The United States is in a unique political moment. Today, Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines than in any time in the past twenty five years. The two major parties leading the country are becoming much more adversarial—and not in a way that bolsters public or national cohesiveness. Rather, political polarization—accompanied by political segregation—is leading to, for lack of a better word, chaos. One of the most evident (among many) case studies that proves this claim is the recent repeal and replace attempts of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act).  

To grasp how we’ve come to where we are, we must briefly highlight why Republicans opposed ObamaCare as much as they did. Since being passed in 2009, Republicans have tried to dismantle it 61 different times by pushing congressional votes, along with the Supreme Court having to rule on the ACA four different times. Interestingly enough, the views of this young law are lopsided, with Republicans calling it, “The most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed,” and, “As destructive to personal and individual liberties as the Fugitive Slave Act.” Yet, most of these comments came during it’s initial creation, and some Republicans today actually supported the effort to keep Obamacare alive during Trump’s attempt to repeal it. Although the majority of Republicans still dislike Obamacare from a party perspective, we must determine the cause of that disdain. Does it stem from political opposition or sound policy analysis? Either way, it was evident from the passing of the ACA—without any Republican votes—that Republicans felt as though they were “left out” of the bill creation process, which led to increased clashing with and elevated resentment towards the Democratic party.

However, Republicans’ persistence in labeling the ACA for being a “job-killer” seems to be unwarranted, considering that a recent report by the Altarum Institute found that from 2014-16 in just the healthcare sector alone there was an increase of nearly 240K well-paying jobs. Additionally, the claims that the ACA would increase part-time work opportunities and not full-time employment were right as well. Although, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that since the ACA’s inception to now, voluntary part-time work has increased significantly, while involuntary part-time employment has decreased dramatically. But, debating about whether the ACA created jobs, or the economy would have been better off without it is somewhat ridiculous.

Harvard professors, Amitabh Chandra and Kate Baicker stated, “The key policy goals [of the ACA] should be to achieve better health outcomes and increase overall economic productivity so that we can all live healthier and wealthier lives.” The primary objective never considered creating some sort of job market, so having that debate is essentially meaningless. Obamacare was not created as a ‘job-killing’ or ‘creating’ program; it was implemented as a healthcare law with the goals of increasing coverage for a significant number of Americans, protecting patients against unethical actions by insurance organizations, and reducing costs. It managed to accomplish two out of the three but fell short on cutting costs.

A market like healthcare is not one in which a single policy will be effective instantaneously. Finding the most productive health care plan for our country, primarily due to its extremely complex nature, requires multiple efforts of trial and error. Deficiencies in the system must be critically examined, and then continually tweaked to weed out inferior components of any initiative. However, unless political leadership, regardless of what party one may belong to, can collaborate in a manner that at least creates a vision for the future of our healthcare system, our healthcare system will remain brutally flawed.

The most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed.

It’s also evident that the U.S. would benefit from a focused attempt to solve the current health care issues our country is struggling with. The United States GDP was estimated to be at roughly $18.56 trillion in 2016. Further, in 2014 the U.S. spent $9,237 per person on healthcare, which was the most out of any country by far. It was also typically shown that countries—especially high-income countries—who spend more on healthcare, have more healthcare options available to citizens and their health improves. However, A recent study ranked over 124 nations by health and living standards, and America was the 28th. Plus, out of the twelve wealthiest nations in the country—like the UK, which spends nearly a ⅓ on national healthcare compared to the US and has a higher life expectancy rate—America ranked dead last.

Critiques of the opposition’s ideology or perspective are not a bad thing. In fact, we’ve seen just how useful constructive criticism can be in leading to a more informed decision-making process. A recent example is North Carolina’s leading legislators working together in a civil manner to figure out how to help their citizens provide more support for their families. Lawmakers from multiple factions of the two largest parties met and engaged professionally. Although the NC legislators explicitly mentioned changing one’s political beliefs was still not likely to occur, it was effective in encouraging each member present to prioritize understanding others’ points of view—something that seems to be lacking at the federal level.

Nevertheless, with comments coming from both sides of leadership, the word “constructive” is the last possible one that can be used to describe the collaboration efforts between the United States’ two major parties. For example, neither Tom Perez claiming, “Republicans don’t give a s**t about people” nor President Trump promoting Michael Knowles entirely blank book titled “Reasons to Vote for Democrats” does much to soothe partisan rancor.

At some point, we must realize that today’s ongoing battle between parties, and even within parties, has shifted more towards verbal warfare, rather than the promotion of the best, most efficient, or most effective idea or policy. Both sides concentrate on besmirching the other, rather than governing. This newfound interest in slandering the opposition is the leading factor as to why over 40 percent of Americans are now identifying themselves as Independents.

We teach children that working together is beneficial. Cooperation helps us all establish better bonds, and learn from our previous mistakes. Being exposed to multiple points of views brings out fresh ideas that would have never been brought up if it was only a bunch of “like-minded” individuals, or in this case same party or faction. So why is it that Congress, the actual leadership of our country and those serving to represent the people of the United States, can’t seem to realize that they are all on the same team? If we cannot fix this inherent problem, our country’s future is bleak.

We seem to be a country split down the middle. There are constant cries of racism, a lack of awareness of historical wrongdoing, unnecessary and preventable violence, rioting and looting, media attention that seems to be focused more on belittling other networks instead of providing sound reporting, an incredible ignorance of not learning from our previous mistakes, and so much more. The question of what it means to be an American nowadays is an open one. What values should our people, and more importantly our country, be known for upholding? What are we known for being? When are we going to realize how necessary coming together as one nation truly is? These are just a few of the many questions our leaders in Washington D.C. must ask themselves, but the most important one is: when are we going to understand that without a united effort we will never truly reach our full potential? Healthcare is not an issue of partisanship. Your political identity, your racial status, your monetary value all should not have any effect on healthcare, because when it comes down to it, healthcare is a human rights issue and it is one that we all must learn to agree on.


A vast bureaucracy with no congressional oversight, that’s digging through hundreds of millions of your credit records to detect fraud,” proclaimed former Republican Presidential Candidate Carly Fiorina in regards to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  She went on to declare, “This is how socialism starts, ladies and gentlemen.” Ted Cruz referred to it as “a runaway agency that does little to protect consumers.” Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Jeb Hensarling, declared that the CFPB “undoubtedly remains the single most powerful and least accountable federal agency in all of Washington.”  The CFPB, controversial since its creation in 2010, is currently in the crosshairs of congressional Republicans. The Party, notorious for preaching the reduction of the scope of the federal government, has used strong language to contest the agency’s attempts to reign in misconduct in the financial industry.  In addition to disagreeing with the agency in principle, Republicans have recently attacked the agency’s excessiveness, lack of accountability, and poor functioning.  While consumer protection is vital, this agency provides a dangerous amount of control to a federal agency that has repeatedly overstepped its boundaries.  Both parties are increasing their affection for the small business, but ultimately crushing business to protect the consumer.

The CFBP was created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 in an effort to protect consumers from the irresponsible and predatory actions of big banks. By educating consumers, enforcing laws, and studying financial markets, the agency fills in the holes between seven other consumer protection agencies that have similar purposes.  Since its founding, supporters claim that the CFPB has many successes, including protecting consumers from high interest loans on mortgages, reducing foreclosures, providing home loan counselors, additional appraisers for mortgages, student loan interest inspection, and punishment for unfair bank practices.

One major function of the CFPB is to regulate lending practices such that the circumstances that led to the “Great Recession” don’t happen again.  In the years leading up to the recession, many banks eased the baseline requirements needed for people to take out loans. As a result, people were given loans to buy homes they could not afford. In 1990, an average of 20% of the total sale price was needed as a down payment for a house, whereas in 2005, only 3% was required. When interest rates on those loans increased, many people could not afford to make their mortgage payments.  Mortgage defaults reached a historic high, homes flooded onto the market, and property values went down. Banks that had made many of these loans (or purchased bundles of these risky loans) could not recoup their investments because housing prices were too low. Some banks became financially unstable and needed to be bailed out by the government. The CFPB was created to try to prevent similar behavior on the part of banks so that individuals wouldn’t end up going bankrupt after purchasing a home they couldn’t afford and taxpayers wouldn’t have to bail out any more banks.

While some might argue that the CFPB’s increased oversight and regulation of banks is a positive development, Republicans disagree, arguing that this agency has excessively burdened the market. The CFPB’s increased regulation, they say, is strangling smaller community banks and preventing people with lower credit scores from being able to get a loan.

