There is no party for the modern Millennial

The Washington Post has this story about shifting political attitudes in parties, especially under 30’s. Like I wrote earlier, this sort of stuff happens as the country changes and the parties are slow to adapt. Often the other is the beneficiary, but sometimes, like now, neither party wins all the spoils.

If I had to plot my political attitudes on a graph I’m not sure I could do it. If I did, it’d come out as what we’d currently describe as an “Independent”, and I have a voting record that would back that up. I’ve voted for Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarian candidates in a lot of races.

The thing that bothers me about the whole experience is I want to feel comfortable in a party. I’ve bounced between a few party meetups and meetings, and I never understand it. Like I’ve told some close friends, “Belonging to a party today seems like a mental illness.” It’s about the feelings and not about the policy or ideas. We’re short on ideas that extend beyond “The government can do that” and “The market can do that.”

I’m heavily conflicted in a variety of ways. I’m a supporter of property rights (this goes for your body), the enforcement of those rights, and the ability for people to do with their bodies and property as they wish. But then my neighbor doesn’t clean up his lawn and it drives me nuts. Or someone smokes in front of me on the sidewalk and it blows in my face. That pisses me off.

I’m a supporter of people’s ability to further themselves and do at least 90% of the work to improve their lot in life themselves. I don’t think it’s entirely 100% within a person’s control. The government can help, it can get in the way, and does so frequently. Licensing is a good example – I see no reason why hairdressers need a license. That’s protectionism of a favored industry. But I can’t shake the fact that some people are just not wired to be able to help themselves – able-bodied or not – and something has to be done for them.

I have spent years watching Democrats run towards identity politics and be hypocritical of the most bizarre things (“Listen to scientists on global warming! Don’t listen to scientists on GMOs!”). I’ve spent years watching Republicans become the party of anti-conservatism, big-budget-busting wars and spending, and a bizarre religious infatuation that defies human decency and logic. The Libertarians are just jumping up and down trying to get noticed and still spend all their time complaining the system is rigged and how everything would be better if we just did nothing. When I ask for policy ideas, everyone comes up dry on everything. Fair or not, real or not, I’m not interested in any of that and can’t possibly put my name on such an entity.

There is no party for the modern Millennial. Urban or rural, it doesn’t matter, because the parties have distorted themselves in positions they refuse to back down from. They’re in positions of defending things no one cares about, harms others maliciously, or benefits a select special interest. A fear of being wrong, a fear of conserving but still intelligently using natural resources, a fear of bizarre social issues, an inability to do no harm and not push religious and character views, a fear of research and science, a lack of curiosity, it’s all boneheaded.

I can’t call myself a Democrat, a Republican, Socialist, or a Libertarian. I know many more people alongside me that can’t either. This inability to join up fractures the purpose of parties, which is to some extent coalesce around the least-worst candidate and keep moving forward. Republicans are still very good at this, but the country is literally on fire as they do half the time.

At the state level, I can’t shake the fact that we can’t all be in a race to the bottom. We used to accomplish so much and literally move the earth to benefit us in the present and the future. Today we can’t scrounge for change in the couch Governor’s couch cushions without a fierce call for a tax credit or spending it on some short-sighted stuff. What’s the goal? 0 taxes? No reasonable person thinks that’ll work.

There is no Independent Party (there’s one of a similar name, but it’s a bonafide hate group). Ultimately, do you want low voter turnout? Because this is how you get low voter turnout – and Trump.

I know who I’m voting for

As much as it pains us to acknowledge it, America’s two party system is largely what ensures policy gets done or dies. For better or worse, it’s protected us against god-knows-what. In the US if your party receives 3% of the vote, you’re certifiably crazy. In Britain 3% is all it can take to put someone in the Prime Minister’s seat. At least we can say with some mathematical authority than an actual majority of the electorate picked the guy sitting in the oval office.

So as we hurl toward a November election, I know who I’m voting for and don’t even feel certifiably crazy about it. I think you can get behind my choice. You might even be inclined to support them, too.

I wanted someone who thinks like me, and I think like a lot of my friends like you.

