Challenge Grant Time in the Reason Webathon! Because We Still Treat Presidential Politics as if (Bad) Ideas Matter

From Bernie to Hillary, from Trump to the chumps in Congress, we used the spectacle of politics to argue about the substance of policy.


#NeverForget ||| Jerry Lewis Telethon
Jerry Lewis Telethon

We are here on the second day of Reason's annual Webathon, in which we ask you, the people who fight in the comments over which staffer to fire first, to nonetheless throw some tax-deductible money our way so that we can bring you even more in journalism and commentary defending and extending Free Minds and Free Markets.

Please donate right the Fletch now to get us closer to our $250,000 goal!

As of around 7:30 this morning, 151 of you generous human-bots had gifted us around $23,000, or 9.2% of the goal at the halfway point of the first quarter of the Webathon. Now, while we treasure each and every dollar and Bitcoin and Bubble-world Sandersback, we're basically still at our own 10-yard line (and even then with a generous spot!), at a time when we really should be around, oh, the 13. WE NEED A TOUCHDOWN, IS WHAT I AM SAYING….Oh wait, what are those footsteps I hear coming from the runway leading from the locker room, clanking closer and closer, a modern-day Tom Jarrett here to inhabit our mortal bodies and finally lead my Youngblood-era L.A. Rams to the Super Bowl? Why it's a $25,000 CHALLENGE GRANT!

Gillespie could still throw a mean spiral back in '78. ||| Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

That's right, ladies and gents and less classifiable creatures, the beloved Reason donor (and Trustee) Kerry Welsh (no relation) and his even lovelier wife, Helen Welsh, have announced a $25,000 challenge grant here to kick off Day Two. What does such magick mean for us non-math majors? That the next $25,000 in donations, IF AND WHEN IT COMES, will be literally doubled. It's like a government-spending multiplier, only not totally fake!

So why double your giving pleasure? Today, in singing for my supper, I'm going to jump head-first into a hornet's nest of a coverage category: politics (ducks away from flying shoe).

Like all zero-sum scrums, politics is intrinsically divisive, including/especially amongst quarrelsome libertarians. And like all taxation-based entities, government is inherently confiscatory and brutish. This is why Reason magazine has spent 48-plus years on this earth trying to roll back the influence of both factors in our lives, while celebrating the wonders conjured far from their grasp. As Katherine Mangu-Ward put it in her very first (and very great!) column as editor in chief, it's "Trump vs. Clinton vs. Everything Good."

We cover politics for two main reasons, and from two main angles: 1) As an act of defense against policies that that harm human liberty and flourishing, and 2) as an attempt to smuggle into the very diverting (particularly this year!) yet largely calorie-free National Conversation about politics some ideas that help us out with Task #1. Because even if any given political competition isn't necessarily determined by the quality of policy proposals, the discussion generated by campaigns does end up translating into government action—maybe in the future, with different politicians, in far-flung jurisdictions. The collective exertion of power always affects the lives of individual humans, and, well, you know which side we're on.

Bern baby Bern! ||| Reason

Here's how such a 1-2 approach works in practice. Remember when Hillary Clinton was having her heels nipped repeatedly by the unlikely longshot Bernie Sanders, whom some libertarians were going a bit wobbly for (which our work directly helped talk them out of)? At the zenith of the Democratic competition our mag published a special package on the cantankerous Vermont democratic socialist that delved into his past and his popularity, concluding in sadness more than anger that what was animating his would-be revolution and sending shivers down Clinton's pantsuit wasn't the promising civil liberties/foreign policy part of his issue-set, but rather his genuinely terrible economic policies. Look around you at any blue state or big, progressive city, and you will see these Bernieite Fights for $15 playing out all around you. In like 340 cities just yesterday, for example.

So renowned classical liberal author and known Swede Johan Norberg wrote for this issue a terrific essay, titled "Bernie's Right—America Should Be More Like Sweden," that in a fell swoop dismantled for all time the lazy American-left love affair with Scandinavian economics of which it knows next to nothing. My favorite Norbergian tidbit: "[W]hen President Barack Obama visited Sweden in 2013, the three big Swedish trade unions sent him a letter requesting a meeting. Their agenda: a discussion of 'how to promote free trade.' The chairman of the largest Social Democratic trade union scolded the American president for his insufficient commitment to the free flow of goods." In the same edition I had a piece on "Bernie's Bad Ideas," limiting myself to just 10 of his economic howlers. Both articles drew more than 100,000 page views, a kind of reach almost unheard of back when we first started these Webathon thingies, but now fairly routine (for instance, we've cleared that hurdle at least seven times already this month).