One example of this is the CFPB’s efforts to strengthen regulation on small dollar loan requirements, despite existing state regulation. Those with lower credit scores generally take out small dollar loans in emergency situations.  By enacting federal regulation on top of state requirements, the CFPB is excessively interfering in a market that often benefits those of low socio-economic status. Such measures are unfair and fail to accomplish the purpose of the CFPB: the large banks that are most often held responsible for the financial crisis are not hindered by such regulations at all because they rarely issue small-dollar loans and have large departments to aid in compliance with new regulations.  Additionally, Cordray is trying to pressure big banks to offer these loans more abundantly, which could put smaller lending agencies that thrive on providing payday loans in trouble. Instead, the people hurt by this regulation are not those who caused problems, but are instead facing financial ruin because they can’t get the loans they need from smaller financial entities.   A recent study by the Urban Institute, “Small Dollar Credit: Protecting Consumers and Fostering Innovation,” notes that most people seek small dollar loans due to a “family emergency or a temporary, unexpected cash shortfall.”  However, higher barriers to this borrowing market might drive lenders out of it, and force those searching for small dollar, emergency loans to disastrous ends.

While some might argue that the CFPB’s increased oversight and regulation of banks is a positive development, Republicans disagree, arguing that this agency has excessively burdened the market.

Republicans are also troubled by the lack of influence they can have over the operating procedures of the Bureau. Because it’s a branch of the Federal Reserve, it is more independent than most arms of the government. Every year, the CFPB is authorized to spend up to 12% of the Fed’s budget, which comes to about $600 million each funding cycle.  And since its funding comes from the Federal Reserve’s budget rather than from appropriations from Congress, it is less susceptible to congressional control. This insulation is intentional, isolating the agency from big banks and interest groups who have significant influence over Congressional politicians, but Republicans argue that this isolation is dangerous.

Without being dependent on legislators and ultimately citizens, there is nothing preventing the agency’s bureaucrats from fulfilling personal agendas.  Prominent legal critics, such as Brendan Soucy of Florida State University, find substantial issues with this independence.  Soucy says “independence is touted as one of [the CFPB’s] greatest virtues, but history has shown that while independence from political pressure can be a virtue, near total isolation is not.”  Republicans are weary of an institution that would curtail banks without the banks’, or their own, interests in play.

Proponents of the CFPB argue, however, that the agency is not entirely free of Congressional oversight.  The CFPB is required to submit annual financial reports to Congress, testify in front of Congress twice a year, and is subject to annual compulsory audits from the Government Accountability Office.  Additionally, Congress does have the ability to eliminate the bureau through legislation, an action that Representative Hensarling has been attempting to see through since the Bureau’s creation. Hensarling has stated, however, that the CFPB is “capable of great good.”  He is concerned, principally, with the single director structure that could allow for the head of the Bureau to overstep the position’s designated powers with few repercussions.

The Bureau’s detractors become even more concerned when considering the way in which the CFPB’s chairman was appointed. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D), who originally pushed for this agency’s creation, was initially considered but Republicans advocated against her nomination to the post. As a result, President Obama nominated Richard Cordray to be the chairman, but Republicans again opposed this appointment. After failing to push the nomination through Congress but arguing that the vacancy had to be filled, Obama used a  recess appointment to name Cordray the head of the CFPB.  Republican legislators disliked the use of executive authority to circumvent the nomination process and view the chairman with a dose of skepticism as a result.

Furthermore, the bureau recently attempted to regulate the automobile industry, despite the industry’s exemption from CFPB power.  According to Dodd-Frank Section 1029, the CFPB cannot regulate automobile dealers engages in the sale and servicing of motor vehicles.  Nonetheless, the Bureau has tried to enforce the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in the automobile industry, which is intended to prevent discrimination in loan provision.  However, in doing so, they are overstepping their afforded powers.  The jurisdiction of this agency is sloppy: it has powers to enforce some laws, but in doing so it defies different restrictions on its jurisdiction.  (Perhaps this is the result of too many federal regulatory agencies.) The House voted 332-96 to enact “The Reforming CFPB Indirect Auto Financing Guidance Act”, which would officially bar the CFPB from interfering in auto financing disputes.  Furthermore, House Republicans argue that the CFPB not only lacked authority to regulate this industry, but that its reasoning for doing so was unsound and statistically inaccurate – dangerous tendencies for an extremely independent agency.

In March, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Jeb Hensarling put forth a plan that would be offered as a conservative’s alternative to Dodd-Frank.  It would give smaller banks eased financial regulations in exchange for holding more capital.  Hensarling asserts, “If a bank chooses to have a fortress balance sheet that protects taxpayers and minimizes systemic risk, then bankers ought to be allowed to be bankers.”  This, he claims, would give banks the opportunity to lend to whomever they felt fit, while ensuring the bank’s stability through its forced maintenance of high levels of capital.

Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz seem to agree on one point: big banks are not helpful to the economy.  Sanders’s “Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act” proposes that banks that could not fail without destroying the economy are too powerful and should therefore be broken up. Cruz insisted that “big business is a natural ally of big government” and as a Republican, he shouldn’t support businesses that require government regulation. Both miss the mark: big businesses cannot be opposed or left to crumble, as they are the pipelines through which massive innovative feats have occurred.  In protecting the consumer, destroying big business is not the answer.  If it were not for the breadth and resources of Amazon, consumers would not benefit from two-day shipping, and in some cases, two hour shipping. If it were not for Apple, consumers would not have a device that performs for them thousands of functions for them, from a flashlight to video calling with friends, to checking stock price instantly.  Big businesses have created a more advanced and more informed consumer.  They have increased the possibilities for a freer market and a more capable citizen body.  The goods of big business and corporations, however, are being confused with the unscrupulous financial practices of a few; these few unfortunately had ruinous effects on the economy as a whole and have given efficient and productive business a bad name.

While the financial crisis of 2008 had cataclysmic effects for individuals as well as the general health of the economy, the CFPB is an uncurbed and misdirected source of regulation in an economy that already struggles to keep up with existing regulations.  While this portion of the Dodd-Frank Act attempted to fill in the holes of existing regulation, it actually created many ambiguities between financial institutions, the industries they support, and government regulators.  In issues such as the Automobile Finance debacle and regulations on payday lending, the CFPB has a dangerous tendency to overstep its bounds.

Throughout history, a foundational divide in American politics has split the federal government. In the early days of the republic, quarreling between the Federalists (represented by John Adams) and Democratic-Republicans (led by Thomas Jefferson) over the size of government resulted in one of the nastiest presidential races in American history. Today, the two major parties still fail to see eye-to-eye on the issue of federal involvement.

The official GOP preamble, taken from their own website, states the following: “The federal government has expanded its size and scope, its borrowing and spending, its debt and deficit.” As a result, the text continues, “federalism is threatened and liberty retreats.” In contrast to the Republican aversion to large-scale federal government, common knowledge is that the Democrats consider themselves to be in favor of so-called “big government,” though there’s no official distinction on their website. This discrepancy is normally considered as the decisive ideology of each party. But when the Democrats and GOP are examined under the magnifying glass, this distinction does not truly define either party anymore.

No political realm demonstrates the inaccuracy of this binary better than social policy. Republicans traditionally favor the expansion of government to regulate social behaviors. Throughout the 1990s, thirty-one states added same-sex marriage bans to their state constitutions; of these, Republican politicians spearheaded almost every single effort. Unsatisfied, they clamored for a federal ban on same-sex marriage, a proposal President Bush officially went on the record as supporting. Similarly, Republicans have long supported federal restrictions on abortion. In contrast, Democrats — largely in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage and abortion — advocated preventing and removing any nationwide laws placing limits on either. Given that the basic rule for social issues that implementing a ban on something constitutes government involvement, whereas removing one is effectively non-intervention, clearly the foundational political beliefs of both parties are no longer firmly tethered to their original concepts of big government versus small government. Some candidates still campaign behind this narrative, but their stances on social issues seem to contradict their stated ideals.

The foundational political beliefs of either party are no longer firmly tethered to their original concepts of big government versus small government.

But social policies aren’t the only place where Republicans and Democrats go against the big-little government dichotomy. When it comes to expanding the national military and deciding to intervene in foreign conflicts, establishment Republicans usually support both enthusiastically while the left expresses more reluctance about getting involved beyond humanitarian aid. The conventional Democrat typically advocates for decreased military spending whereas most Republicans want more federal financing for the armed forces. Moreover, most GOP Presidential candidates are, on the whole, much more willing to entertain the idea of sending ground troops to fight ISIL than those running on the Democratic side.

American political ideology has shifted from being rooted in philosophy to basing itself on practicality. Conservatives can no longer be entirely defined by a dedication to states rights and weak federal government; likewise, modern liberals often support a hands-off approach from Washington. Instead of remaining steadfastly dedicated to one side of the debate or the other, members of both parties pick and choose when to be pro-government and when to oppose federal interference. This in itself isn’t a major problem, but when your official party preamble states you believe in one view or the other, it seems odd and even misleading not to maintain consistency on the issue.

None of this is to say the big government/small government split has completely reversed. On the majority of issues, including almost every economic one, these characterizations are intact. There are plenty of hot-button topics — among them gun control, the death penalty, and health care – where most Democrats fight for national regulations and a majority of Republicans stand by states’ rights. Rather, it shows that when parties decided where they fall in regards to certain issues, federal government involvement is nowhere near the main consideration — and is often disregarded completely.

