Why Incumbents Keep Winning

Helen Shibut

            It seems like almost no one approves of the job Congress is doing, but the same people keep getting elected over and over again.  Why is that?

            Incumbents in Congress get all sorts of privileges that help them win elections, even when they are unpopular.  Most congressional districts lean heavily towards one party, so general elections are often uncompetitive.  Incumbents get so much help from the government that they often don’t face challenges from within their own parties.  In Virginia, incumbents who are challenged by members of their own parties get to choose to compete in either a primary election or a convention.  Primaries are more expensive for taxpayers, but they allow incumbents to more effectively utilize another privilege, called franking.  The franking privilege allows incumbents to use tax dollars to mail out campaign literature.  According to the Congressional Research Service, members of Congress spend $18.1 million on mass mailings every year. 

            Madison Liberty is based in Harrisonburg, a relatively conservative district in which most voters say they support cutting spending and limiting government.  Our representative, Congressman Goodlatte, is currently engaged in a primary race with Karen Kwiatkowski and is fighting for his eleventh term.  Like most Congressional incumbents, his campaign is taking advantage of the franking privilege.

            Since March, I have attempted to contact Mr. Goodlatte’s office by phone and email, but so far I haven’t gotten a response.  I encourage readers to email Mr. Goodlatte about how he’s using the franking privilege.  Regardless of whom we support, I hope most of us can agree that elections should be fair, and that candidates should do their own fundraising, rather than taking from the taxpayers. 

Madison Liberty does not endorse any candidate.  Writers like myself may personally advocate for campaigns, but as a group we are nonpartisan and choose to focus on educating people about the benefits of free markets, individual liberty, and non-interventionism. 


Voting on Your Rights

Luke Wachob

North Carolina recently passed constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage and civil unions for homosexual couples. The ban passed not as an act of some nefarious wayward legislator or backroom deals between powerful interests – it was voted on by citizens, with a 61%-39% margin approving the ban.
We like the concept of democracy – a government we have a say in, but doesn’t this show the superiority of a rights-based system? Defenders of gay marriage and rights for nontraditional couples are rightfully outraged at this abuse of their rights. “Gay rights are human rights” is a phrase I’ve seen liberally tossed around Facebook.
             What room is there for voting in a matter of rights? As libertarians, we understand that democracy was never the ideal of the American Revolution. We don’t vote on the laws – we vote on representatives. We don’t vote for President – we vote for the Electoral College. We don’t vote for the Supreme Court – they’re entirely undemocratic, appointed for life by the President.
             The point is that voting isn’t intrinsically good. People can, and do, use democratic systems to abuse minorities, something James Madison warned about extensively in The Federalist Papers. In North Carolina, there was enough ignorance and hatred to strip the rights of countless people, whose only crime was being honest with themselves. The law should apply to everyone fairly, regardless of what a majority of citizens say. We recognize the evils of cliques and peer pressure while growing up, so why do we embrace majority rule as adults?
             I don’t have to convince you that the NC vote was a tragedy. I have to convince you that it’s emblematic of the problems with democracy. It sounds good to have a government “of and by the people”, but wouldn’t you rather have rights you knew you could rely on? We shouldn’t vote on people’s rights. They’re only rights because they can’t be taken away. Otherwise they would be privileges – should loving the person of your choice be a privilege reserved for those society finds most appealing? Of course not.
             Democracy is a dangerous, dangerous tool. If we apply it too liberally, we’ll end up in a world devoid of freedom. Or, as Madison put it, a “tyranny of the majority”. Thanks, but no thanks – I’ll keep my rights.


First Comes Love...

Helen Shibut

            As we move closer to another election, President Obama must try to defend his opposition to marriage equality.  Vice President Biden’s supportive comments about gay marriage this week only highlight the president’s failure to support same-sex marriage, though he does support civil unions and rightly worked to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Very often, opposition to same-sex marriage comes from the religious right.  Obama’s hesitancy to support marriage equality even as it becomes more politically popular seems to indicate similarly grounded objections.  Given the trends in popular opinion and politicians’ tendency to shift with it, it’s surprising that Ron Paul is the only Republican or Democratic presidential candidate who says marriage should be legal for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. 
            Libertarians like Paul offer a fresh perspective by asking the same question they always do:  Wait, why is the government involved in this at all?  As religious objectors to gay marriage always remind us, our founders emphasized separation of Church and State.  Throughout most of history, people saw marriage as a religious institution, and because their religious leaders and texts opposed homosexuality, gay marriage usually wasn’t even up for debate.  And that’s exactly why Americans deserve marriage equality now.  Our country has grown, not just in size, but also in religious diversity.  Today we have plenty of religious groups that want to marry gays, and they should be allowed to.  The institution of marriage is not trademarked by one or two major religions, or even by Religion in general—after all, no one opposes atheists getting married. 
            Civil unions would remedy some of the prejudice in the system, like the tax benefit inequality, but they wouldn’t take care of underlying issue.  For many of us, “the pursuit of happiness” involves love and marriage.  Civil unions aren’t good enough, because the government shouldn’t get to decide when you’re happy enough. 


Stripping Away Your Rights

 Helen Shibut

           As a libertarian, I’m often frustrated with what I view as inefficient and immoral government intrusion in the economy and in people’s personal lives.  I don’t think the government should be involved in our health insurance, or for that matter, any other kind of insurance.  I don’t believe the government has any business telling people whom they can and cannot marry, or what they can and cannot put into their own bodies.  But I recognize that in the grand scheme of things, the United States is a lot more free than most countries throughout history, except in one area.
            Obviously, prisons aren’t designed to be places of freedom.  But the penal system in the United States no longer just serves the purpose of protecting free Americans from those that would use force and fraud against them.  One clear example: our government locks up people for possessing substances the government decides are bad.  Marijuana?  Bad.  Vodka?  Good.  Cigarettes?  Fine.  The line between substances that get the government’s OK and those that don’t seems pretty arbitrary—or does it?    Just looking at the demographics inside prisons, it seems that government projects like the War on Drugs are racially motivated policies, at least to some extent.  And of course, these policies are all funded with your tax dollars.  But even if all of these policies have moral and Constitutional motives and are carried out fairly, the government still owes citizens, even the accused, many rights. 
            Our founding fathers recognized the dangers that come with a government that can lock people up for violating its laws, so they included lots of protections for the accused in the Bill of Rights.  Many of these are overlooked as our police state grows. 
            Most recently, the Supreme Court case Florence v County of Burlington demonstrated our government’s willingness to step on rights it finds inconvenient.  In this case, the Court ruled that Americans who are arrested and brought to prison can be strip searched even for such minor crimes as not wearing a seatbelt.  Penal officers need no reasonable suspicion of danger to do so.  Apparently we are not as “innocent until proven guilty” as we thought.  As usual, the Court justified its ruling by saying its for our own safety (isn’t it always?). 
            The government can tell us that visually invasive strip searches are precautions rather than punishments, but I think many Americans believe that their government should not be able to humiliate and degrade them in this way without a trial, without a warrant, without any reason to expect danger, without anything.