While you were watching the Presidential race, the GOP Congress got more libertarian

The eyes of America have a myopic focus on the office of the Presidency. The media lavishes us with articles about Obama’s acceptance speech and what he plans to do with his second term. NPR brings on experts to speculate about what the Republican party will have to do to win next time. Conservative pundits console each other with pet theories about what Romney’s campaign did wrong or how the mainstream media foiled their chances. The conservative base mourns that America chose socialism and we’re all doomed for a path of debt, unemployment, and eventual collapse.

I suppose this is what Gene Healy calls “The Cult of the Presidency.” The power of the executive branch has been expanding for decades, along with the expectations of the American people regarding its capacity to be their savior. But there is more to the federal government than the executive branch, and I think the 2012 election results do not give conservatives any reason to become more depressed. In fact, it gives them some powerful reasons to hope.

First, the federal government has not changed for the worse. Obama was already president, the Democrats already controlled the Senate, and the Republicans already ruled the House. The next two years at least are likely to be similar to the last two years, which, while unsustainable in the long run, really weren’t that terrible. Now that the election is over Republicans could admit that the economy isn’t really getting worse; it’s actually recovering, just very slowly.

Second, the legislative branch has changed for the better. On Tuesday night, a number of small-government tea-party-backed libertarian-leaning citizens were elected to Congress, joining a growing coalition of forces with the primary goal of reducing Big Government.

Say Hello to Small-Government Republicans

#1. Ted Cruz, Texas Senator. Ted Cruz defeated the establishment candidate in Texas and rode on to a victory Tuesday night. Mother Jones (of all places) recently profiled the rising star of this “thinking man’s tea partier” who grew up on Austrian economics, went to Harvard, and now talks about wanting to “eliminate the departments of education, commerce, and energy, along with the TSA and the IRS.”

Cruz is obsessed with the Constitution, especially the 10th Amendment (a.k.a. states’ rights), and seems to have a rhetorical gift for illuminating small-government ideals: “If one embraces the views of Madison…which is that men are not angels and that elected politicians will almost always seek to expand their power, then the single most effective way to restrain government power is to provide a constraint they can’t change.” It sounds like it might be fun to have this man giving speeches on the Senate floor.

#2. Jeff Flake, Arizona Senator. USAToday says of Flake:

Flake, 49, served as executive director of the Goldwater Institute, a conservative Arizona think tank with libertarian leanings, before he first ran for Congress touting a philosophy of less government, less spending and more individual responsibility.

As a member of the House since 2001, he crusaded against special-interest spending on so-called earmarks… This month’s edition of Esquire magazine describes Flake as “one of the most fiscally conservative of all 535 congressmen.”

Cruz and Flake are now part of what Tim Carney calls the “Fab Five” of anti-establishment fiscal conservative stalwarts in the Senate, joining Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Jim DeMint.

But it’s not just the Senate that is building some solid small-government credentials. There are some new faces in the House as well.

#3. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Representative. Massie is a “Tea Party-backed candidate” who was backed by Senator Paul. As a local judge, Reason says he rooted out government waste and corruption, claiming “to have eliminated ‘enough wasteful government spending’ in his first nine months in office ‘to pay his first three years salary as Judge Executive.'” Massie is also said to be “opposed to the PATRIOT Act, warrantless wiretapping, the police state, the drug war, and military adventurism.”

#4. Ted Yoho, Florida Representative. Ted Yoho beat a 12-term established candidate in his primary before going on to win the general election this week. Yoho seems excited about “taking a scalpel to regulations and mandates coming out of government.” Here are some more details on his “libertarian slant“:

He’s avowedly antagonistic to the foreign policy orientation of the last several presidential administrations, including his own party’s “neoconservative wing,” wants to return America’s troops home from abroad, and is a staunch civil libertarian who calls for the repeal of the Patriot Act and the latest incarnation of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

#5. Kerry Bentivolio, Michigan Representative. Kerry’s victory reads like a classic tale of an establishment that accidentally destroyed itself:

The district was redrawn to make it even more Republican than it was during the last decade, appearing tailor made for McCotter, R-Livonia — until he was kicked off the ballot for fraudulent signatures on the petitions his campaign turned in to qualify for the election…

Bentivolio — a former teacher, veteran, tea party member, part-time Santa Claus and reindeer rancher — was the only Republican left on the ballot.

Because of his unconventional, libertarian-leaning views, the GOP establishment scurried to find a write-in candidate it thought could beat him…

But it didn’t work. Another small-government non-politician makes it to Congress, where Bentivolio will join fellow Michigan representative Justin Amash, who won his second term this week. The libertarian-leaning Amash has become famous for promoting transparency in government by explaining every one of his votes on Facebook and Twitter.

There are allegedly others as well. Ron Paul may be retiring this year, but he seems to have successfully created a growing force of “Ron Paul Republicans” to carry on his tireless resistance against the encroachments of Big Government. It was undoubtedly Paul’s enthusiastic 2008 campaign that gave his son Rand the name recognition to win his surprising Senate seat in 2010. Now Rand is continuing to push that enthusiasm forward by supporting more pro-liberty candidates across the country.

A Win For The Puritans

A few weeks ago I wrote about the struggle between reforming a corrupt party and leaving it to flounder. These victories make the libertarian “Puritan” wing look even more successful and influential than the “Separatist” wing. I regret nothing about my Separatist stance supporting Gary Johnson in the Presidential election; both candidates were unacceptable to me, and the “lesser evils” strategy only seems to be generating a “lesser evil” that each cycle is worse than the “lesser evil” of the last cycle.

But let’s not be hopelessly idealistic. Even the strongest presidential candidate in Libertarian Party history could barely marshall about 1% of the vote this week (it doesn’t help that a lot of libertarians deliberately do not vote, for reasons they believe are perfectly rational). Maybe the Median Voter Theorem and the First-Past-The-Post system makes this all inevitable. When you admit that no Libertarians even came close to being elected to Congress this cycle, while several libertarians actually did get elected as Republicans, it sure makes the Puritan strategy look a whole lot more effective. Even if you don’t like it, I don’t think you can argue that it’s paying less dividends for the general liberty movement.

I still feel the Separatist pull that I’ve been exploring these last few years. The Republican establishment still spouts the rhetoric of “small government” while continuing the hypocrisies of subsidies, cronyism, and military Keynesianism, to name a few. The Republican establishment also often seems downright hostile to their growing Tea Party / libertarian / fiscally conservative wing. But, who knows, maybe these folks will keep growing in influence. They certainly haven’t stopped yet.

Using the Media’s Bias Against Itself

So maybe it’s OK that the media and everybody else is too focused on the President. Like many people in the conservative corners of the world, I’m frequently frustrated by what I see as “liberal bias” by the media and its pundits, whether it’s regarding the inadequate coverage of the Benghazi scandal, or the shredding of Romney’s hopelessly vague economic plans while completely ignoring Obama’s equally hopelessly vague proposals, or how they “mourn extremism” when moderate conservatives like Richard Lugar lose to real conservatives but “celebrate diversity” when moderate conservatives like Scott Brown lose to real liberals, or… well, you get the point.

But spouting frustration doesn’t go very far to change things; it just makes you look angry. If the media really is biased, maybe we can use that bias against itself. Let them heap praise on Obama. Let them make him look as good as possible in the upcoming budget negotiations. Meanwhile, we’ll keep working to elect even more pro-liberty candidates at the Congressional level next time.

Well – here’s where I finally throw a bone to the apocalyptics – assuming we make it to the next time…

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