So what does this transformation change? Beyond the fact that politicians often do an about-face and turn their backs on traditional philosophies they swear by, this flip-flopping could cause a shift in power within America’s party structure. A number of voters have noticed the incongruity between the stated philosophies and political actions of the major parties and have already started to peel off into their own factions. The Libertarian Party, which defines itself as a group meant to “challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual,” consistently maintains the stance that the federal government should have as little power as possible. Their support is increasing, seeing an increase in votes in Presidential elections every year since 2000 (including an all-time high in 2012). Last year, a Reuters poll discovered that nearly one in five Americans identify as libertarian. That being said, the same poll found that many self-identifying libertarians also consider themselves Democrats or Republicans. Nevertheless, the increasing number of votes for Libertarians in presidential elections proves an increasing amount of people are abandoning the traditional party structure.

Though more a subset of the Republican Party than an independent faction, the Tea Party also garners strength by advocating small government: one of their “non-negotiable core beliefs” as listed online is the belief that “government must be downsized.” While overall support for the Tea Party has actually decreased recently, they’ve experienced a swift and influential rise in American politics over the last few years. The Freedom Caucus, closely tied to the Tea Party, now claims thirty-six Congressional seats. While it is unlikely that enough people will change allegiances to put a Libertarian or non-GOP, Tea Party candidate in the White House, the votes they do receive could end up splitting conservatives throughout the nation.

A shift away from the philosophical fundamentals of both parties has proliferated to the point where political parties only partially fight for the values that once defined them. Inconsistency has become a major component and criticism of party politics, frustrating those who still prescribe to the basic big government or small government views that helped found the country. The days of big government vs. small government thinking — at least in an absolute sense — are effectively over, as both parties have become more inconsistent in this regard than ever. Until Democrats and Republicans either go back to their old foundations or, more likely, redefine what unites them as a political faction, the stated intentions of each will continue to commonly contradict their actual political actions.


The figure of the political outsider has never been hotter in American politics, a trend that predictably corresponds with the longest period of historically low levels of trust in government. According to the Pew Research Center, only 19% of Americans trusted the government “to do what is right always or most of the time” as of November 2015. This large-scale public distrust has undoubtedly rocketed more radical candidates, such as Trump, Sanders, or even Cruz, to increased popularity. Like today’s presidential candidates, these recent social movements re-directed American skepticism and mistrust into calls for fundamental changes to national institutions. Movements such as Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party movement– despite their disparate political leanings– shared the common goal of altering the Washington consensus. Like many American political movements before them, they worked from a source of public distrust in the government to claim that radical change was the only mode of fixing a broken governmental system. While this political strategy has been effective in specific moments in American history, such as the Civil Rights Movement or the New Deal, the legislative action achieved during these periods proves to be more the exception than the rule. In short, the American political system does not readily pay heed to calls for deep institutional changes.

When considering this trend against the founding theory of our government, however, it becomes clear that the American government was not made to respond to calls for radical change. The Founding generation was notoriously fearful of “mob rule,” which they defined as rapid, systematic transformation fueled by public opinion. Perhaps then, polarized radicalization on the left and right produces ineffectual governance when placed within the American governmental system. In essence then, the recent suite of fundamental reforms posed by both Republicans and Democrats, such as those stemming from the Tea Party or Occupy Movements, may not be optimized for our government as the Founders intended. This is not to disparage the goals of these radical movements, but to suggest that their strengths do not include the catalyzing of rapid legislative change.

The Founders characterized mob rule as a passionate, rapid, ill-considered mode of enacting broad change. In the late 1770s, John Adams said, “The law, in all vicissitudes of government, fluctuations of the passions, or flights of enthusiasm, will preserve a steady undeviating course; it will not bend to the uncertain wishes, imaginations, and wanton tempers of men.” Here, Adams expresses a fear of passions, and dismantles any faith in the ordinary citizen to make a swift decision regarding urgent matters of the state. Similarly, James Madison writes in Federalist No. 10 that factions are particularly dangerous when they constitute the majority of the republic, but that government officials must mitigate the impassioned demands of these bodies. In contemporary politics, however, when technology has made accountability to the electorate higher than it was in the 1770s, electors are less able to dilute the demands of their constituents. The political movement may therefore be seen as the quintessential mob, further establishing the point that the American government was not crafted to acquiesce to the goals of the immediate paradigm shifts of the public. Although one could argue that the American Revolution and the Constitution itself stemmed in part from the self-determination of the mob, the nation’s founders continuously demonstrate fear of the huddled masses. While the American pubic is certainly subject to reactive hysteria or irrational behavior, this logic was also employed for elitist, racist, sexist, or generally exclusive purposes, giving the Founders multiple reasons to articulate an improper, destabilizing capacity within the general public. By this logic, they justified our three branches of government as well as our consensual style of government, in which officials must come together to pass legislation.

To return to contemporary politics, Occupy and the Tea Party are particularly illustrative cases of fervent shifts in public opinion as catalyzing calls for major government reform, or what the Founders would have called “mob rule.” Since the Great Recession began in December 2007, public trust in the government “always or most of the time” has not risen above 20%– a drastic decline since highs near 50% during George W. Bush’s tenure. Following this massive financial downturn, activists and ordinary civilians alike flooded New York’s Zuccotti Park in late 2011, calling for punishment to be imposed upon the so-called 1%. While criticized for their lack of a cohesive policy platform, the protesters were united in their expressions of distaste for connections between Washington and Wall Street and their consequent calls for systemic governmental reforms.

In light of this stark contrast between the Founders’ design and the current activist political climate, congressional stagnancy is not surprising.

The comments of protesters highlight the movement’s unabashed mistrust in our current institutions. For example, one protester said, “I’m trying to accomplish a collective screaming voice against the atrocities that we are seeing in our political system. I think there’s a lot of corruption and a lack of integrity. That’s disgusting to me.” Coeval with these comments, in October 2011, a Pew Research Center survey showed that public trust in government was the lowest it has been since Eisenhower’s tenure, with only 15% percent of respondents saying they trusted the government to do the right thing “always or most of the time.” Further corroborating this correlation, Andrew Kohut, then President of Pew, reported that the public and the Occupy movement were unified in their belief that American institutions largely served the super-rich. In many ways, Occupy is a social movement expressing what large swaths of the American public believes about the state of the American politics. Consequently, the public called for massive wealth redistribution, campaign finance reform, adjustments to the balance of power between government and the financial sector, regulations on lobbyists, smaller banks, among other large-scale goals. This was a broad ideological movement that called for deep institutional reforms to the American political system.

In the eyes of many political luminaries, the Occupy Movement galvanized large swaths of the New Left and placed financial reform back on the national political agenda. Bernie Sanders has been dubbed the Occupy candidate by many pundits, and has received endorsement from the movement itself. More than that though, he and his supporters are reflective of the traces of distrust and arguments for fundamental systemic change that have characterized American politics since 2007. In fact, the far-left’s calls for revolution have pushed more moderate candidates to declare a need for institutional reform. Hillary Clinton’s financial policy proposals, for example, are much more disruptive to the financial status quo than those of Democrats past. Although the party disagrees on whether she pushes reform far enough, Clinton’s proposals to impose risk fees on gargantuan banks, more closely regulate the shadow banking sector, and allow bureaucrats to call for banks to simplify or fracture, are certainly more radical than Bill Clinton’s disposal of Glass-Steagall.

Just as the left has navigated cycles of distrust and calls for systematic reform to ideologically realign itself, the right has done the same, galvanized in part by the Tea Party. As was the case with Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party also formulated its mission in the mistrustful wake of the Great Recession. A Tea Partier said in 2010, “I’m sick and tired of them wasting money and doing what our founders never intended to be done with the federal government.” Once again, the quote reveals a lack of faith and a belief that the American political system was not operating as it should have been. Further, the party grew to be highly influential in determining the trajectory of the Republican Party. In fact, the peak of Tea Party support was 32% of Americans in November 2010. The group’s radical principles of balanced budgeting and lessened funding for Social Security and other government programs, were for many the necessary institutional reform that the nation needed. These ideologies rocketed GOP members such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to prominence and allowed the more conservative wing of the GOP to obstruct more moderate Republican legislation as well as Democratic legislation. Significantly, this obstruction, rather than active legislation, became a hallmark of the Tea Party presence in Congress. The movement clearly parallels Occupy, with its ideological roots in widespread distrust of Washington and a desire for large-scale alterations to the political process.