  • A belief that women have a right to abortion, the government probably ought not fund it directly but should protect the ability to get one, and the duty of a woman to live with that responsibility.
  • Believing that men and women have the right to marry whomever they choose and live according to their own hearts and minds.
  • An understanding that we can’t fight our way out of every conflict and war should be rare, but is sometimes necessary.
  • Holding the knowledge that incarceration is necessary for some people, but a lot of people incarcerated for drugs have done more harm than good to many communities by splitting up families, ruining job prospects, and dragging down social resources.
  • The fiscal sense to know that access to education is immensely important, but is largely harmed by buckets full of money thrown at the problem without addressing root causes.
  • Ditto for healthcare.
  • Healthcare access is important for everyone, but let’s not settle for a government program if we can figure out a better, more efficient way. If that comes to be the only way, then let’s do it smart.
  • Deporting 11 million immigrants is bad policy, a waste of money, and harmful to economic growth.
  • Deporting, er, rounding up 500 million guns in the US is also probably bad policy, a waste of money, and, more importantly, unconstitutional until an amendment is passed.
  • That in a good capitalistic society the “pie”, the share of available wealth, can actually grow.
  • Welfare recipients shouldn’t be tested for drugs, but let’s figure out a way out of the “vicious cycle” that is welfare today.
  • Space travel is awesome, and could just as well be done as a public-private partnership with the likes of Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk.
  • Protecting the environment is important, but recognize we can’t just flip a switch overnight. Government is likely too corrupt to pick the best, most efficient, winners.
  • Muslims are people, too.
  • The path to citizenship should have a clear, efficient, and legal mechanism.
  • Common Core standards probably aren’t the worst idea, but states really are better suited to education standards. A student in Indiana that can study bio or agri-science is probably better off for everyone than a student in New York studying the same thing. The Federal government pushes out an increasing amount of that experience.
  • The wealthy aren’t to be feared, and neither are the poor. Recognize that people of all wealth levels do things most people would find bothersome. But a lot do things most people would find noble and respectable.

A lot of that probably sounds like Bernie Sanders or many progressives. A lot sounds like fiscal conservatives. None of it mentions religion. And it appears it’s not a “take half, leave the other” kind of approach. For once there is a way you can keep Democrats out of your wallet and Republicans out of your bedroom. You can actually get behind a group of people who are socially liberally and fiscally conservative. Leave people alone, protect you and your assets, and be smart with where money is spent.

I’m thinking I’ll vote for Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. A ticket that has more governing experience than Trump or Clinton. A ticket that supports the kind of governing approaches that have been immensely popular in New Mexico, Massachusetts, and I’ll add Indiana since Mitch Daniels would fit comfortably with this ticket.

In America a vote for a third party is often considered a “waste”, and like I said, our two-party system has protected us from who-knows-what kind of crazy. But it’s clear it’s also produced the current election. If there were ever a time to support a third party, this is it. It’s time the religious right go take their small corner. It’s time for racists and bigots and homophobes to go take their small corner. It’s time for the folks who would regulate everything from hair dressers to hot dog water go take their small corner. And the rest of us adults with actual common sense and a sense of fairness and live-and-let-live ethos can be heard.

I had a political science class once where the instructor mentioned if you go far enough right and far enough left on the “political spectrum” you end up meeting each other. In that reality, the spectrum is more of a sphere. The Libertarian party may conjure ideas of crazy people, but the rational among them should be dismissed no more than the far left Democratic Socialists like Bernie Sanders or the far right Religious Conservatives like Ted Cruz. Hillary and Donald may be centrists in a lot of ways comparatively, but we all have good reasons for supporting neither. Clinton’s been around in this work for too long. Trump is…Trump.

I wrote the other day how most people have one or two “vote-moving issues“. This is where a person can seemingly vote against their own interests or beliefs on most everything, but because a candidate supports one super-important issue to them, they vote on that. For a long time that was voting Democrat just to push the needle on shutting up the religious conservatives decrying marriage rights. Now that we’re beyond that, I don’t have a vote-moving issue anymore. Instead, I’m looking for a full platform, and a Johnson/Weld ticket fits.

I was emphatically wrong about my political beliefs

My first election that I could vote in was the 2008 Presidential election. I voted for Obama. And a bunch of Republicans and Democrats and Libertarians. In fact, in 2008 I voted for just as many Republicans as I did Democrats at all levels of government.

In 2010 I voted for several Democrats, several Republicans, and a few Libertarians. In all, I voted for fewer Democrats than I did Republicans and Libertarians combined. And now I’m starting to think differently about all politicians.

My life circumstances and general lifestyle haven’t changed since 2008. I still live in the same place, I still do the same kind of work, I still get up out of the same bed. The only difference is that I’m a little older and a little wiser, as they say.

