possible and to try to get the winning candidates to commit to the most reasonable policies possible (which, granted, is a pretty low bar these days).

Put bluntly, you are a complete idiot, strategically speaking, if you promise your unconditional support for a given candidate or party at this point.

If you effectively communicate, “I will support any Republican nominee over any Democratic nominee, no matter what,” you tell Republican candidates that they don’t need to give any consideration, at all, to what you think about things. Instead, what candidates are going to do is what they always do: Pander to the worst Republican theocrats, largely because the theocrats actually threaten to stay home if they don’t get their way.

In short, if you guarantee your unconditional support for the Republican party’s nominees, whoever they are and whatever dreadful things they do and say, you (and all your strategically foolish friends who do the same) virtually guarantee that the Republican Party will get more and more crazy over time. And, if you’re not insane (or a theocrat, but I repeat myself), that’s a bad outcome.

One main political strategy is necessary to help the Republican party become the party of individual rights rather than the party of theocratic fascism, and that is to loudly and proudly declare: “I will not vote for the theocrats or for any candidate who panders to them. Either I will stay home, or, because I really want to emphasize the point, I will go to the voting booth, hold my nose, and vote for the Democrat.”

I can put up with a lot of nonsense from candidates that I ultimately end up voting for. But some things we simply have to declare to be unacceptable, and we have to mean it—for example a candidate cannot chum it up with a man who proclaims it might someday be a good idea to kill all the gays.

If you (as a Republican supporter) don’t have the good sense and moral fortitude to openly and loudly declare that you will not vote for Ted Cruz unless he apologizes for appearing with Swanson and condemns Swanson’s remarks, then you are part of the problem, you are part of the ongoing intellectual and moral corruption of the Republican Party, you are part of what threatens American liberty.

So, no, the point of my previous essay on Cruz was not merely to pronounce how I might vote—that would be a stupid and vain exercise. Instead, my purpose was to try to shake other Republican voters out of their cheerleading fantasies and actually do something to influence the direction of the Republican Party, and to communicate to Republican leaders that, well, I’m sick and tired of their theocratic panderings, and I’m not going to take it, anymore.

April 27 Update: Following is my entire “Ted Cruz and Religion” cycle. Please note that my views about Cruz evolved considerably over time. Although I’m still very concerned about Cruz’s positions on abortion (and related matters) and his alliances with theocratic-leaning conservatives, I’ve also come to appreciate more deeply his many virtues, including his partial endorsement of the principle of separation of church and state. I became active in Republican politics toward the end of 2015, and I came to support Cruz over Donald Trump for the nomination.
· Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz
· Voting, Political Activism, and Taking a Stand
· Ted Cruz’s Dangerous Pandering to Theocrats
· Yes, Ted Cruz’s Policies Would Outlaw Some Forms of Birth Control
· Ted Cruz Would Ban Abortion Even for Rape Victims
· Ted Cruz Touts Support of Anti-Gay Bigot Phil Robertson
· Republican Religion Undermines Capitalism
· Ted Cruz’s Remarkable Nod to the Separation of Church and State

Related:

Colorado Activist Johanna Fallis Dies

johanna-fallisJohanna Fallis, a longtime Libertarian activist in Colorado, died in early January, reports her partner and fellow activist Lloyd Sweeny. She had had health problems for some time.

Fallis was a former treasurer of the state Libertarian Party (LP), a Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State in 2000, and a retired information systems designer.

I spent time with Johanna at an Austrian economics study group hosted by Ken Riggs, at local LP meetings, and at the 2000 national LP convention (at which I took the photo of her shown).

Johanna was both spirited and friendly; she once told my wife, “You get prettier and prettier every time I see you.”

She will be missed.

Gage Skidmore on Photography, Creative Commons, and Rand Paul

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Gage Skidmore, a semi-professional photographer from Arizona. —Ari Armstrong

Armstrong: According to your Facebook bio, you started out as a photographer in 2009, when you documented Rand Paul’s Senate run. Your work has also appeared in numerous publications, including Forbes, Wired, and Reason. Do you work as a full-time photographer now, or is that a part-time occupation? Do you mean to make photography your long-term career? What is the scope of your photographic work presently?

Skidmore: I started doing political photography with Paul when I was sixteen years old. I had been involved in the liberty movement since the end of 2007 when his father ran for the 2008 presidency, but I didn’t get involved with his campaign as a photographer until 2011 when he ran for President again.

I’ve never seen photography as a job; I have always seen it as a hobby, something that I do on the side for personal enjoyment or just to make a little money. Recently I’ve done some freelance work for various candidates for office in Arizona, where I live now, and for other organizations like the Western Center for Journalism, as well as Reason magazine, which ran a cover image of mine of Gary Johnson for its 2012 election issue.

I really am not sure where my photography will take me, but I’m always looking to continue my photography adventure as long as I find it to be something that is worthwhile to share with people, and is still fun for me as well.

Armstrong: Every time I need an image of a libertarian or conservative politician or intellectual, I find that the best image is almost always one of yours. Then I discovered that you’ve also photographed celebrities such as Tom Cruise at ComicCon. What prompted you to start releasing so many of your photographs through Flickr under the Creative Commons license?

Skidmore: The scope of my work involves for the most part two things that I enjoy the most—politics and pop culture conventions.