Both of these examples bring to mind the words of the Founders in discussing “mob rule.” In reaction to a significant national event, the Great Recession, the public had an emotional reaction­­—mistrust—and called for fundamental changes to American institutions on the left and right of the political spectrum. In light of this stark contrast, between the Founder’s design and the current activist political climate, congressional stagnancy is not surprising. With these dual movements having heavy influence in both political parties, radicalism seems to be the principal strategy on both sides of the aisle, making an ineffective congress the natural price to pay. Importantly though, the similarity of these movements to an antiquated definition of the “faction” does not de-legitimize them at all. Further, we must adjust our expectations of these movements within the current American political system. As has been shown, the rhetorical powers of these movements have been their strengths. Even when American social movements have been unable to fully enact their suites of policy proposals, they have often changed political framing for decades to come. This discursive influence may reverberate in unquantifiable ways, driving policy towards previously overlooked goals.


The 2016 Republican presidential primary has been – in a word – unpredictable. Ink and airtime have been monopolized by a confounding campaign season. From a field including nine past or present governors and four senators, a businessman with no relevant credentials for the highest office in the land has become the man to beat. Donald Trump, despite the degree to which he has upset the field, has so far failed to graduate from “unpredictable” to “game-changing” as a candidate. In fact, that distinction belongs to Ted Cruz, whose strategy to win the White House is guided by a serious departure from conventional campaign wisdom — the decisive rejection of moderate voters.

What’s so different? For one thing, most candidates fight to win the primaries, then determine strategy for the main campaign if they happen to win the nomination. Not Cruz. His strategy has been to “work backwards from Election Day,” design a winning national strategy, and then fit that conclusion into the existing framework of the primaries. Cruz frames the competition for the republican nomination as a two-lane race: the GOP establishment candidates – Bush, Rubio, Kasich, Christie – and the more conservative fringe candidates – Trump, Fiorina, Carson. Whereas the more moderate candidates emphasize their political centrality and electability to woo the traditional power brokers of the Republican National Committee, the “outsider” track is composed of candidates that galvanize far-right voters. First, you pick and win a track, then you beat the other track’s leader. Ultimately, either the fringe or moderate candidate prevails; regardless, the conventional wisdom is that he or she must move to the center to win independent voters.

Cruz rejects this wisdom, offering instead a “base plus” strategy. He argues that defeating the Democratic nominee is not a matter of moving with his opponent to the center, but instead of generating higher turnout in core republican demographics by staying radically right wing. This strategy is based on a theory of the “missing conservative voter.” Non-Hispanic white voters have lost nearly 10 percent of their share of turnout over the last five elections, something Cruz attributes to their disillusionment. In other words, the would-be Republican voters who refrain from voting are the secret to a Republican presidential victory, if only they could be induced to vote. With overall national turnout usually below 60 percent, the party that manages to get a few core demographics to overperform, to generate 80 percent turnout instead of 60 percent, can effectively ignore that the overall population is against them.

When the goal is no longer compromise, votes are a voice only insofar as they contribute to the shouting match.

While it’s a clever idea, making it happen is an entirely different business. Cruz thinks the apathy is a symptom of disappointment with the Republican Party. To really get excited about a candidate, and thus vote, he thinks they want to see a bold, no-concessions policymaker who stands firm in his values. He has done an excellent job of building a bold platform, but also complimented policy with one of the most formidable campaigns since Obama’s. In Iowa and elsewhere, Cruz has managed an impressive ground game, with strong local organization and more events than most of the other candidates. More importantly for the long haul, he has made investments in big data to gather information about individuals, profile them, and tailor a message that will make them care. Cruz adds that he is also out for crossover voters, those who might change from blue to red if only they received the right message. But, as he stresses:

“That’s not the same as the swing-vote soccer mom, where the traditional strategy is to blur all the distinctions and don’t draw any significant distinctions. Rather, like Reagan, draw a line in the sand and that causes the Michigan autoworker to cross over and say, ‘Those are my values.'”

This combination of targeted messaging, vigorous campaigning, and calculated policy positions puts him in an excellent place to act on his big picture “base plus” strategy. What is concerning about the Cruz strategy is not its efficacy — it’s far too early to draw conclusions about that — but rather its existence. There is only one reason for a seasoned politician to court on the apathetic instead of convincing the interested independents: the return on investment or how many votes your effort gets you. Cruz’s incentive structure has realigned to match the polarization of the American voter. He’s betting his candidacy on the assumption that his returns on investment will be higher by mobilizing his base than by fighting for swing voters.

What’s especially worrying about the fact that Cruz has made this calculation, and not anyone else, is how masterfully he has managed his campaign so far. Even Donald Trump, for all his disruptive energy and momentum, hasn’t shown nearly as much agility and foresight. Cruz has campaigned energetically in Iowa while cleverly remaining the only candidate to play nice with Trump for months. He has framed Marco Rubio, whose positions are nearly identical to his, as his “moderate” opponent, thereby placing himself in the realm of possibility for establishment support despite his firebrand attitude. Cruz has dominated the primary debates by framing his competition in a beneficial light and energizing his would-be voters with his performances. Again and again, he’s made excellent tactical decisions. “Base plus” has been calculated by a very gifted thinker.

If Cruz is correct and wins, he will inspire politicians, left and right, to copy his model. This will accelerate the demise of the moderate voter as campaigns ignore them and the rift between parties becomes larger and more difficult to bridge. It also sets the party up to milk diminishing returns from old conservative demographics, focusing innovation on methods like Cruz’s instead of on manufacturing a broader appeal. In the short term, then, as incentives for moderation disappear, expect politics to become even more dysfunctional, as the reward structure of public service becomes further dependent on extremism. In the long term, if success obscures the strategic vision of the Republican Party, it might well fail to ensure that the principles it stands for survive beyond the culture it has relied upon. In this case, Cruz will have fundamentally altered the future of conservatism.

If he is wrong and loses, then his strategy will prove not to be catalytic but symptomatic; a reminder that the state of politics today is so heavily skewed towards partisanship that arguably the finest strategist on the field could be misled into thinking victory lay there.

It should be cause for grave concern that it is now seriously viable to abandon moderation in favor of working up fringe voters into frenzy. The death of the swing voter, the polarization of American politics — call it what you will, the facts seem to support Cruz. When the goal is no longer compromise, votes are a voice only insofar as they contribute to the shouting match.


In June of 2015, when the Supreme Court finally legalized same-sex marriage, many activists began celebrating the end of the culture wars. But while many view the court’s decision as the death knell to social conservatism, narrowly winning over five justices is a far cry from winning over an entire nation. And the results of this month’s elections may prove that not only is social conservatism alive and well, but it can thrive under the right conditions: low voter turnout and a clear-cut cause around which to rally.

The Democratic Party has increasingly adopted liberal social positions as of late, seizing especially on the issues of same-sex marriage and reproductive rights to cast the GOP as retrograde with phrases like the “War on Women” or the now widespread notion on the left that Democrats have won the culture war. Partly in light of Millennials’ particularly liberal social views and young people’s importance as a an electoral constituency overall, the left has sought to turn cultural positions into wedge issues in their favor, similar to what social conservatives tried to do for the past several decades on the right. In an age of high-profile social progressivism, from Obergefell v. Hodges to a peak in support for legalizing marijuana, Democrats have taken the offensive on social issues in the belief that they enjoy majority support. But when Obama is not on the ballot, the cultural stances of liberals enjoy considerably less success. Democrats may be tempted to dismiss the setbacks experienced this November as the result of low turnout, but this constitutes only a palliative excuse; not every election is presidential, and low turnout renders the outcomes of elections no less impactful.

The Kentucky election illustrated that when economics fails to appeal to voters, social issues and religion-couched rhetoric can still work to sway an election, especially one with low turnout. While Republican Matt Bevin had pledged to run a campaign based on economic issues after he won the GOP nomination, by the fall it was clear that this wasn’t working. He was lagging just a few points behind his opponent and looked as though he may have lost what should have been an easy pick-up opportunity for the state GOP.

But in the final weeks of the campaign, Bevin seemingly experienced a change of heart on policy priorities and began talking about Kim Davis and liberal judicial overreach rather than the merits of spending and tax cuts. In his own words, “This is what moves people.” And on November third, it certainly did move some socially conservative voters to the polls, as a race that most considered to lean Democratic resulted in an eight point victory for Bevin. Social conservatism certainly wasn’t all that was at play, but in a race where turnout stood at a dismal 30 percent, those votes could make the difference. And when social issues did enter the conversation, they weren’t boosting liberals, no matter what the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage might imply about progressivism in the US.

In these low turnout elections that favor older, more socially conservative voters who show up at the polls even when their young, more socially liberal counterparts don’t, the results are consistent.

An even clearer example came from Houston when voters directly voted down an equal rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination against 15 protected classes, including age, race, sexual orientation and gender identity, known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The measure had the backing of the business community and most of the local government, and was even leading in the polls prior to the vote. Nonetheless, in part due to a conservative coalition that played upon fears of trans people and the notion that the ordinance would allow “perverts” and “the mentally ill” to use the women’s restroom as a location for assault, it failed by a wide margin of nearly 2-1. Just as in Kentucky, a close race in which Democrats and their favored issues were ahead in the polls ultimately went the way of social conservatives by a solid margin. In these low turnout elections that favor older, more socially conservative voters who show up at the polls even when their young, more socially liberal counterparts don’t, the results are consistent. In fairness, the DNC has recently made some progress toward rectifying the disparity between presidential and off-year elections in terms of both turnout and the skewed Republican results, but so far the efforts have been mostly lacking, and the Party appears to still have a long way to go.