When it comes to any problem I face, I always take the easiest and most sensible route. That is, at least, on problems with no clearly defined ending. There’s a difference in solving a website problem “easily and quickly” and “correctly with a little more work”. For problems of national scale with no clear “now this works” solution, I take to that “the simpler, the better”.

But I think that was misguided. The world is a messy place. When I worked at my first job, my boss once passingly said, “The older I get, the more I’ve realized very few things are black and white.” He was about 70 at the time.

When it came to government, it seemed fair and obvious to me that smaller was better, more manageable, and easier to work with. It seemed obvious that the more money I had in my pocket, the more purchasing power I had to do the things I need and want to do. Any efforts to take that money was, in my mind, immoral and wrong. In some ways, I still believe that given the amount of money we spend on defense and the monstrosity that is Homeland Security (which has an awful name, like some sort of Soviet defense mechanism). Don’t get me wrong, I still hate spending money. I probably always will. If I could figure out how to live without any money at all and maintain a comfortable standard of living, I’d totally do it.

Indiana was on the cutting edge of this mentality. Mitch Daniels, who I supported and voted for (and I think still would), was the poster child for this idea that the best government was the government that got out of the way. A lean government that did just the minimum and nothing more for the most essential of services like police and child protection services. Supporting the idea that the market could and would fill in the gaps was a good idea to me, and I’d save money all at the same time. Except, the market clearly has no interest in doing most things that need doing. No one wants a school sponsored by Coca Cola, and no private business is ever going to offer a truly robust transit infrastructure like we have now. The Internet would be a lot different today if it were initially started and maintained by, say, Microsoft.

About a year ago I realized that people don’t want more or less taxation, they want smart taxation. They want to know their money is going to all the best possible places, even if they’ll never use the services they fund or roads they’ll never drive on.

I still believe that, which is why I think debt issues really are important to governments and their people, even if it feels like the debt doesn’t really do much to us specifically. Having debt gobbles up payments of taxes to interest and not to useful things. That’s just not smart. The math doesn’t work.

I say this in part because of what I saw out of the Republican National Convention, Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, and this post by The Midwesterner looking at the hard numbers behind Mitch Daniels’ tenure as Governor.

It’s not entirely fair to blame Mitch Daniels for everything that ever went wrong here in Indiana, obviously, as the national economy tanked hard during his administration and he didn’t exactly have much control over that. But the other residual side effects are clear, that Indiana’s in a race to the bottom, something I casually wondered about years ago. It struck me that if businesses really wanted someplace cheap, they’d just go to Mississippi or Alabama or Arkansas. And look what that’s done for them. We already had cheap, just like the market has cheap phones and cars, and no one likes those, either.

It’s clear to me now that my notion of ridiculously low taxes and only absolutely necessary government services and programs was categorically and emphatically wrong.

It seems more likely to me at this point that America’s problems are caused by a death spiral of employers withholding exorbitant profits from employees in favor of dubious managers and executives who don’t drive that much value in most places, which reduces consumer spending power around and around. (The notion that “everything has to be done for the shareholders” is ridiculous to me, but that’s another post.)

The decline in spending by governments on its people has clearly proven to make people worse-off in their quality of life. It’s obvious that most businesses don’t give two wooden nickels about relocating to someplace cheap or else Illinois would be nothing but six people at a rickety card table now as the entire state fled east to Indiana. Illinois did almost everything completely opposite Indiana and they’ve turned out to still be a better place given their wages and income compared to us. It’s another case where I can say, too, “Indianapolis would be a much better place if it weren’t in all this Indiana.”

Aaron Renn writing from the Urbanophile is right when he says that businesses don’t really care about saving a few thousand here or there on taxes. Or at least, “good businesses” don’t, the ones that can pay a living wage at or above a state’s average income. They care about really smart people and the culture making it work. When Daniels was claiming we needed I-69, he billed it as a job creator, which may be true if your dream job is to work at Cracker Barrel. Maybe we do need I-69, but it’s not so IBM or Apple can relocate to Evansville.

The really good employers will never look at someplace like Indiana because of all the things that no one pays attention tot: fostering a really diverse workforce, ensuring people are welcome to the state (i.e., no amendments or laws barring gays and lesbians), no disdain for great city infrastructure like transit and rail, and not pandering to petty social issues that, ahem, smart people just don’t think about because we know better. At least, “smart” as how Rick Santorum describes it.