I originally bought my first professional camera for the purpose of going to the San Diego ComicCon in 2009, because I wanted to take somewhat professional photos for the purpose of releasing them under the Creative Commons license, and also because I wanted to see my photos used to illustrate celebrities on Wikipedia on pages where photos didn’t exist.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing my work used in a positive way, and especially enjoy when I’m actually credited for taking the photo. And as far as Flickr goes, I think that is just the most mainstream photography website at the moment, besides Facebook (which isn’t known for its photo quality). But I would really hope for Flickr to make some changes to its business model that would allow its content creators to gain the ability to make money by selling prints, or something of that nature, in the same way that YouTube rewards its content creators for providing content there.

Armstrong: I’ve released a few CC images (my best is of Christopher Hitchens), but nowhere near as many as you’ve released. I find the CC community interesting; I feel grateful, as a blogger, that I have access to so many great images, and I feel a sense of responsibility to contribute my own CC images when I can. What are your thoughts on the Creative Commons?

Skidmore: I can understand people’s reasoning about wanting to tightly control their content, especially if that is how they make their living, primarily by selling photos. I’ve never gotten that serious about it, to the point where I need to sell a photo to eat the next day. I’m not pursuing photography as a college student, either, so I basically see the Creative Commons as a way to release my photos for public consumption, and have them used in the most wide ranging way possible. I have gotten some criticism for this, but I think with the expansion of literally everyone having a cell phone camera, and the fact that someone can easily go to the store and buy a semi-professional camera, the world of photography is constantly changing. These changes will likely have a detrimental effect on the professional photography business as a whole. Depending on one’s perspective, this may be a good thing, or it may be a bad thing, but I tend not to consume myself with that type of stuff.

Armstrong: Which shot or shots of yours do you find particularly interesting, or which have a fun backstory?

Skidmore: I had a hard time thinking about a good photo back story, but I thought about when I first started doing political photography and documenting some of the early campaign events with Rand Paul. One of the first events I went to was a Tea Party event in Hawesville, Kentucky. I can vividly remember arriving at the event, and standing out in the cold November or December climate in front of this towering court house. Back then, the Tea Party was really at its peak, but standing among the crowd was Dr. Paul himself, then just a small town ophthalmologist. There was no other media, no other person taking any photos, at least semi-professionally, and hardly anyone even bothered to introduce themselves to Rand except every now and then between speakers at the event. This was actually also the first time I got to shake Rand’s hand, and his campaign handler at the time introduced us to each other.

Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing a true grassroots movement of liberty-minded individuals who have come to embrace this one time small town doctor as one of the serious contenders for President of the United States. I am so glad to have been able to participate in some way when he first came on the scene, and am especially grateful for the kindness he has shown to me over the years, especially in the beginning when I was just some teenage fan following him around and taking photos.

Armstrong: If someone wanted to hire you to photograph an event, would you be open to that? If so, what’s the best way to reach you, and what sort of processes and costs should a client expect?

Skidmore: If someone would like to hire me for an event, I absolutely would be open to doing so, and the best way to reach me is through email, which I’ve made publicly available on pretty much all my personal websites. I like to make things as easy as possible for potential clients, so they name a price, and I’ll usually accept it, as long as it’s within reason.

W. Earl Allen Died Doing What He Loved

earl-allen-1W. Earl Allen, long a libertarian activist in Colorado, died August 9 in a plane crash. The Denver Post reports, “A Broomfield flight instructor and his student died Saturday when the small plane they were flying crashed near Steamboat Springs. Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg identified the two as William Earl Allen, 62, and a flying student, Terry Lynn Stewart, 60, of Houston.” This is devastating news to the many people who knew and loved Earl.

Of those aspects of his life with which I was familiar, three of Earl’s loves stand out: His love of liberty, his love of flying, and his love of public speaking. I knew him from his political activism. In answering a survey a couple years ago, Earl said he read Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose when he was a college teacher, and he owns “three copies of Atlas Shrugged, one of which is falling apart at the seams due to overuse.”

Earl promoted a free-market in health care while at a 2010 rally (see the 2:55 mark in the video). In 2009, he joined me and other activists to protest legal restrictions on beer sales. Following is a photograph from that event; Earl is at left, with Amanda Muell, Justin Longo, Dave Williams, and me.
earl-allen-beer

Regarding his flying, Earl was featured in a 2011 student video about his career as a flight instructor.

Earl’s death is a great loss to his family, his friends, and his fellow advocates of liberty.

August 13 Update: I just received an email from Earl’s wife with the following notice: “William Earl (Earl) Allen was born on March 18, 1952 in Provo, Utah and passed away on August 9, 2014 in Routt County, CO at the age of 62. He is survived by his wife Maralyn Mencarini; his mother Donna Sharp (Norman); siblings Edward (Madalyn), Eric (Ying), Esther (Nathaniel), and Evan (Rachel); eight nieces and nephews; and six great-nieces and nephews. . . . As an expression of sympathy, memorial contributions may be made at https://secure.eaa.org/development/index.html to the EAA Young Eagles Program.”

Amanda Muell Founded Networking Group Liberty On the Rocks

When Amanda Muell (see photo) founded Liberty On the Rocks, I didn’t think it would become be very important. I was very wrong. Chapters of the group have become key places for free-market activists to network, share ideas, and listen to outstanding speakers. (Note that I run Liberty In the Books, a project of Liberty On the Rocks.)

Here, as part of a series on free-market activism, Amanda discusses her activism. (As always, an interview does not imply agreement.) Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.

Ari: What inspired you to start Liberty On the Rocks?

Amanda: My initial inspiration for starting the happy hours was to meet other people who were interested in free markets and liberty. When I saw the success of the model (i.e., meeting in pubs and taverns) and recognized the benefits of getting people together socially, I decided it was necessary to set up similar groups across the country.