As further evidence of this, in Ohio, voters resoundingly rejected an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, an issue that began to gain momentum after voters approved legalization in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. It is worth noting that factors beyond social conservatism affected the outcome at the polls; in particular, the organizational apparatus that Issue 3 would have instituted, bestowing the exclusive right to cultivate marijuana upon a cartel of investors backing the legalization measure, rankled voters. Ohio was asked to jump from prohibition to legalization without passing through the middle ground of medical marijuana, in which the other states to consider legalization have all initiated their progression on marijuana policy. In the words of University of Cincinnati’s David Niven, “We are not California. We’re not the vanguard of hippiedom . . . It’s a leap to go from no legal marijuana to full legal marijuana.” And certainly, Buddie, the initiative’s superhero-like mascot with a head shaped like a marijuana bud, did little to endear Issue 3 to more conservative voters.

But perhaps most importantly, legalization was on the ballot in an off-year election, when every other state to legalize marijuana has capitalized on the higher voter turnout of even-year contests. Facing an older and more conservative electorate than that attracted by high-profile elections, comprised of voters who tend to be far less amenable to legalization, Issue 3 became another casualty of low turnout and the attendant resistance to social liberalism.

Even as abortion remains legal (though not free from attempts at restriction), support for same-sex marriage and legal marijuana remain at all time highs, and the 2016 race seems less centered on social conservatism than some recent election cycles, the nation’s present cultural leanings do not mean that social conservatives have lost power or that their voices won’t be heard. Instead, social conservative activists have learned to play their hand and strike when few are looking, or for that matter, voting. Low turnout elections that the majority of the electorate seems unaware of or uninterested in are opportunities social conservatives have come to take advantage of, rolling back LGBTQ+ rights, fighting marijuana legalization, and pushing back against what they see as a tide of social liberalism forced upon the nation by out-of-touch Democrats. Liberals may be content to rest on their laurels given the current state of play, a world in which same-sex marriage has gone from a toxic issue to political winner in less than a decade and the “War on Women” has become an oft-repeated slogan for beleaguered Democrats in battleground states. But that world is one in which the majorities that support socially liberal issues show up to vote. If they don’t, then liberals may have little to celebrate in the near future.


In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famed novel, The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway proclaims to Jay Gatsby, “’You can’t repeat the past.” Gatsby denies this advice, replying, “’Why of course you can!” Albeit a fictional anecdote, this rhetorical obsession with the past is transcendent: today, political rhetoric is rife with the predilection to march triumphantly forward without looking back. Such is particularly salient amongst the slogans of various presidential candidates and ex-candidates: Ted Cruz’s charged “Reigniting the Promise for America”; Martin O’Malley’s promising “Rebuild the American Dream”; and Trump’s sonically succinct “Make America Great Again.” Though the motif of renewing the past, specifically renewing the actuality of the American dream, is prevalent in almost all campaigns, Republican utilization of it is peculiar. The Republican Party’s glamorization and deliberate rewriting of the past is a masked attempt to absolve the United States of its prior wrongs, to scribble over injustices with sanitized versions of false glory. In an age when amassing as many votes from diverse groups as possible is key to presidential success, the GOP risks alienating voters by selling too heavily the idea of an exclusionary and false past.

The prioritization of the past is an interesting political tactic. The idealization of what once was raises an existential threat to both the present campaigns and the past of which they speak: If progress can only be made through paradoxical regression, does that then mean that progress never occurred in the first place? The answer to this can only be found by inspecting the rhetoric of the GOP as it relates to a voter base. According to census data, the idea of a non-Hispanic white minority in America is not a question of if, but a question of when. Data from the the U.S. Census Bureau shows that there were “more than 20 million children under 5 years old living in the U.S.,” and of this number, 50.2 percent of them were minorities. The generation of the so called “minority-majority” has already been born. This fact has the implication of changing campaigns in the future—for both parties. Republicans “hold 40-49 percent lead over the Democrats in leaned party identification among whites,” but Democrats have a major advantage over Republicans in minority groups—especially amongst black and Hispanic voters. As the demographics shift, campaigns will have to focus on issues that matter to those that are encased within the “minority-majority,” and will have to appease their demands. But for now, the Republican Party faces a troubling choice: whether to cater to that Nixon-like silent majority — typically older, blue collar white people who do not take an active part in politics and who tend to lean right on the political spectrum — of today or begin to morph into a better reflection of the changing tides of demography. If the campaigns of today are any portent of the future, it seems as though the former is what will dominate, at least for the 2016 election. The Republican refusal of Syrian refugees and anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump’s egregiously popular wall-as-a-border idea, and other scare tactics used by the GOP to put down protests for equal rights and justice across the country — these all seem commonplace in this election, but future elections with different demographics could not have a party support these messages and still expect to win.

The general arc of history tends towards increases in rights and justices. Public racial segregation, once accepted in the country, is now intolerable in political discourse — at least de jure segregation is. Because of the Hart-Celler Act, which “ended a long-standing quota system based on national origin that heavily favored Western Europeans,” immigration in America has been dramatically transformed and has led to major cultural and political shifts, especially in underrepresented groups. It is not just changing racial and ethnic demographics that Republicans dismiss when they glorify sanitized histories; other marginalized groups are left out as well. LGBTQ+ rights have advanced far from where they were 50 years ago, with 55 percent of people “favor[ing] allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally” and increased exposure in media to intersectional identities of nonbinary and trans characters. Christianity saw a decrease in number of followers, while non-Christian faiths and the unaffiliated (atheist, agnostic, and “nothing in particular) both saw increases in the population. Though the stereotypical WASP male is still the face of politics, this will not be the case for much longer.

The Republican Party’s glamorization and deliberate rewriting of the past is a masked attempt to absolve the United States of its prior wrongs, to scribble over injustices with sanitized versions of false glory.

The glorification of the past is a dangerous option. Depending on the era that Republicans are speaking of — typically the eras of Reagan or the Founding Fathers — entire swathes of the nation are lacking basic rights that they have campaigned for fervently for years, and are still fighting for equality and justice in many aspects. The rights of many marginalized identity groups have frequently relied upon the progression of the years to ware away prejudices of the past. The Democratic Party has capitalized upon this sentiment, frequently employing the idea of looking back to the past and launching triumphantly into the future, proclaiming that we are now much better than we were and can only get better. The Republican Party has not caught on to this; instead, it rhetorically relies on nostalgia of certain groups to overpower the disdain for the past that those marginalized people have. The power of this group, made up of older whites, comes at the expense of other marginalized people.

If the silent majority can look past troubled times and see those years in black in white as better than they are today, the Republican techniques have won.

To do this, Republican candidates often misconstrue history, whether they are cognizant of it or not. Candidates within the GOP have repeatedly misattributed quotations that align with their ideals to the Founding Fathers in order to create a framework of republicanism within the narrative of the past. In constructing false histories, these candidates erase actualities and directly challenge what is taught in classrooms across the country. Jody Hice, a member of the House of Representatives from Georgia, quoted on his Facebook account Thomas Jefferson as saying, “That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.” The problem with this is that the Thomas Jefferson Foundation has stated they have “not found this particular sentiment in his writings,” and the quotation is more realistically attributed to Henry David Thoreau in his work, Civil Disobedience. Paul Ryan and Ben Carson have both been caught red-handed by the media after they put words into the mouths of Patrick Henry and Alexis de Tocqueville. These misattributions are probably mistakes; after all, politicians can’t all be historians with eidetic memories. That being said, these honest mistakes are not harmless: they feed — somewhat narcissistically — into the conservative narrative that their ideals are matched with the ideals of the Founding Fathers, that modern conservatives are the heirs to those great men of history that brought forth this nation. This ahistoricism is a dangerous tactic, especially because the vast majority of voters have very little knowledge of what the Framers believed.

The past is not just something that once existed and is now left behind; it is kept alive through remembrance of times long gone. The Republican Party’s language and party ideals hearken constantly back to a better past, but this past oftentimes is only better for some or doesn’t even exist. In a time when demographic shifts are becoming the rule rather than the exception, the GOP must make more conscious efforts to recognize the historicity of their language and confront the future without reminding many of a darker past. History is not a concrete entity; it is malleable and can be warped through careful and conscientious manipulation of the gazes towards it. A very real quotation from George Orwell, found in his book 1984, warns: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” In order to clearly see where we’re going and how far we’ve come, it’s paramount to see where we, as an entire nation, came from.