Bernie's eventual vanquisher, alas, lacked even his leavening civil liberties component and endearing ear-hair. We published cover stories on Hillary Clinton's long and woefully undercovered war on free speech, treated seriously her unrepentant warmongery, documented her open hostility to the sharing economy and public school reform, reminded readers of her awful track record on guns and drugs, and pointed out in careful detail her habit of saying knowingly untrue things in relation to her willfully obfuscatory email management system. Within hours of FBI Director James Comey's remarkable press conference, Reason TV's Austin Bragg issued forth this damning video laying bare Clinton's disproven lies. It was viewed more than 650,000 times on YouTube, and more than 13 million times on Facebook:

There is a handy if not always safe-for-polite-society phrase deployed by the Reason commentariat that goes a little something like this: "No, fuck you, cut spending." One of our consistent critiques of the new president-elect, and the new flavor of politics he's adding to the mix, is that he has untethered conservatism from fiscal sanity even more explicitly than Mitt Romney and George W. Bush before him. In my October cover story "Debt Denialists," after laying out how Democrats under President Barack Obama went from promising to reform entitlements to campaigning on expanding them, I turned my attention to the Republican who won his primary in part by promising to "save your Social Security…and your Medicare," and running to the left of Hillary Clinton on trade:

Not just a river in the Chesapeake drainage area. ||| Reason

Trump walked back [his promise to cut the debt] three weeks later, largely on the grounds that the federal government has some big-ticket spending items to accomplish, in addition to fulfilling his promises to protect entitlements. "I'd rather not be so aggressive," he told Fortune. "Don't forget: We have to rebuild the infrastructure of our country. We have to rebuild our military, which is being decimated by bad decisions. We have to do a lot of things." In August, he unveiled a plan to outspend even Hillary Clinton on infrastructure, throwing a half-trillion dollars at rebuilding bridges and highways and so forth. […]

On July 27, the independent, bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated that under Trump's announced plans thus far, the national debt would double over the next decade to $39.5 trillion. As Peter Suderman has observed at reason.com, the Republican nominee's "proposed Social Security reform would attempt to cover a $150 billion fiscal gap by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse—which only amounts to about $3 billion. Trump has also suggested that the government could save $300 billion through savings in a program that only spends $78 billion. It's total nonsense."

While Trump's unique campaigning style presents equally unique challenges to political and policy journalists in distinguishing literal from serious, realignment from pendulum swing, and our own personal/professional mores from those of the electorate, he has already shown an ability to jerk a rudderless GOP even further in his direction on such freedom-impacting issues as immigration and trade, and is weeks away from wielding all that delicious executive power that his two predecessors aggrandized. So when he tweets such intentionally distracting, constitutional non-starters as revoking the citizenship of flag-burners, we will more or less live by this Popehat motto—"Prudence requires us to put Trumpisms in perspective; it shouldn't prevent us from continuing to articulate our core values and talk about the things that are important to us"—and then get on with the business of discussing in knowledgeable detail how his proposed policies and personnel may actually affect us in the real world.

It's all over, Mr. Garrison. ||| Reason

In a political atmosphere that looks to be suffused in semi-permanent hysteria, you can count on Reason under Trump to simultaneously play defense against any hints of authoritarianism, while being open to and even encouraging about the very real possibility that he could be the most deregulatory U.S. president in decades. Check out our coverage on his intriguing picks for the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, as well as his less inspired choices for Attorney General and CIA director, for the basic template going forward.

Look, it's politics, so people (including us!) can get emotional about things sometimes. But unlike just about every other media outlet except three, we wear our political preferences on our sleeves, and labor always to keep near our frontal lobes both your idiosyncratic coverage desires—and we'll get to some of those later in the Webathon—and the end goal of building toward a free society.