Ari: What is the value in liberty activists meeting socially?

Amanda: When liberty activists and enthusiasts meet regularly in a social atmosphere, it makes it much easier for them to stay informed on current issues and up-to-date on how they affect our liberties. From these interactions, attendees become better informed, better versed in discussing the issues, and more motivated to defend liberty than they were before they were thinking about it on a continual basis. Also, by getting together socially, liberty activists can connect with enthusiasts who are looking to volunteer, learn, or take on a bigger role. This in turn helps to increase the size and effectiveness of the movement for liberty.

Ari: What tips do you have for the budding free-market activist? Why should others get involved?

Amanda: My first tip is to encourage people to do what they are passionate about. Doing something out of “duty” is much more difficult than doing something because you want to do it.

Secondly, it’s important to always consider your audience when discussing issues related to free markets and liberty. Attempt to tailor your message depending on the individual you are speaking with—and always ask lots of questions! Be sure to refrain from insults (it won’t get you anywhere), be respectful, listen and never claim to know something you truly don’t. Try to discuss these subjects from an angle that suits the other party. They may not be interested in the same topics as you, but they will care about making their own decisions for their family, maintaining a healthy bank account, etc.

Tip number three is never cease to learn! Join an economics book club or a liberty-oriented discussion group. Watch videos on Youtube and/or read books on relevant subjects from sources you trust. Join or start a Toastmasters club to increase your ability to persuade. But always continue to learn and challenge your opinions and understanding of liberty.

Lastly, it’s important to focus on the bright side as much as possible. The road to freedom will be long and arduous, but the end goal is worth the continued fight, even if it takes many years and doesn’t happen as quickly as you’d like it to. So don’t give up, no matter what you do, and always celebrate the victories, no matter how small.

I encourage anyone passionate about his or her freedom, family, wealth or future to get involved in the fight for liberty in whichever way suits them. Because we live in society we have no choice but to accept the desires of those around us, or attempt to affect change by influencing their opinion toward freedom. So if you are unhappy with the direction which we are headed (and you should be), educating yourself and those around you is the only sure fire way to ensure that change ensues. This can be effectively accomplished through peaceful parenting, which will help raise the next generations in a manner unfit with our system of government, which uses force, violence and intimidation to get its way.

In addition, other experiments such as the Free State Project and the Seasteading Institute will likely have dramatic impacts on the movement, as they attempt to experiment with different systems than the one we have today. This can be tremendously more effective than simply talking with others, as any successes will prove how effective and just a free society can be. And just as immigrants have flocked to the rich and opportunistic United States, they too will flood the borders of any society producing jobs, financial safety, and freedom. If this seems like a dream too big to accomplish, remember that anything can be done if the people will it. So never stop believing, and without a doubt, don’t give up!

Brian Schwartz Blogs for Freedom in Health Care

Brian Schwartz works as a scientist, and in his off hours he blogs for the Independence Institute’s free-market Patient Power Now site. By focusing his intellectual activism on health policy, he has become an expert in that area, excelling at analyzing complex reports and incorporating that material into popular articles.

My interview with Brian is one of several I’ve recently released. Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.

Ari: What originally inspired you to take an interest in political liberty?

Brian: After my freshman year of college I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, and Frédéric Bastiat’s The Law. From these I realized the injustice and harmful effects of government policies that violate people’s rights.

As a student as a small liberal arts school, I was surrounded by students who considered their left-wing political views to be “tolerant.” It was really an “emperor has no clothes” revelation for me that their “tolerance” for voluntary exchange and relationship ended when money entered the picture. To me this was an arbitrary and meaningless distinction in terms of whether or not to recognize the right to freely associate, or not associate, with others.

My primary outlet for developing my ideas were columns for the school newspaper and other publications. A friend pointed out how rare it was that I had articles published in campus publications that various people called “Common Sense” (conservative) and “The L-Word” (liberal).

Ari: How did you get into blogging for a think tank about health policy? How’s that going?

Brian: In 2006 the Colorado Senate Bill 208 became law. This bill established a “Blue Ribbon Commission” on health care reform that would evaluate reform proposals from citizens and organizations.

When the Commission solicited proposals in 2007, I had recently read David R. Henderson’s excellent book, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey. The chapter on health care policy was my first real introduction to the topic. In short, my response was “Health care and insurance in this country are really messed up, and bad government policies are responsible. This is just wrong!”

I had recently returned to Colorado from a fellowship Washington, D.C., where I frequented Cato Institute and Reason magazine events. Working as an engineer, I still had an appetite to for free-market activism. When I heard about the health care Commission, I remember having the fleeting thought that I could become “a free-market health care guy.”

At this point, early in 2007, the Commission’s activities were in the news, and I wrote my first op-ed about health care. Before submitting it anywhere, I ran it by Linda Gorman, Director of the Independence Institute’s Health Care Policy Center. She liked it made some suggestions, and the Boulder Daily Camera published it. Looking at the article now, I can see how my current deeper understanding of health care policy would allow me to make the same points in a more concise and effective manner.

In early March I asked Linda if anyone was writing a free-market health care reform proposal for the Commission’s consideration, and said that if there was one, I’d like to contribute to it. Linda said she didn’t know of anyone. By the next week, after some prodding from you [Ari], I decided to submit a free-market proposal myself.

At that point I didn’t know what the proposal would consist of, as problems with health care policy involve a tangled web of federal and state legislation and regulations. Figuring out which issues to focus on was certainly a “drinking from a fire hose” process. I spent much of my evenings and weekends educating myself and writing, and eventually took a couple of vacation days off from work to finish the proposal.