More children in the United States live in poverty today than did during the Great Recession, according to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Roughly 47 million Americans currently live under the poverty line. To put this into perspective, the US’s relative poverty rate is 17.4 percent, compared to an average among OECD countries — considered the United States’ peer countries in level of development — of 11.1 percent. Our child poverty picture is even bleaker, with almost one third of American children living in poverty. Among 41 of the richest countries in the world, the US has the sixth highest child poverty rate according to a 2014 UNICEF Study, in spite of being the fourth wealthiest country within the study by GDP per capita.

One would think that given this crisis, poverty would be the talk of the town in Washington and beyond it, and yet the issue seems to be largely ignored in US political discourse. According to a study by The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, less than 1 percent of the news coverage by 52 major news outlets focused on poverty. When the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting examined the 2012 election coverage of eight major US news outlets, researchers found that just 0.2 percent of coverage dealt with poverty “in a substantive way.” And during the Republicans’ first televised primary debate of 2016 — which ran for almost two hours — the word “poverty” was mentioned 3 times, and the word “poor” was mentioned four more. In the first Democratic debate, while the word “poor” was brought up 13 times, the word “poverty” was brought up only 4 times.

Furthermore, too little has been done at the legislative level about poverty reduction. It is true that in early 2014, then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan came forth with a set of ideas, titled “The Path to Prosperity,” relating to poverty reduction. Though the prospective efficacy of these policies is certainly up for debate, the development was promising in that the issue was at least being addressed. But in practice, no legislation emerged from this focus. For example, in 2012, the only two bills in the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law’s anti-poverty legislative scorecard that actually passed the Senate were designed to counter emergencies, and the House that year passed a budget that cut into many essential poverty reduction programs.

Even when politicians on both sides of the aisle do address the issues of Americans’ economic struggle, they still miss the mark. Rhetoric often focuses on protecting the “middle class” or reducing rising income inequality (consider rhetoric surrounding the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent). Rarely do politicians talk singularly about the people at the very bottom of the economic ladder — those struggling the most. For example, Florida US Senator Marco Rubio, who proposed several ideas surrounding poverty reduction in early 2014, seems to have shifted his main focus to the middle class since he began his bid for the presidency.

Rhetoric surrounding the “middle class” is much more inclusive and therefore more politically beneficial than addressing the poor head-on.

Many reasons exist to explain politicians’ reluctance to directly address the neediest. For one, rhetoric surrounding the “middle class” is much more inclusive and therefore more politically beneficial than is addressing the poor head-on. Americans not living in poverty are not eager to label themselves as impoverished, while many seem to think that they are a part of the middle class. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, people in every annual income bracket between $30,000 to $100,000 were most likely to identify themselves as “middle income.” Thus, when a politician talks of policies that will benefit the middle class, a huge portion of the electorate will assume that those policies will be of benefit to them; according to a Gallup Poll, about 51 percent of Americans identify as middle or upper middle class.

This phenomenon has shaped the prevailing campaign message House Democrats are expected to use in 2016; Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, Chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee in the House, told Politico that House Democrats were “absolutely unified on three essential messages going forward: It’s middle class, middle class, middle class.” Interestingly enough, it is not clear that House Democrats are “absolutely unified” on this matter. Notably, members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have expressed concern over this focused messaging on the middle class, saying the focus should actually be on the nation’s extreme poor. “We cannot forget that so many of our families are not middle class,” Representative G.K. Butterfield, Chairman of the CBC, told Roll Call in response to this new messaging focus.

Looking to the media can also provide answers as to why poverty is ignored to such a troubling extent. The aforementioned report from the Pew Center investigated why the media puts so little emphasis on this issue. The report suggested that media organizations shy away from covering the topic because they feel like they are at risk of alienating the wealthy consumers that they are trying to target who are not interested in that content.

In addition, low-income Americans simply vote at lower rates than does the rest of the country. This makes them less important to politicians than are the rest of the electorate. The voter turnout rate in 2012 for Americans making $10,000 yearly or less was under 50 percent, compared to a national voter turnout rate of 62.3 percent. Thinking cynically, this makes these voters less valuable to American politicians than are the rest of the electorate, making their prime issue of poverty even less important.

And even when poverty is discussed, the chatter often emphasizes urban poverty and fails to recognize that the poverty rate for rural Americans is three percentage points higher than the corresponding statistic for urban Americans. Multiple reasons exist as explanations, but one of particular interest surrounds our perceptions of those who live in rural areas. Americans harbor particularly negative views of the rural poor — especially in regions like the Appalachian and Ozark Mountains — giving them labels such as “hillbilly”. According to Lisa Pruitt, a Professor of Law at UC Davis, Americans label rural Americans as “uncouth,” “racist,” and “unsavory,” partly explaining why the very real issue of rural poverty is too rarely discussed.

There are opportunities for those in Washington to act if they would like stop ignoring this pressing issue. For example, in 2014, President Obama and Paul Ryan put forth proposals to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) introduced legislation to expand the EITC in 2015. Swift action is required on issues like this in order to put poverty back into the spotlight.

Looking back to how (if at all) the issue has been used in past elections, North Carolina Senator John Edwards made poverty the central issue in his 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns, and he was able to employ the issue to create enthusiasm for both of his campaigns before his future prospects as a politician came to a halt in the midst of a well-known scandal. Perhaps at some point another high-profile candidate will help bring the issue back — unhindered by a need to focus on the “middle class” for political expediency, but until then, the strategic benefits of avoiding talking about poverty will continue to keep it out of political discourse.


In today’s game of politics, it’s hard to keep score — especially for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Although it is tasked with providing nonpartisan analyses of budget acts, the CBO has found itself at the heart of partisan bickering. In two of the first substantive moves by the new Republican Congress, the House of Representatives voted along party lines to instruct the CBO to increase its use of “dynamic scoring,” and the Republican leadership chose to replace the CBO’s esteemed director, Doug Elmendorf, with the more conservative Keith Hall.

Since it concerns only the minutiae of economic calculations, it might seem odd that dynamic scoring has become such a thorny point in partisan politics. However, the moves of the new Republican majority to influence the CBO, though relatively unnoticed outside the Washington bubble, reflect much more than an erudite debate over the ins and outs of economic modeling. Rather, the dynamic scoring debate — and the partisan climate surrounding it — demonstrate that Washington’s mechanisms for nonpartisan policy analysis are miserably inadequate.

The battle over dynamic scoring may seem like a half-hearted effort to make budget analysis seem exciting, but it’s an important and substantial change. Generally, the CBO uses static scoring to analyze bills, meaning they assume that a given bill won’t have a macroeconomic impact. Dynamic scoring, on the other hand, attempts to account for the broader economic impacts of policies while analyzing budget proposals. Conceptually, the idea isn’t that complicated. Say a bill proposes to decrease all taxes by 20 percent; static scoring would simply measure the impact on revenue based on the economy’s current performance. But in reality, that type of change in tax policy would have significant effects on GDP and economic growth. So dynamic scoring measures how a given proposal affects the entire economy and then adjusts estimations accordingly. The CBO has historically used dynamic scoring for major legislative proposals, and the new House rule simply expands upon that precedent, ordering the CBO to dynamically score all tax proposals that would affect at least 0.25 percent of the economy and to do so only “to the extent practicable.”

If that were the whole story, the push for dynamic scoring wouldn’t be terribly controversial. Most economists and journalists agree that dynamic scoring, when done correctly, is a much better way to measure a bill’s effect. But most people agree that clairvoyance would be great, too. The problem with dynamic scoring doesn’t lie in the theory behind it — it’s in the execution. And Bruce Bartlett, a former economic advisor to President Reagan, aptly sums it up when he says that dynamic scoring uses “smoke and mirrors to institutionalize Republican ideology into the budget process.”

The Republican decision to encourage dynamic scoring has less to do with a desire for accurate budget analysis than it does with conservative economic theory. The centerpiece of the Republican economic platform is that tax cuts lead to growth. However, statically scored CBO budget estimates consistently showed tax cuts ballooning the federal deficit, which poses a problem for the GOP. Though CBO estimates haven’t painted the whole picture — because they weren’t trying to — unflattering nonpartisan estimates became easy fodder with which Democrats could bludgeon Republicans. A cursory glance at CBO estimates would seem to make the party of fiscal responsibility look more like the party of cut-and-run economics. But in new, dynamically scored estimates, the CBO will account for growth caused by tax cuts in its estimates, providing Republican proposals with an optical boost.

The problem is that estimating the future of the economy is an arduous affair, and it requires economists to make assumptions about complex and unpredictable factors. Consider the tax proposal from earlier. For the CBO to accurately estimate the effect of a 20 percent tax decrease on the economy, there are a number of questions concerning both long- and short-term behavior that analysts would have to take into account. How do high-, low- and middle-income consumers respond to tax decreases? How would across-the-board cuts affect consumer confidence? What about business confidence? These are quite complex questions, and for this reason, dynamic scoring is much more expensive and time-consuming than static scoring. More importantly, economists’ answers to these questions are frequently incorrect, and they oftentimes end up boiling down to fundamental differences in ideology. Unsurprisingly, there’s no economic consensus on how people respond to tax cuts or what the multiplier effect from government spending is. To be fair, static scoring also includes problematic assumptions, but it has more of an ability to nail down the fundamentals of a bill — without wading out into unclear estimates on the heavier questions.

