Rand Paul and the Libertarian Vote

In a series of studies and an ebook, David Kirby and I have been examining the libertarian segment of the American electorate. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is about to test that analysis.

Paul has been arguing that he’s the Republican who can expand the Republican base to include more young people, independents, and even minorities. That was part of the message in the advance video he posted on the web Sunday night. And he argues that a more libertarian approach to such issues as marijuana, criminal justice, mass surveillance, and overseas wars could help do that.

In our studies, we’ve found that a large portion of Americans give libertarian answers to broad values questions. In their 2014 Governance Survey the Gallup Poll found that 24 percent of respondents could be characterized as libertarians (as compared to 27 percent conservative, 21 percent liberal, and 18 percent populist). The percentage has been rising over the past decade:

Gallup Poll libertarians in the electorate

Other studies show different numbers. Our own original study, “The Libertarian Vote,” using stricter criteria, classified 13 to 15 percent of voters as libertarian. A Zogby poll found that when asked if they would define themselves as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal, also known as libertarian,” fully 44 percent – 100 million Americans – accepted the description. That’s a large segment of the electorate not in either party’s camp.

Rand Paul has as strong a record on fiscal conservatism as any Republican candidate, stronger than most. And he seems to be the only one who could make a claim for the “socially liberal” element among libertarian-leaning voters. He’s urged that we stop putting young people in jail for drug use, and he’s shown that he’s willing to use that issue against Jeb Bush and other competitors. He tells young people that “the phone records of United States citizens are none of [the government’s] damn business.”

Of course, like all candidates Paul has a balancing act to put together a winning coalition. He wants to hold on to the libertarian base that gave his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), 23 percent of the New Hampshire primary vote and $40 million in small contributions. But he’ll need more that, and he’ll look for more votes among both the conservative Republican base and non-traditional Republican voters.

His recent statements that gay marriage “offends myself and a lot of other people” and represents a “moral crisis” have disappointed a lot of libertarians (as well as a lot of gay voters, who probably weren’t likely to be in his camp anyway). The bigger question is whether such nods to the religious right will drive away voters he needs, especially the young people and Silicon Valley techies he’s been aggressively courting.

Many people have suggested that Paul’s somewhat non-interventionist foreign policy views won’t sit well with Republican voters. They should read fewer neoconservative pundits and more polls. According to a CBS/New York Times poll last June, 63 percent of Republicans thought the Iraq war wasn’t worth the costs. Paul is likely to be the only one of 10 or so Republican candidates to take that position. As neoconservatives and John McCain beat the drums for military action in Syria in 2013, Paul opposed it. Republicans turned sharply against the idea —  70 percent against in September 2013. Americans, including Republicans, are getting tired of policing the world with endless wars. Interventionist sentiment has ticked up in the past few months as Americans saw ISIS beheading journalists and aid workers on video. But I would predict that 9 months from now, when the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire begin voting for presidential candidates, Americans will be even more weary of nearly 15 years of war, and U.S. intervention will be even less popular than it is now. 

One advantage Paul starts with: political scientist Jason Sorens rates New Hampshire and Nevada, two of the four early primary states, among the six most libertarian states in the union. Iowa and South Carolina, not so much. But a libertarian-leaning Republican can count himself fortunate that early headlines will come out of frugal New Hampshire and fun-loving Nevada.

Despite his views on gay marriage and abortion rights, on a broad range of issues – from taxes and spending to spying, criminal justice, marijuana, and a skeptical approach to unnecessary wars – Rand Paul is going to present Republican voters with the most libertarian platform of any major presidential candidate in memory. If we’re in a libertarian moment, perhaps generated by government overreach in the Bush and Obama years, Paul should benefit. Win or lose, he’s going to give Republicans a clear “more freedom, less government” alternative to both the party establishment and the religious right.