By the end of April the (now defunct) Rocky Mountain News published an op-ed of mine summarizing the proposal. By the end of the year I’d had health care articles published in the Denver Post, and again in the Rocky Mountain News and Daily Camera.

In late June Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, arranged a lunch with me, you [Ari], and Linda Gorman to discuss (then) Governor Bill Ritter’s plans for health care policy in Colorado. I don’t think I’d met Jon before, or if I had it was very briefly. So I wasn’t prepared for Jon’s onslaught of crude jokes directed at me. I thought it prudent not to reply in kind with a “mom joke” of some sort, though he might have appreciated my playing along. But I think I “passed” in Jon’s eyes by merely being surprised and amused, rather than hurt or offended.

Anyway, by the end of the lunch Jon agreed to have my published health care articles posted on the Independence Institute site. They have been ever since. Jon also suggested that the II would support a blogger to follow and critique Colorado health care policy developments.

At the time I suggested that you do it, but eventually I changed my mind, and you had your own projects going on. In February 2009 at the Leadership Program of the Rockies retreat I asked Jon if the offer was still open. He said he’d think about it.

About a month later I saw Jon at a Americas Future Foundation event in Denver, and he asked me if I would do the health care blog. I called him soon after, suggested a monthly pay rate, and he accepted. The rate was probably less than he had in mind. PatientPowerNow.org went on-line in April 2008.

Ari: How do you mesh your professional and personal life with your activist life?

Brian: My main profession is in physics and engineering, so I keep my activism out of the office. To bring politics into the office is just not wise professionally. While “water cooler” conversations about policy issues are tempting to contribute to, I either refrain from participating or limit myself to a quick comment and then get back to work.

Ari: What tips do you have for the budding free-market activist? Why should others get involved?

Brian: If you value political and economic liberty, then integrity requires that you act to promote them. This does not necessarily mean that you must personally become an activist. Rather, you can donate money to organizations and causes that you think effectively promote liberty.

One reason for doing this is that, if you don’t enjoy any forms of activism, you probably won’t be good at them anyway. Related to this is your comparative advantage. Say you love your full time job, and it pays well. Or that you can make money freelancing in something you like more than activism. The extra time doing what you like can translate into extra income, which you can then donate to a free-market organization.

For example, say you’re good at computer programming—as a disproportionate fraction of free-marketers are—and are excited by your idea for an iPhone app. But free-market activism drains your energy. Then it’s certainly better to enjoy working on what you like, the iPhone app, and donate some of the revenue from it to an organization you like.

If you do get involved in free-market activism, I recommend that you:

Utilize your strengths. Think of your local community (or national community) of free-market activists as a sports team. Not everyone can, or should, play the same position. So figure out what position or positions you’d like to play. For example, you could write op-eds, blog, be on talk radio, talk to local groups, organize talks and other events, attend events and video the opposition doing silly things (e.g., WhoSaidYoSaid.com), or design websites.

Get to know people in your local free-market community. If there are local activists that you admire and would like to emulate, then figure out how to meet them so you can pick their brain. If there’s a Liberty on the Rocks chapter near you, attend. Even if you want to be active, but are not sure how specifically, then getting out to meet people is a good way to figure it out, too. You might start out by helping out on someone else’s project.

Being part of your local or state level free-market community also makes activism less solitary. Speaking for myself, this helps me stay motivated. It’s good to provide and receive positive feedback to others.

Specialize. It’s easier than you think to become a local expert on a specific topic influenced by state and local policy, such as education, energy policy, transportation issues, or health care. If you do this, you can quickly become a “go to” person for interviews on local talk radio shows or newspapers.

Once you know one policy area very well, you’ll realize how little you know about other ones. It takes a while to know the nuances of a specific policy issue, how to respond to common arguments against freedom, how current policies the interfere with free-markets cause problems, and how more market-oriented solutions work elsewhere or have worked in the past.

If you can, choose a field that is somewhat related to your profession. You’ll have more credibility that way. For example, Paul Hsieh, MD [read the interview] specializes in health care policy and heads Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine. But be careful not to mention your employer when advocating policy. Whatever your views, your employer mostly likely doesn’t want to be associated with them.

Learn persuasion techniques. I’m not talking about psychological tricks, but ways to communicate your ideas more effectively. I highly recommend Michael Cloud’s CDs and book on the matter.

On writing in general, I recommend On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

Write about topics that irritate you. On a recent EconTalk podcast, George Will explained how he chose topics to write about by quoting William F. Buckley: “The world irritates me three times a week.” Okay, I admit that this is kind of negative, but I find that if something irritates me enough, it’s more difficult not to write about it than to write about it.

Dr. Hsieh Stays Active for Liberty in Medicine

For his regular job, Paul Hsieh works as a radiologist. In addition to pursuing a demanding career in medicine, Dr. Hsieh has also become one of the nation’s foremost advocates of free markets in medicine. He blogs daily for Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine, and he contributes articles to The Objective Standard and other publications.

Last year I conducted several interviews on political activism, including one with Dr. Hsieh. I am publishing those now. Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.

Ari: Briefly, how did you get into free-market activism?

Paul: I began in January 2007 in response the Colorado state legislature’s decision to appoint a special commission to create a “universal health care” plan for our state. A group of local free market advocates decided to organize the “Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine” (FIRM) project to speak out against government-run “universal” health care, and to support genuine free-market health reforms.