And that brings up another a huge problem with dynamic scoring: Economists aren’t fortunetellers. Pointedly, not a single dynamic score from the CBO prior to 2007 foresaw the Great Recession, rendering just about every dynamic score from the early 2000s horribly inaccurate. It’s not just recessions that the CBO can’t predict; the agency also can’t foresee congressional behavior or the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy. These factors are particularly important because evidence suggests that the effect of tax cuts depends entirely on whether they are eventually paid for with spending cuts or future tax hikes. None of this information will be reflected in CBO dynamic scores, though. They’ll just show tax cuts leading to smaller deficits and higher growth.

Other moves from the GOP further indicate that their changes to the CBO extend beyond a commitment to truth-seeking. In March, the leaders from the Senate and House Budget Committees chose not to reconfirm Doug Elmendorf, the CBO director for the previous six years, and instead to replace him with Keith Hall, who was formerly a top economic advisor to the Bush administration. Since the CBO currently has discretion in exactly how it uses dynamic scoring, the director will have a heavy influence on the outcomes of CBO scores. It’s conceivable that Hall will implement dynamic scoring in a way that is as favorable as possible to the conservative platform. And if he does, Democrats would have almost no recourse except for public vilification of the CBO, an action that would gravely undermine the organization’s credibility.

It’s also unclear why Elmendorf, a Democrat widely hailed for his nonpartisanship, needed to go in the first place. During a recent celebration of the CBO’s 40th anniversary, Alice Rivlin, the first director of the CBO, suggested that future CBO directors should strive to “be as much like Doug Elmendorf as [they] can,” a statement that caused the CBO employees in attendance to erupt in applause. Gregory Mankiw, a top advisor to President Bush and a senior advisor to former Governor Mitt Romney, also lamented Elmendorf’s departure, writing in a New York Times editorial that he had done a “remarkable job.” Nor is Mankiw the only conservative who has come to Elmendorf’s aid; Mankiw’s position is shared by the director of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, among others. Elmendorf’s only real opponents were hyper-conservative groups like Heritage Action and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. And although it’s not uncommon for the party in power to promote one of its own to run the CBO, the partisan minefield surrounding dynamic scoring and the overwhelming support that Elmendorf already had makes the Republican Party’s choice of Hall a particularly dubious move.

The dynamic scoring episode demonstrates the enormous structural barriers to the CBO’s ability to act as a nonpartisan referee. Some of this may have to do with the fact that the CBO’s modern role differs from the one for which it was originally designed. When the CBO was founded in 1974, it was supposed to be a bulwark against presidential impoundment, since at the time, only the Office of Management and Budget would produce budget scores for legislation. Over time, the CBO evolved into something more — a tried and true source of economic data. But it’s becoming apparent that the CBO may not be equipped to keep producing credible research as partisanship continues to ramp up.

Republicans have continued to defend their changes as a way to provide more information to the public. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), for instance, argued that the CBO should produce both static and dynamic scores on the grounds that “it’s stupid to do the one and not do the other.” But here Hatch and his comrades miss the point. The CBO is nonpartisan and credible in the eyes of the public — that’s why politicians care so much about the contents of its reports. However, if the CBO produces multiple studies and some are filled with inaccurate and partisan assumptions, then each party, for obvious reasons, will cite only the politically favorable one.

There are some fixes that could help the CBO remain neutral. To begin with, it’s unwise to entrust a nonpartisan organization to a director primarily responsible to the party that elected him or her. If politicians are indeed committed to having the CBO serve the role of neutral arbiter, they should have the organization feature equal representation for major factions. In addition, the CBO should increase transparency in its modeling so that other organizations and politicians can more easily critique reports when they disagree with their outcomes. These moves almost certainly won’t happen in the next couple of years. But perhaps in the next Congress, both sides may come together to realize that an overactive and partisan CBO is a pox on both houses.

Art by Soraya Ferdman.

Thomas Perez ’83, a Brown alumnus who holds a master of public policy and a law degree from Harvard University, is the US Secretary of Labor and the former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights of the US Department of Justice.

Brown Political Review: Of all the OECD member states, only Mexico and the Czech Republic have lower legal minimum wages than the United States. What is the Department of Labor doing to change this? With the GOP regaining the Senate, what is the likelihood of federal progress?

Thomas Perez: It has been an all-hands-on-deck enterprise with raising the minimum wage…When you look at the United States in a global context, we’re not leading on this issue. The unfortunate aspect of that is when people don’t have money in their pockets, they don’t spend. The reason why Henry Ford raised the minimum wage for people on his assembly line 100 years ago was that he understood that when you put money in people’s pockets, they spend it. He also understood that when you pay people fairly, they stay longer. That’s why the majority of businesses support an increase in the minimum wage. I’m optimistic about its chances because I look at election night, and there were five ballot initiatives on the minimum wage. All of them passed, and four of them were in deep-red states: South Dakota, Nebraska, Alaska and Arkansas…People understand that you should be compensated fairly and that when the purchasing power of the minimum wage goes down 20 percent over the last 30 years, people can’t make ends meet. As we move forward, I’m hopeful. Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton came together [to raise the] minimum wage during Congressional sessions with Democratic control of the White House and Republican control of the House and the Senate. And I’m hopeful that we’ll do the same here. The October issue of the Harper’s Magazine Index included a statistic that 69 percent of Republicans say they could not live on minimum wage, but only 37 percent support raising it.

BPR: How do you explain this discrepancy?

TP: When you look at aggregate data, the majority of businesses support an increase in minimum wage. The majority of Republicans support an increase in the minimum wage…One of the most frequent things I hear from companies is, “The most important thing I need, Tom, are customers, because this has been a consumption-deprived recovery.”…My colleague, Penny Pritzker, the Secretary of Commerce —  with whom I spend a lot of time — spends virtually all of her time with businesses, and she said to me the other day, “I have yet to meet a business owner who didn’t support an increase in the minimum wage.” It’s become a philosophical issue where ideology has trumped common sense. That’s unfortunate. The challenge ahead is to educate folks. I think Republicans continue to oppose the raising of the minimum wage at their political peril. South Dakota, Alaska and Arkansas aren’t exactly liberal bastions. People across the ideological spectrum have spoken pretty clearly on what needs to be done here: People need a raise.

BPR: The 20 wealthiest nations in the world guarantee their workers paid parental leave. However, all but three US states do not. What is the Department of Labor doing to bring the United States up to speed?

TP: It’s unconscionable that we’re the only industrialized nation on the planet that has no federal paid leave. It’s hurting our competitiveness as a nation. For instance, when you look at the year 2000 and compare female labor force participation of prime age women — that’s ages 25 to 54 — the United States and Canada were identical. You now look to 2014 and Canada is about eight points higher. If we had maintained pace with Canada, we would have five and a half million more women in the workplace. That would be five and a half million more women contributing to the innovation economy. That would enable all of those Silicon Valley companies, tech companies and Wall Street companies, which all have pretty serious gender issues, to have access to that talent pool. What is most interesting to me about this issue of paid leave is that countries that are led by conservative governments and countries that are led by progressive governments are all leading forwards on paid leave because it is an economic imperative…I was at a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Frankfurt last week. I asked the business owners there: If you had the opportunity to repeal Germany’s paid leave law, would you do so? The answer in a nanosecond was absolutely not. This is an indispensable part of our ability to maintain competitiveness. It is in our enlightened business self-interest. And it’s in our national interest. Both the minimum wage and paid leave, when you look at them through a global frame, have conservative and progressive support. Governments across the world are raising the minimum wage and putting paid leave policies into place. It’s only in the United States that we’ve allowed these two issues to become partisan issues.

BPR: Now that Congress is led by the Republicans, what are the prospects for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform in the remainder of President Obama’s second term?

TP: The president will take executive action, as he has said recently. He also said that there’s no substitute for Congressional action. The bill that the Senate passed on a bipartisan basis was very much in the spirit of prior bipartisan efforts such as those from the mid-’90s with Ted Kennedy and Alan Simpson, and those in the ’80s under Ronald Reagan. This has always been a bipartisan issue, and the president would love nothing more than not to have to take executive action. But Speaker Boehner wasn’t able to deliver his caucus even though, if he had put it to an up-or-down vote, they would have voted for it. Instead, he was hostage to the Tea Party fringe of the House caucus. That’s bad for America. That’s bad for our economic competitiveness. There are few issues that unite the AFL-CIO and the US Chamber of Commerce, but immigration reform is one of them.

