Category Archives: Feature

Featured Organization: Young Americans for Freedom

As a conservative in an overwhelmingly liberal college environment, it can often be difficult to engage in intellectual discourse with like-minded individuals. Two CMC students, Cameron Ridley ’15 and Kelsey Heflin ’16, recognized this problem, as well as the conservative movement’s inability to “provide an easily graspable alternative to the strong rhetoric of the Left.” Together they established the CMC chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a non-profit group devoted to advancing conservative ideas.

Young Americans for FredomThe Young Americans for Freedom, or YAF, sponsors conferences and connects its members with educational and career opportunities within the conservative community. According to Ridley, YAF “touts itself as a think tank that develops the ideas which politicians may then use to bolster their positions.” The CMC chapter of YAF plans to organize activities including movie showings, debates, and participation in political campaigns.

“Members also will receive the chance to attend funded YAF conferences, which provides good networking opportunities since it is affiliated with the larger national Young Americans Foundation. At the conferences, students will learn from top professors and leaders in the Conservative Movement and discover ways to champion conservative principles,” Heflin said.

By attending conferences and other educational events, YAF members will be able to enhance the level of discourse within CMC classrooms as well as the wider 5C community. Although YAF is currently listed as an official CMC club, it welcomes members from all the Claremont Colleges.

“We want to foster an environment where conservative-minded students can join and share ideas. We hope to promote conservative principles on campus and provide a place for free discussion and activism to occur among college students,” Ridley said.

Anyone interested in learning more about YAF or joining the CMC chapter can access the “CMC Young Americans for Freedom” Facebook page for meeting information and other opportunities.

Cameron Ridley, Chairman:
Kelsey Heflin, Vice-Chairman:

Upcoming Meetings (5:45-6:25 pm in Kravis Center room 109):
– Thursday, October 23, 2014
– Thursday, October 30, 2014
– Thursday, November 13, 2014
– Thursday, November 27, 2014
– Thursday, December 11, 2014

Out of the Jungle (Primary): Strickland vs. Knight

Steve Knight (R)
Steve Knight (R)

Thirty miles north of Claremont lies California’s 25th District, where two Republicans are running to replace Howard “Buck” McKeon in Congress. Four Republicans, two Democrats, one Libertarian, and one independent ran in the June primary, but due to California’s “Top Two” primary system, only the top two vote-getters, Steve Knight and Tony Strickland, secured spots on the November ballot. In exclusive interviews with the Claremont Independent, both candidates shared their opinions on the effectiveness of the top-two system.

Tony Strickland (R)
Tony Strickland (R)

California voters adopted the top-two primary via Proposition 14 in 2010. Proponents of Prop 14 wanted to get more moderate candidates on the ballot. By allowing voters and candidates to approach elections without regard to political parties, advocates argued, candidates would be elected based on ideology and issues, rather than partisanship.

When asked if the system had been successful in achieving its goal, both Knight and Strickland responded with a resounding “no.” Knight commented, “I don’t think you’re getting more moderate candidates on the ballot. Just in this district alone, you have two conservative Republicans running in a district that is almost 50/50 when it comes to registration of Republicans and Democrats.”

In California’s new “jungle” primary system, the top two vote-getters move on to November

In CA-25, Republicans slightly outnumber Democrats, 37.61 percent to 36.51 percent. One out of every four voters is registered with a third party or with no party preference. Strickland and Knight finished the primary with 29.6 percent and 28.4 percent of the vote, respectively. Democrat Lee Rogers finished third with 22.2 percent. If Rogers won the 9.5 percent share of the vote garnered by the other Democratic candidate, Evan Thomas, Rogers would have gone on to run in the general election against Strickland or Knight. Even though the GOP vote was diluted between four candidates, enough vote-splitting occurred among Democrats and independents that it allowed two conservative Republicans to advance to the general election.

Strickland also pointed out problems the system has caused for voter turnout rates and political diversity. He said, “The system was designed to force candidates to appeal to both sides of the aisle, but in reality you end up with fewer ​voters. In this case, fewer Democrats will vote because their party’s​ candidate is not on the ballot. The top two system also denies a voice to minor party candidates who could normally use general elections to expose the electorate to new ideas.” After losing the primary, Democrat Lee Rogers endorsed Knight, displaying what seemed like a sign of success for the top-two system. However, he withdrew his endorsement in September and joined other Democratic leaders in abstaining from voting in the general election. In districts with same-party races, partisan politicians and voters who do not feel adequately represented have expressed that they will abstain from voting this Election Day.