Our founder, Lin Zinser, attended and spoke out at numerous meetings of that state commission. She also participated in several panel discussions, town hall meetings, community groups, radio shows—all to discuss and promote free-market health reforms.

For my part, I wrote several letters to the editor and op-eds on health care policy for local and regional newspapers. After this particular issue died in the 2008 state legislature, we’ve continued working on this topic when health care policy heated up as a national-level issue following the election of President Obama.

Ari: Will you please summarize what your activities entail, and how specifically you became interested in health policy?

Paul: I mostly write letters to the editor, op-eds, and articles for various venues. My op-eds have appeared in outlets including the Christian Science Monitor, Washington Times, Washington Examiner, Denver Post, and PajamasMedia. Some of my longer articles have appeared in The Objective Standard, which is a quarterly journal of culture, arts, and politics.

Some of my work has also been cited by Investor’s Business Daily and major political blogs such as Instapundit and Real Clear Politics.

Our web page offers a summary of our published op-eds and articles.

My interest in health policy was driven initially by a specific state-level political initiative. But since then, I’ve found that topic of health policy (including what constitutes genuine health care “reform”), encompasses some more important fundamental issues—such as the nature of individual rights, the propriety (or lack thereof) of government “entitlement” programs, and the proper role of government in our lives.

Because of my tight work schedule (and personal inclination), I’ve mostly concentrated on writing. I do relatively little public speaking. Nor have I chosen to accept invitations to appear on TV or radio. Of course this may change in the future as my own personal goals and circumstances change.

Ari: What personal rewards and benefits do you find come with free-market activism?

Paul: Some of the key benefits include:

1) I’ve gain a much better understanding of some of the fundamental ideas (such as the nature of individual rights and the proper role of government) by having to think about and articulate them to others.

2) I’ve met some truly fine people who are also interested in free-market health care reform (and more broadly in the restoration and preservation of American freedoms in general).

3) I’ve become a better writer.

4) I’ve gained a greater sense of rational optimism about our future. Although I recognize that the battles ahead will be difficult, my activism has helped give me hope that the fight can be won. By being active, one is helping to steer the debate in the right direction, rather than being a helpless passenger at the mercy of others driving the discussion.

Ari: How do you mesh your professional life with your activist life?

Paul: I do all of this writing on my own time, typically during evenings, weekends, and vacation time.

My employers are fine with my activist work, provided that I don’t presume to speak for them on any political issues—a perfectly reasonable and understandable position. Hence, my author byline always states that I’m a co-founder of FIRM, but does not mention my professional practice affiliation.

My physician colleagues at work know of my views. But my various medical practice partners encompass an extremely wide range of political views, varying from religious conservative to libertarian to mainstream Republican and Democrat to socialist. So I’m merely another person in a politically diverse group and it doesn’t affect our professional relationships with one another.

Ari: What tips do you have for the budding free-market activist? Why should others get involved?

Paul: Budding activists should get involved for personal, selfish reasons. They shouldn’t view activism as grim painful “duty” where they are “taking one for the team.”

Instead, they should find ways to make activism a positive enhancement to their lives. This will include finding areas of interest (perhaps specializing by topic or geographic region) and finding vehicles that suit their time and personality (writing vs speaking vs. technical or support activities).

It also requires a realistic approach to one’s goals. You can’t expect to publish columns in the Wall Street Journal after a month. Rather, one should start small and work your way up. A budding writer might start with blogging, then move up to letters to the editor, then op-eds, then longer articles. A budding speaker might start with small community groups or local Rotary Clubs, then try local radio and TV, etc.

Also, one should network with other potential allies and find ways to provide mutual intellectual and emotional support for each others’ projects.

Finally, be patient and persistent. And savor the small victories when they arise!

These tips will go a long way towards helping budding activists preserve their “staying power,” rather than burning out too quickly and quitting from frustration.

Congressional Challenger Kevin Lundberg Discusses Political Activism

Months ago I interviewed Congressman Jared Polis about activism related to congressional politics. Although he replied promptly, I delayed in publishing his answers until yesterday. (Sorry!) Because Polis now faces a challenger for his seat, Kevin Lundberg, I thought it was appropriate to ask Lundberg a comparable set of questions. His answers follow.

Disclaimer: Those I interview do not necessarily endorse any of my views or writings. (Nor does this interview imply I agree with Lundberg’s positions.)

Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.

Ari: In general, how much do members of Congress tend to bow to party politics, and how much to they tend to make up their own minds based on their independent research and ideological convictions? How do you intent to deal with party pressures should you win the seat?

Kevin: My experience is at the state legislative level, and that is enough to know that the normal trend is for legislators to go with most of the flow. I have spent ten years resisting that trend. It is not a good idea to be a lone ranger, for all legislative issues require a lot of group effort, but one must find likeminded people to help withstand the pressures of establishment politics. In Colorado I helped found and run the Republican Study Committee of Colorado to provide a viable alternative to the establishment trends that inevitably grow more government. In Washington I intend on joining the Republican Study Committee, and similar alliances. I also have learned that it is essential to know what is negotiable, and what are non-negotiable principles, and stick with those principles.

Ari: By the time somebody gets to Congress, many of his or her views and commitments are already set. To what degree is it worthwhile for somebody trying to advocate a set of ideas and policies to interact with members of Congress? Should they instead focus on educating other activists, the general electorate, and lower-level candidates still formulating their worldviews? Obviously you have expressed strong convictions on various matters. How to do plan to weigh the views and advice of constituents in light of your established views?