The 2014 midterm election cycle saw many competitive Democratic House districts fall, including the race for Florida’s 26th and southernmost district. Both candidates were Cuban-Americans running in districts with large Hispanic populations, many of whom are Cuban voters. Surprisingly, a district with a strong Cuban constituency at its core elected Democrat Joe Garcia in 2012 and only ousted him this year due to a series of corruption scandals. Both Garcia and his Republican challenger, Carlos Curbelo, ran as moderate centrists. Both candidates are in favor of same-sex marriage and welcome President Obama’s liberalization of the Cuban embargo. Given that Cubans have historically been card-carrying Republican Party members for decades, Curbelo’s choice to not run as a Tea Party candidate demonstrates a significant shift in Cuban politics.

Cubans came to the United States and quickly became a powerful Republican force, opposing Kennedy’s politics after his botched Bay of Pigs invasion where many Cubans were killed and imprisoned and opposing any left-leaning politicians for being too soft on communism. Since the 1960s, Cubans have been a uniquely conservative Hispanic voting bloc. The impact of this small segment of the Hispanic community has been, since the first wave of immigrants, uniquely significant. Many of the Cubans who fled had worked for the government that was overthrown. They were the wealthy, educated, elite of Cuba with an obvious interest in the political systems on the island that eventually extended to the United States. For many years, this elite’s primary political goal was to “drive the Castro regime from power” which put them squarely on the side of conservatives and anti-Communists like Reagan. Today, those hardline views are beginning to fade as older generations and their children begin to focus on Cuban-American, rather than simply Cuban, politics.

Immigration reform has been an important element in that shifting focus. Cubans, especially young ones, have begun to sympathize more with the plight of fellow Hispanics and have joined them in advocating for immigration reform. Throughout the campaign for District 26, immigration reform was a more important topic than Cuba. Both candidates embraced the calls for immigration reform, following the lead of other prominent Cuban Republican politicians in southern Florida, namely Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart. Curbelo called immigration reform, “an economic issue,” while Garcia claimed that there is nowhere in the United States with more to gain from immigration reform than southern Florida.

Hispanics of different varieties may favor comprehensive reform to make it easier for their friends, families or countrymen to move to the United States. Cubans, on the other hand, seem not to be worried about immigration in the same way. Many Cubans see it as a way for Hispanics as a whole to be respected and treated fairly. As more Hispanics from across Latin America migrate to Miami and become ingrained in the city’s Hispanic culture, once dominated by Cubans, it seems as if Cubans have begun to empathize with their fellow Hispanics and to see themselves as a community with common ties and struggles. If Mexican and Central Americans are treated unfairly, Cubans are feeling their pain.

Cubans changing attitudes toward Cuba are also a significant factor in the political shift. As the older generation ages, their American children have become less inclined to favor strict economic and travel sanctions against the country to which they have relatively few ties. Even more so, as Cuban-American Millennials become politically conscience voters, they see the Cuban embargo as needlessly crippling to the average Cuban and not to the government it is meant to cripple. Giancarlo Sopo, a Cuban-American born in Miami, whose own grandfather was murdered by the Castro regime, called the embargo simply a “distraction from the atrocities of the regime.” Post-revolutionary Cuban immigrants see the sanctions as more of a burden on themselves and their Cuban families than on the Castros. Most Cuban politicians are still relatively hard-line towards safeguarding aspects of the embargo, but support for Obama softening it has gained traction. Both Curbelo and Garcia were in favor of lifting burdensome travel restrictions.

Leaders in the Cuban community are beginning to shift leftward as well. In a 2008 editorial in the Washington Post, notable Cuban-American rights advocate and chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), Jorge Mas, endorsed President Obama, claiming that his “forward looking and proactive approach” towards Cuban relations would be more beneficial to the Cuban people than President Bush’s “blunders.” In the editorial, he wrote that although the vast majority of CANF’s members are Republican, it was time to put partisan politics aside in favor of the Cuban people’s best interests. Jorge Mas’s father was a legendary advocate for Cuban rights, especially in the Miami Cuban community. While his father was a strong supporter of Republicans like President Reagan, Jorge Mas’s endorsement of President Obama – going so far as to hold a fundraiser for Senate Democrats – illustrates the way Cuban politics are shifting. Further, Jorge Mas’s company, MasTec, was Democrat Joe Garcia’s largest supporter.

Finally, the simple truth that Cubans are less connected to the island than they once were seems to be moving Cubans leftward. Although there is certainly no growing support for the Castro regime, voting based solely on this issue is largely a thing of the past. Cuban-Americans ties to Cuba have been weakened over the past decades and their ties to the larger Hispanic community in the United States have been strengthened. President Obama nearly captured the majority of the Cuban vote in 2012, something that would have been a complete shock 20 years ago. This trend will be formally tested during the 2016 presidential election, especially if a Democratic candidate can win the Cuban vote for the first time.

Long lines, shoddy preparations and incomprehensible rules: The US voting process is marred by these well-documented problems. But these barriers are just the beginning for minority groups like the blind and visually impaired. Individuals with visual impairments often find typical ballots — electronic or otherwise — inaccessible. For these citizens, exercising their right to vote remains difficult, if not impossible. In some cases, even the way they are given assistance compromises confidentiality. Worse, the American public largely neglects these issues.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees all disabled voters the right to arrive at the ballot box with relative ease, as well as access to specialized voting machines — but this alone is not enough. Al Jazeera recently reported on serious shortfalls in existing measures: Machines that verbalize voters’ choices are sometimes unintelligible or confusing, and officials at polling places are often not trained to operate them properly. Having officials assist differently abled voters in filling out their ballot compromises the secrecy of their choices. Often the only other option, besides going to underequipped polling places, is to vote by mail, which may require the help of visually abled friends or family members. These inherent inadequacies in the available choices mean a visually impaired voter will likely encounter critical barriers.

With the standard of a safe and confidential vote insufficiently protected, many organizations are seeking to expand voting options for the visually impaired. Some advocates have resorted to legal action. In National Federation of the Blind (NFB) v. Maryland State Board of Elections, a federal court ruled in favor of the NFB, concluding that the state must permit disabled individuals to use an online tool that makes it easier to vote. With this system, voters can mark ballots at home, without the assistance that would compromise privacy, and then send their ballot to the local election office. For Mark Riccobono, president of the NFB, the federal court decision in Maryland is a victory for civil rights and protects “the right to equal access and to a secret ballot” that could soon extend to the rest of the country. Since the case was tried in a federal court, Maryland will set an important precedent that could potentially lead to a national change in voter laws.

But success is not guaranteed. In fact, the Maryland affair shows that both Democrats and Republicans are hesitant to expand the use of electronic voting systems, even for the disabled. Democrats concerned with computer security and Republicans advocating for stricter voting laws have joined in opposition, their convictions aided by reports from security experts concerned that hackers could compromise the system. The NFB claims that such fears are unfounded and points to the fact that most states already permit members of the armed forces serving abroad to vote electronically. In addition, Alaska and Delaware already use similar online voting systems for visually impaired individuals, and neither measure has proved vulnerable to voter fraud, as security experts fear.

Here, civil rights have been pitted against security concerns — a theme that also permeates political debates about voter identification laws across the United States. In these instances, concerns over voting fraud are the antagonist to legal flexibility for voters. Politicians scrutinize whether the hardships of voting for certain minorities are the result of burdensome laws or inevitable social factors. Those who suggest that the difficulties are inevitable default to tighter voting laws and anti-fraud measures. Conversations surrounding voter identification laws show the racialized nature of the debate. As a result, there is an ongoing backlash against stricter voting laws that are seen as disproportionally affecting people of color, making it clear that perpetuating racist outcomes is unacceptable.

However, the similarly lopsided debate on the rights of the visually impaired is hidden from the public view. This hints at the distinct presence of ableism — structural forces and ingrained patterns of thought that entrench systemic obstacles for disabled individuals. Ableism is evident in the perception that because the visually impaired often rely on others for assistance in daily living, so too should they rely on assistance when voting. After Maryland’s Board of Elections initially rejected the online system, the director of the University of Maryland School of Law’s Center for Health and Homeland Security even said that “sanity prevailed” in the vote. The ableist undertones in this debate have scarcely been a topic of national conversation, much less a source of mobilization. A resolution to the debate over electronic voting for the visually impaired clearly lies in more than just the contention between civil rights and security — it requires changing attitudes towards the disabled community.

Politics will ultimately play an important hand in normalizing electronic voting procedures for the visually impaired. These procedures will likely be used in elections across the country and may transform larger attitudes within the voter accessibility debate. Maryland’s developments, both in the political and judicial spheres, not only illustrate a dispute between security and civil rights, but also shed light on how American society perceives the rights and privileges of people with disabilities. The issue of ableism has not yet received the attention it deserves. As the United States takes its voting system into the 21st century, its citizens must also modernize their views on civil rights.

Art By Emily Reif.