Venezuela Reaches the Final Stage of Socialism: No Toilet Paper

In 1990 I went to a Cato Institute conference in what was then still the Soviet Union. We were told to bring our own toilet paper, which was in fact useful advice. Now, after only 16 years of Chavista rule, Venezuela has demonstrated that “Socialism of the 21st Century” is pretty much like socialism in the 20th century. Fusion reports:

Venezuela’s product shortages have become so severe that some hotels in that country are asking guests to bring their own toilet paper and soap, a local tourism industry spokesman said on Wednesday….

“It’s an extreme situation,” says Xinia Camacho, owner of a 20-room boutique hotel in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada national park. “For over a year we haven’t had toilet paper, soap, any kind of milk, coffee or sugar. So we have to tell our guests to come prepared.”…

Montilla says bigger hotels can circumvent product shortages by buying toilet paper and other basic supplies from black market smugglers who charge up to 6-times the regular price. But smaller, family-run hotels can’t always afford to pay such steep prices, which means that sometimes they have to make do without.

Camacho says she refuses to buy toilet paper from the black market on principle.

“In the black market you have to pay 110 bolivares [$0.50] for a roll of toilet paper that usually costs 17 bolivares [$ 0.08] in the supermarket,” Camacho told Fusion. “We don’t want to participate in the corruption of the black market, and I don’t have four hours a day to line up for toilet paper” at a supermarket….

Recently, Venezuelan officials have been stopping people from transporting essential goods across the country in an effort to stem the flow of contraband. So now Camacho’s guests could potentially have their toilet paper confiscated before they even make it to the hotel.

Shortages, queues, black markets, and official theft. And blaming the CIA. Yes, Venezuela has truly achieved socialism.

But what I never understood is this: Why toilet paper? How hard is it to make toilet paper? I can understand a socialist economy having trouble producing decent cars or computers. But toilet paper? And soap? And matches?

Sure, it’s been said that if you tried communism in the Sahara, you’d get a shortage of sand. Still, a shortage of paper seems like a real achievement.

Religious Liberty’s Denouement in Indiana

With the Final Four set to begin in Indianapolis this evening, maybe we can shift our attention from the anti-discrimination protests there that have consumed our attention all week to the games. But maybe not, since protests are expected even at the games. The left just doesn’t know when to stop. That’s the subject of the lead editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Liberal Intolerance, Round II: To stamp out cultural dissent, the left is willing to stomp on religious liberty.” Here’s a sense of what the week’s been like for ordinary Hoosiers:

Take the family-owned pizza parlor in Walkerton, Indiana—population 2,144. A local TV reporter went door-to-door asking restaurants how they would respond if they were asked to cater a gay wedding. The innocents at Memories Pizza, who had never faced the question in daily business, said that they would prefer not to participate in a hypothetical same-sex pizza party ceremony. Cue the national deluge.

They were suddenly converted into the public face of antigay bigotry across cable news and the Internet, and became the target of a social-media mob, as if they somehow screened for sexual orientation at the register. The small business closed amid the torrent, although a crowd-funding counter-reaction supplied tens of thousands of dollars in recompense.

Tens of thousands? The South Bend Tribune reports that the fund stood at $842,000 as of this morning.

Faithful readers of Cato@Liberty know our views on the underlying issue. Indeed, Cato’s amicus brief supporting those now pressing the Supreme Court to prohibit states from discriminating against same-sex marriages has just generated a brief from conservative scholars who direct their arguments entirely against ours: A most unusual move, they must be concerned.

But while we support same-sex marriage, we support religious liberty every bit as much. This week I addressed that issue here and here. And The National Interest has just put up a longer piece of mine that puts the whole freedom of association issue in perspective.

 

Curing Cancer with Innovation

While a “cure for cancer,” is not yet in hand, it is probably not as far away as you think. As an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal shows, we are making tremendous strides in the fight against cancer.

Let us take a moment to look at the data and rejoice in the many lives saved by medical innovation. We focus on gains made against the top four deadliest cancers: lung cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer.