Kevin: It is always a balance between one’s personal ideals and the district’s overall needs and opinions.

The best way to influence elected officials is before the election. I am honest and forthright with the voters before and after the election, but that is not always the case for every candidate. Before this election is over I trust careful voters will examine my principles for good government and weigh it against the values of my opponent. Remember, now is the time for this conversation.

After the election I will not change my tune. I intend to listen as carefully as I can and then cast my votes according to that information I have gathered and the principles of good government I have clearly outlined during the campaign season.

Ari: How do you plan to interact with constituents?

Kevin: Even as I have tried to do in Larimer county with my state legislative duties, I need to spend as much time here in the district and not in D.C.. I also will make constituent services a high priority for my staff.

Ari: What are the best forums for somebody to interact with a member of Congress? Town halls? Letters? Phone calls? Fundraising events? What are the best ways to interact with you now and should you win the seat?

Kevin: Town halls, and other public meetings are the most effective, but letters, calls, and to a lesser extent, emails all have an impact. I have attended a Monday morning breakfast in Larimer county just about every week of the year for all of my legislative career. It was the event Congressman Bob Schaffer started when he ran for Congress. He attended most weeks while in Congress. I hope to continue that tradition. In addition, I know I must conduct town halls all around the district, and keep an open door policy, even as I have as a state representative and state senator.

Ari: What approaches and arguments work best with a member of Congress? Which ones prove ineffective?

Kevin: For me the most effective arguments are: Is it constitutional? Will it really be in the best interest of the people in the district? Will it reduce government and enhance liberty? Telling me that some big contributor wants something is about the last thing I want to hear and has little effect on my opinion.

Ari: “Public Choice” economics talks about the problem of “concentrated benefits, dispersed costs.” How will you distinguish between special-interest appeals (at the cost of everyone else) and policies truly in the best interests of the country as a whole? How do you hope other members of Congress do that? Or is the problem intractable?

Kevin: From my vantage point I cannot judge other members of Congress, but, as I answered in question five, special-interest appeals do not hold much weight with me. Ask any full-time lobbyist in Denver, they can confirm that I do not bend to accommodate some special interest if it is not first, and foremost, the best choice for the people in my district.

Congressman Jared Polis Discusses Political Activism

Last year I asked Congressman Jared Polis to answer some questions about politics and activism, and he was kind enough to reply. Unfortunately, I got behind on my projects and kept delaying the publication of the interview. I am pleased to make it available now. Obviously, I am aware of the fact that Polis is now locked into his next reelection campaign, so, I will pursue the possibility of asking Polis’s opponent, Kevin Lundberg, a comparable set of questions. (Incidentally, with the recent redistricting, I was drawn out of Polis’s district and into that of Ed Perlmutter.)

Over the next few days I’ll release several other interviews about activism. I have already published an interview with Melissa Clouthier about Twitter activism. Please see my “activism” category for more.

Disclaimer: Those I interview do not necessarily endorse any of my views or writings. (Nor does this interview imply I agree with Polis’s positions.)

Ari: While you’re a “Boulder Democrat,” you also show an independent streak, in that you criticized the auto bailout, you’ve attended free-market events, and you’ve suggested liberty-oriented solutions to immigration and drug policy. But obviously there’s a lot of pressure to conform to the party line in DC. In general, how much do members of Congress tend to bow to party politics, and how much to they tend to make up their own minds based on their independent research and ideological convictions?

Jared: Currently, all members of Congress are nominated by parties in their districts. In most districts, selection by the majority party is tantamount to election due to the gerrymandering. In more competitive seats, the champions of both parties battle it out in a general election.

Most behavior I see is less about towing the “party line” than it is about the fact that members of Congress are products of the districts that elect them. Members are a product of the communities they hail from, and have similar values to most members of those communities.

With resources like the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, my staff and I have access to a significant amount of independent research to help us inform decisions, but we are also avid consumers of media, as well as students of public opinion.

Ari: By the time somebody gets to Congress, many of his or her views and commitments are already set. To what degree is it worthwhile for somebody trying to advocate a set of ideas and policies to interact with members of Congress? Should they instead focus on educating other activists, the general electorate, and lower-level candidates still formulating their worldviews?

Jared: We are far from experts on every topic, so most likely if a constituent approaches us about a policy or idea it will be one worth considering. I sign onto bills frequently that are brought to my attention by constituents and that I might not know about otherwise. Obviously a visit with a member of Congress will not likely result in them changing their value system, but try to pitch the policy based on their existing value system. For instance, if the member is extremely religious, theological arguments may be most effective. If the member makes decisions based on science, use science and data in your presentation. It always helps to show how an issue directly affects a member’s constituents.

On most issues, politicians are followers of the general electorate so surely moving the general electorate is the most effective way to move elected officials.

Ari: How many letters do you receive on average during a month? How many of those does a typical member of Congress actually personally read?

Jared: I have received anywhere from 100 (slow month) to over 1,000 (in the midst of health care debate) per month. A summary of what the letters are about is prepared including a tally on each issue and presented to me weekly (including phone calls to the office and emails from constituents). If the letter has a new legislative idea or relates to something important in the district, I generally see it.

Ari: What are the best forums for somebody to interact with a member of Congress? Town halls? Letters? Phone calls? Fundraising events?

Jared: All of the above. Activists shouldn’t limit themselves. Most members will schedule a meeting with constituents who are visiting DC. Showing up at town halls and other public events can also be effective but not as much if the same person shows up at five town halls. For it to look like a movement it has got to involve different faces and voices.