Great cities and states come from heavy investment in the things that really improve people’s quality of lives. Enforcing views on marriage, religion, and social issues does the opposite by not improving anyone’s life and actually decreasing the quality of many other’s. Great places worth caring about and being come from making sure people are secure, taken care of, have access to healthcare and have options for how to get around and do their work and educate themselves, as can be seen from countries like Sweden and Denmark. If people really wanted to live the American dream, they’d move to Denmark, where inequality is low and that subsequently translates to more trust and better living.

This doesn’t mean I’m some hippie liberal or staunch conservative. For the Democrats, our stimulus was a grab bag of political favors that also kept some teachers and police officers employed, but was necessary because Republicans spent 8 years spending like drunk sailors with reckless abandon. Both parties suck, but my views on how to treat people have evolved and it’s clear to me now that given the obvious reference points we have of spectacular places to live with growth, economic stability, and social mobility like the Netherlands and even Canada and, here in America along the coasts, the trick to making life better is to make your people better and treat them as assets and not operating costs. You race to the top, not the bottom. The bottom is for commodity markets, and I don’t want to be a commodity.

Liberty Coming in Closer

Looks like Libertarians are doing better. As a new member of the ranks myself, I’m glad to see there’s some movement here:

In 2006, the party squeaked past that threshold with just under 2.5 percent. This year, Libertarian Mike Wherry garnered 6 percent — or more than 100,000 total votes.

In the far-eastern portion of the state, a Libertarian candidate for the state House of Representatives won 21 percent of the vote in a three-way race, Spangle noted. That candidate, Rex Bell, came within two percentage points of finishing ahead of the second-place candidate, a Democrat.

I know it sounds like I don’t know why people don’t just think like me, but I honestly don’t know why more people don’t take a good look at the Libertarians. Everyone always says, “Stay out of my wallet and out of my bedroom,” and you can’t get any further from either with the Party of Liberty.

Whenever I hear someone say, “I’m a fiscal conservative and socially progressive”, I reply, “So you’re a Libertarian?” The answer is always no. They bounce back and forth between Republicans and Democrats, hoping to land on the right mix someday. That’s like pouring granulated sugar and confectioner’s sugar into a bowl and hoping to end  up with a pie.

Why every gay in America hasn’t voted for Libertarians is even more vexing. In the last election a few weeks ago, 1/3 of gays that voted, voted for Republicans! Are you kidding me!? You think that asshat John Boehner is going to do a damn thing for you besides make you feel like crap?

In all sincerity, I hope that Libertarians don’t get confused with the Tea Partiers. I sympathize with the Tea Party folks to a degree — limited government, free markets, etc. But they’re not true Libertarians. They want to cut some stuff (but not what counts) and they walk in lock-step with the GOP on social issues. True Libertarians would let you screw a monkey upside down while you lick a rusty spoon and ate Twinkies if you wanted to.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “If it doesn’t break my leg or pick my pocket, it’s none of my business.”

Take a Penny, Don’t Leave a Penny

I ran across this nifty quote in my travels today: Can you govern as a libertarian in America? You’ve got all these state government programs and you probably can’t get rid of a single one of them – or at least not more than one or two without a battle. Can you be a libertarian governor?

Mitch Daniels: I try to be. I mean, just to be simplistic about it, we believe that leaving the maximum number of dollars in the possession of those who earned them is an exercise in enlarging freedom.

I do this little game sometimes if I’m in a high school classroom. I walk around and ask innocently, ‘Does anyone have a dollar bill?’ – and some kid will produce one and I just stuff it in my pocket and walk on. After the consternation and the giggling stop, I say, ‘What, What?’ Then I go into a little rap and I say, ‘Oh, Jonathan wants his money back – notice that he is a dollar less free than he was a minute ago; if he had that dollar he could decide, he could choose [where and how to spend it]’.

Then I talk about how inevitably we have to coerce money out of people to do necessary and important public business. But if we believe in freedom and liberty than we ought to do that only for necessary purposes.

Then I go on to talk about competence and the fact that it becomes an equally solemn duty to never misspend a dollar. Maybe that’s not the right response but when I’m asked about governing as a libertarian, I would say that’s one way I do it.

Now, I don’t think for a minute Mitch Daniels governs like a true Libertarian, but he’s the best we’ve got. If we had it our way, you probably wouldn’t even recognize America today — particularly in the realm of healthcare, public education and mass transit. You would still have those things, in most cases, but they would be approached from the standpoint of making them affordable for everyone, not just the elite few and not just giving handouts to the poorest few, either.