Consider how the lung cancer death rate per 100,000 men has decreased since the 1980s:

While the decline is global, the greatest gains can be seen in wealthy, developed countries like the United States. This is in part because, as HumanProgress.org advisory board member Matt Ridley notes, “In the western world we’ve conquered most of the causes of premature death that used to kill our ancestors,” and with old age comes an increased incidence of cancer, making gains against cancer more notable.

Arizona Governor Vetoes Bill Hiding the Names of Police Involved in Shootings

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has vetoed a bill that would have prohibited disclosure of the names of police officers involved in shootings for 60 days, citing the potential unintended consequences of such a law:

“I know the goal of this legislation is to protect officers and their families, and it’s a goal I share… Unfortunately, I don’t believe this bill in its current form best achieves the objectives we share, and I worry it could result in unforeseen problems.”

While proponents argued that the bill was necessary to prevent officers from being unfairly targeted by mass protests or threatened with violence, opponents–including some in law enforcement–argued that transparency considerations and community relations outweighed that concern.

Roberto Villaseñor, chief of the Tucson Police Department and president of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, told the New York Times:

“To add another law that’s going to add distrust or adversarial relationships is not the way to go. Why do I cloak it in secrecy for 60 days, and now I’m going to have this story run twice? Sixty days later, we’re going to rehash it again.”

The opaqueness of government behavior, especially surrounding the government’s use of violence, has eroded the rule of law and the relationship between civilians and police around the country.  Transparency about police shootings is a necessity for effective reform and accountability. We need more transparency, not less. 

Good for Governor Ducey and the Arizona law enforcement officials who stood against more police secrecy. 

When It Comes to Police Body Cameras, Federalism Is Key

Last week, Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced legislation that would create a pilot grant program to assist state and local police agencies in leasing or purchasing body-worn cameras. The bill requires states, “units of local government,” and Indian tribes wishing to receive a full grant to commit to a range of reforms related to privacy, police practice, and data storage.

The bill presents something of a dilemma for libertarians like me, who want increased accountability and transparency within law enforcement but are also hesitant to support federal policy prescriptions for issues such as policing, which are often best handled at the local level. Given the worrying body camera legislation that has been proposed by some state lawmakers, it is tempting to think that a conditional federal police body camera grant program might be the best way to ensure that local government agencies implement worthwhile body camera policies. Yet Paul and Schatz’s legislation shows that police body camera policy ought to be addressed at the state and local level.

This is not to say that the legislation does not contain some good policy requirements. If the bill were to be enacted as written, an entity (state, unit of local government, or Indian tribe) interested in receiving a full grant would have to demonstrate a commitment to implementing some sensible policies before officers use the body cameras.

Among those policies is the development of public regulations and protocols relating to the use of body cameras, the storage of body camera footage, and the protection of the privacy rights of individuals recorded by body cameras. This is an important requirement. As the ACLU discovered last year, some law enforcement agencies do not have body camera policies, and some of those that do choose not to release them.

Yet while the legislation does make committing to publishing policies related to the release of body camera footage a condition for receipt of a full grant, it does not require that these policies advance transparency and accountability. The legislation only requires that a requesting entity develop and publish policies for “the release of any data collected by a body-worn camera in accordance with the open records laws, if any, of the State” (my bolding).

This is worrisome considering that, according to the AP, “Lawmakers in nearly a third of the states have introduced bills to restrict public access to recordings from police officer-worn body cameras.” Some of these bills, such as Michigan’s HB 4234 and Florida’s SB 248, aim to protect citizens from privacy violations by exempting police body camera footage of the interior of private homes from disclosure. SB 248 extends this protection to footage captured at the site of medical emergencies and on the property of social service, mental health, and health care facilities. However, other legislation such as North Dakota’s HB 1264, which has been passed by the North Dakota House and Senate, and New Hampshire’s HB 617 would make police body camera footage exempt from public record requests, though HB 617 would allow for citizens who pay for the recording to access body camera footage in which they can be seen or heard. (HB 617 would also require state police to use body cameras and to record all interactions with the public).