Ari: What approaches and arguments work best with a member of Congress? Which ones prove ineffective?

Jared: It is best to research the member of Congress you are approaching so you understand their values and decision-making process. The wrong approach can backfire and move the member in the opposite direction.

Ari: “Public Choice” economics talks about the problem of “concentrated benefits, dispersed costs.” How do you and other members of Congress distinguish between special-interest appeals (at the cost of everyone else) and policies truly in the best interests of the country as a whole? Or is the problem intractable?

Jared: Let me know if you figure this out! One example is tax reform. The vision is that a revenue neutral reform that eliminates loopholes and limits deductions could bring would create a substantially lower, flatter and simpler income tax rate for individuals and corporations. The difficulty in getting there is that, while most people would appreciate a lower rate and not having their decisions centrally incentivized out of Washington, each one of those loopholes and deductions has its own constituency that tries to preserve it. Thus the only likely approach is all or none, once some exceptions are made for tax expenditures then it is harder to make excuses about why others are not included. Tax reform was successfully accomplished in 1986 but the tax code has grown by leaps and bounds since then.

The challenge to free market conservatives is to attack tax expenditures—the loopholes and deductions—as vociferously as they do traditional spending. Whether you’re giving someone a special benefit through the tax code or through a direct flow of cash, they’re both spending. They both come with a cost to the Treasury. Yet many conservatives insist that there’s a distinction.

Melissa Clouthier Talks Twitter Activism

Melissa Clouthier, better known as @MelissaTweets on Twitter, is responsible for getting me onto Twitter. Now I love it. Indeed, Twitter has become my primary way to track news and opinions. Here Melissa explains how and why she became one of the most important right-leaners on the social media site.

First, though, I must offer my apologies to Melissa; I’ve been sitting on this interview for months. Originally, I had the idea of including it in a short book on activism, but my schedule got quite out of hand, so now I’ll publish this interview (and others ) on my web page as part of a series on activism.

Disclaimer: Those I interview do not necessarily endorse any of my views or writings.

Ari: What do you see as the basic value of Twitter and other social media, in terms of political activism?

Melissa: Social media is made up of people who create the stories. People are now the content creators and through group involvement, help create the narrative. Stories that used to be ignored and buried by the mainstream press . . . well, they can’t be anymore. I love fighting the narrative. Even better, I like shaping it and framing it. Common people, working together, have power. It’s wonderful.

Ari: How did you become such a force on Twitter?

Melissa: Hmmm… I don’t really view myself as a force on Twitter. I view myself as a news aggregator and information-sharer. I only have influence to the extent that what I share people find valuable. The people, they’re the force. I am just using the medium to share information that I hope informs, entertains, motivates, etc. If I cease to share valuable information, I’ll cease to be helpful and cease to be relevant.

Ari: What other sorts of activism do you pursue, and how does Twitter fit into that?

Melissa: Well, I have reported from all sorts of Tea Parties. I’ve wanted to understand the movement, observe it, and share it honestly with people. I also try to teach as many people as possible how to do this. We need more bloggers, more Twitterers, more citizen journalists to keep our local, state and federal government honest. So, equipping the workers is a big part of my activism too. I love to teach.

Ari: What tips do you have for the new Twitter activist?

Decide who you want to influence. Do you want to be a thorn in the flesh of your local city council or school board? Follow those people and anyone in your community (follow by location) and then expose.

Be loud, fearless, direct, kind (don’t ever say anything online you wouldn’t say in person), fair and truthful and most of all, relentless. Don’t give up. Public officials will change their behavior. They’ll challenge you (I’ve fought with elected officials). They’ll get frustrated. Oh well. They’re public servants.

Carve out a niche. Maybe you only want to share information. That’s wonderful. Maybe you want to create a parody account to torment the corrupt Mayor or something. There are really no right or wrongs. The key is to have a goal, pursue it and be truthful.

Ari: How do you blend activism with your professional and family life?

Melissa: I couldn’t do this without buy-in. I’ve taken my family to Tea Parties. I’ve taken my kids to political rallies. I’ve introduced them to politicians and activists. They know they can change the country with involvement. Because I travel a bit, they need to know that I go because it’s important. We talk through the issues and what’s at stake. Still, it’s a challenge. I’m a mom first, and so they’ll get irritated with me if I miss something. Still, I want them to be idealistic and involved and realize they can make a difference. Kids learn by example.

Thankfully, as a chiropractor, I can work when and how I want to. My patients have to be flexible too, but they’re loyal to me and I am to them. So, I go in a morning or two a week and see as many folks as possible. It’s a wonderful profession and it keeps me in touch with real life—real worries, real priorities. For a long time, I could separate my online life from my patients. Not now. Now, they know what I’m up to. Still, it’s okay. I love all people, even people who believe differently politically. Everyone has the same concerns, ultimately.

Ari: Why do you do it?

Melissa:I’ve blogged for over six years. It started out as something to do, something I was interested in that could keep my mind busy while I had a baby. And then there was the bank implosion and I researched it and discovered that horrendous public policy by Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank resulted in this horrible, horrible mess. And then the bailouts and the debacle of the McCain campaign. I was absolutely disgusted with the Republican party. I was horrified by what I saw was our first socialist President—Barack Obama. And then, against my hopes, Obama was far worse and more destructive than I could imagine. I’m still profoundly distressed about the effects of Obamacare. It’s going to be the long term destroyer of America if let go.

