Matthew Miller’s The 2% Solution is filled with interesting and novel insights on the inadequacies of the political process. Miller a self-proclaimed radical centrist provides a rallying cry for all political pragmatists. Get over the drama/ trappings of political theater and get the bargaining table. Yes, there will be trade-offs, but at the end of the day, the results will be worth the compromise. At least in theory. Miller’s objectives are certainly laudable. However, clearly in the nearly 20-years since the book’s publication, few have taken his advice seriously. Miller certainly does not lack creditable credentials, after all, he was a senior advisor in the Clinton White house.
Miller does touch upon the root of the problem in the American phenomenon of ineffectual government. He cites the typical observations of the government’s ineptitude, invested interests, partisanship, etc. He does address one point that is often underscored by proponents of limited government. Typically were are so enamored with the inefficiencies and corruption in politics we forget about other factors that make government fail. How often are politicians avoiding making effective decisions due to not wanting to alienate their “base”? They are beholden to the voters to retain their position as an elected official. Frequently like to create the illusion of meaningful action (p.3).
Miller expounds upon how conservatives are generally between a rock and a hard place when it comes to social issues. Generally, Republicans are expected to give lip service to fiscal conservationism and small government. This cultivates a dilemma. The representative may personally favor some social safety nets, but will their core voters agree? The situation becomes more sticky when you take into account the attitudes of Swing voters. The proverbial Independent voter. As Miller quotes the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan
” … Showing enough leg to convince the Independents we would like to attract that they are not neanderthals ..” (Miller, 2003, P. 28)
This juggling act is more about image management than producing good policy. However, this behavior is rational given the incentives of an elected official. Re-election! These balancing acts are more about voter appeasement than about doing what makes sense economically or socially. In my opinion, make the crusades embarked upon by many self-righteous politicians outright spurious. It is impossible to differentiate if they are passionate about the issue or the more so their re-election campaign.
Let me pick on a politician that demonstrates these principles,… Rand Paul. He’s a relatively unique Republican from an ideological standpoint. He has “Libertarian” tendencies. Similar to Senator Mike Lee of Utah. In terms of his re-election efforts, we can transpose Independent voters with Libertarian voters. Senator Paul will attempt to balance his campaign platform in a manner that will please mainstream Republicans but will also entice Libertarians to vote for him. While his target demographics may vary slightly from the majority of Republicans it is a similar concept. Attempting to strike the golden-mean, an image that is favorable in the eyes of Republican and Libertarian voters. This means making compromises on policy and diluting his ideological to pander to the other side.
Senator Paul also suffers from what I like to refer to as Soapbox syndrome. This is were a politician or activist who takes a stand on a minor issue or one that is convenient for them to be an advocate for. It is a blatant form of ideological rent-seeking. Instead of gain monetarily they gain more social creditably in the political sphere. James M. Buchanan was joking when he referred to politics as a form exchange. “Interpersonal trading to capture mutual benefits” (P.594). Taking on a policy issue as crusade you are giving X to obtain Y. Y comes in the form of votes or creditably in certain political circles. Colloquially we refer to it has having cachet or currency. For example, presently the issue of policing reform has a lot of currency. This credibility transfers to anyone willing to take the position that is most congenial to the voters.
Bless his heart, goes on these short-lived crusades that make him appear to be a different type of politician. Remember back when he was fixated on term limits? I haven’t heard him gripe about term limits in awhile. Then again amid all the upheaval spawned from COVID-19 he probably has bigger fish to fry. It’s convenient in the here and now to give lips service to term limits, however, the odds of such a policy coming into being are scant. Senator Paul knows this. There are far bigger issues than term limits. While implementing this policy may do some good in eliminating some of the invested interests. Not allowing senators to form longstanding relationships with lobbyists. It is easier to go off on a rant on the senator floor about term limits than to take the unions and lobbyists head-on. If he was truly committed to this issue why not impose your term limit. I am not suggesting he immediately resign. Say, ” After 15 years in the senator I am retiring. I will be full-time with my practice .” He would avoid looking like a hypocrite and it would be a graceful way to end your stint in the senate. He would be setting a good example, even if no one else wants to follow suit.