The leftists never stop. They are always pushing. They have made incrementalism a high art form. And now, nearly half of American households receive a check from the government every month. This is a disaster. I’m not sure if we’re past the point of no return, but if not we are very close. We’re already a debtor nation. It’s appalling.

So, we have to work to restore American greatness and that’s an individual proposition. People need to believe in themselves again. People need to know that there are consequences for behavior both personally and for big banks and for everyone. So, we have many fights—not just politically or policy-wise, but for the hearts and minds of Americans.

I’m just one small person, but I’m not going down without a fight. I’m a mother. My children deserve better and I’ll fight to the death for them. And that’s what I’m fighting for—for their survival. But more than that, I’m fighting for their future greatness. I know, sounds idealistic and maybe silly. But I’m not cynical about this political world. Together we can make a difference, we ARE making a difference. And that’s why I fight.

Ari: Thank you for being such an inspiring activist!

Hayek and the Tea Party

On April 2, I participated in a panel organized by Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks for the Association of Private Enterprise Education. (FreedomWorks paid my way to the event.) I filmed the talks, and now I release them with Kibbe’s permission.

First, Matt Kibbe discussed the decentralized nature of the Tea Party movement:

Second, Trey Fleisher, an economist at Metro State, offered a somewhat pessimistic take on the Tea Party, noting that individuals often lack the incentive to take up political causes:

Third, Wayne Brough, an economist with FreedomWorks, argued that new technologies make it increasingly easier for individuals to participate in politics:

Finally, I reviewed Hayek’s 1949 essay, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” talking about how ideas spread through a culture generally and how they spread to and throughout the modern Tea Party:

The Renaissance of Liberty Begins in Colorado

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published April 13 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Over the last century the federal government has claimed sweeping powers over our lives. It has spent the nation into debt that races past yearly productive output, continued its decades-long march to nationalize health care, and seized control of our economic and personal lives far beyond the powers enumerated in the Constitution.

Unfortunately, the typical individual can exercise little if any meaningful control over national politics. Sure, we can try to elect better people to Congress and then hold them accountable. But congressional districts are large, the District of Columbia is far away, and national politics is dominated by special-interest groups seeking political favors. What, then, is the alternative?

Citizens of the original states created the federal government to handle national defense, prevent the states from imposing economically damaging protectionism, and handle a few other jobs beyond the capabilities of the state governments. The federal government was never supposed to turn into the monolithic power it has become. Indeed, the Tenth Amendment explicitly reserves “powers not delegated” to the federal government “to the states respectively, or to the people.”

Every school child learns that the Founders separated powers among the branches of the federal government, but, just as importantly, they separated powers among levels of government. Federalism—the separation of state and federal powers—is a central doctrine of American government. It is high time we fought to restore American federalism, not as an end in itself, but as an important means to protecting individual rights. We in Colorado can and should play a pivotal role in that fight.

A good indicator of the loss of federalism is the role of federal spending in state budgets. Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee reports that, for fiscal year 2011-12, federal funding accounts for over $5 billion of the total $19.6 billion budget, or 26 percent. Over half of that federal spending goes for health care.

But why should we in Colorado have to beg the federal government to hand over a portion of our own money to our state government? Such federal spending turns federalism on its head. Every year we witness the grotesque spectacle of Colorado’s elected officials dancing like marionettes to the demands of federal politicians who hold the purse strings.

Imagine a league of independent state governments that stood up to such federal tyranny. Imagine state legislators who grew a spine and said enough is enough. We look forward to the day when state legislatures routinely pass resolutions condemning federal abuses, then start passing laws to the reaches of their authority to stop those abuses.

To take one possible strategy, Colorado could pass a law saying that we will turn down all federal funding in our state, once a certain number of other states have passed a comparable law.* Then we can demand that the federal government reduce its tax burdens and simply let citizens keep their own money.

Of course, the goal is not to replace federal tyranny with state-level tyranny, but rather to turn all governmental entities into protectors of individual rights rather than the biggest threat to our rights. The same state governments that would stand up against federal abuses of individual rights would also be more amenable to protecting rights themselves. So how do we achieve that?

We must continue to develop a culture of liberty in Colorado. We must stand up for individual rights to life, liberty, property, and voluntary contract and association. We must unflinchingly defend freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and religious worship, and freedom to use the fruits of our labor as each individual decides. We must demand that government act to protect individuals from the coercion of others, from murder, theft, assault, fraud, and every form of force that one person might initiate against another. At the same time, government must cease acting as the primary instigator of coercion, stripping us of our wealth and our liberties.

Many of the seeds of our future liberty renaissance have already been sown. Many new liberty-oriented groups have arisen in the last few years, and older groups have gained a new vitality. As a single illustration, last week over fifty people gathered at Denver Liberty On the Rocks to listen to philosopher Diana Hsieh explain why, yes, people deserve what they earn, contrary to the nonsense of John Rawls. We are starting to return to the tavern-style, take-it-to-the-streets, energetic and principled activism that marked the work of such American legends as Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine.

We must make the principle of individual rights a living force in the minds of our countrymen. We must make coercion—the initiation of force—something that the people denounce, despise, and reject. Then we must elect pro-liberty state legislatures that protect our rights and stand up to federal abuses.

As F. A. Hayek wrote, “We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage.”

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari blogs at AriArmstrong.com in the Denver area. 

* Obviously we’re talking about federal funding funneled through state legislatures, not federal funding for legitimate federal programs that happen to have a presence in Colorado. Here is a related tidbit I came across: “[F]or every $1.00 the feds send to the states, states increase their own future taxes between $0.33 and $0.42.” —AA