California's 25th and 27th Congressional Districts
California’s 25th Congressional District is located just north of the 27th, Claremont’s district

Still, Knight and Strickland must try to gain as much support as possible from Democrats and independents to win the general election. Some have argued that, in this respect, the top-two system will work by forcing candidates to appeal to more moderate voters. However, while both candidates acknowledged the importance of reaching out to Democrats and independents, neither candidate said that their outreach strategy was largely affected by running against another Republican. Knight said, “One of the many ways that Tony and I are different is that Tony does not live in the district. He ran for Congress in his home district last term and lost, and then he went shopping for a new district. He hasn’t lived in this district for many, many years. I think voters would say that they want someone from their community, regardless of their party.” He also highlighted that he is a former U.S. Army soldier and that Strickland has never served in the military. Strickland has reached out to Democrats and independents by meeting with members of different political parties and listening to their concerns, but said he would employ the same strategy with or without the top-two system.

Paul Ryan’s Way Forward

In a 1996 interview, Robin Williams described Claremont McKenna College, where he spent his freshman year, as “very conservative, with a lot of economists, a lot of think tank guys.”

The school has changed a good deal since Williams was on campus; but there is still a sizable subset of students who dream to work at the American Enterprise Institute or National Review.

Such think tank-types are engaging in a debate that is reshaping and revitalizing the conservative intellectual scene. Many of these thought leaders are coalescing around what is commonly described as “reform conservatism.” Congressman Paul Ryan, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee and the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, is a think tank-type and a leading reform conservative. A frat member in college who majored in economics, he would have fit in well at CMC.

Paul-Ryan-bookRyan’s central argument in his new book, The Way Forward, focuses on the importance of empowering civil society, as opposed to the government, in order to reinvigorate the “American Idea.”

He describes the “American Idea” as “a way of life made possible by our commitment to the principles of freedom and equality—and rooted in our respect for every person’s natural rights.” Maybe it’s necessary that he coin a term that encompasses his principles; but, for a term referenced a couple dozen times in 260 pages, the “American Idea” comes off a bit flat on paper, kind of like the word “leadership” at CMC. Ryan and his team could have done better.

A term used to describe views not unlike Mr. Ryan’s is “libertarian conservatism.” For those not so familiar with Ryan’s philosophy, it’s mainstream conservatism with Catholic influences mixed with a light version of libertarianism. It’s a modern middle ground between Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman, applying their principles to policy in new and innovative ways.

Whatever his views on the “American Idea,” Ryan is much clearer when he talks about the subjects with which he is more comfortable. Ryan champions civil society. In his language:

It’s that vast middle ground between the government and the individual where our families, our neighborhoods, our businesses, our groups and associations, and our places of worship reside. It’s the space where we live our lives—and it’s been a prominent characteristic of our culture from the very beginning.

The autobiographical aspects of his book convey the importance of these voluntary associations to the successes of cities and of individuals.

One type of association is mentorship. Ryan attributes his successes in large part to his many mentors. Perhaps his most important mentor was Jack Kemp, who Ryan worked for at Empower America. Ryan saw Kemp “tour poverty-stricken areas and inner-city communities. He brought the message of conservatism to people who had never heard it before.” Kemp served as Ryan’s political mentor while influencing his policy ideas.

Soon after leaving Empower America, Ryan was elected to Congress, where he quickly became a budget expert. After the 2010 Republican wave, he went from an outsider within the party to chairman of the Budget Committee, providing a better platform to advance his annual budget proposals. When Mitt Romney chose Ryan as his running mate, the Congressman realized that by joining the ticket, “it could make [his] proposals some of the guiding documents in a Republican presidency.”

But they lost. Ryan spent 2013 on a sort of listening tour in those places that don’t see national Republican leaders, the kinds of places Jack Kemp visited. This year, Ryan has focused on poverty, issuing a report and a policy proposal on the issue through his budget committee in addition to his annual budget.

Ryan sees the government as partly responsible for making poverty more difficult and more widespread in America. His case study for dysfunction is Detroit, where government “eroded the space for the community,” contributing to the sorry state of the city today, where it’s a victory not if a house is built but instead, razed. Detroit is a harbinger of things to come, a place where, “the encroachment of government facilitated by liberal progressive policies weakens our bonds with one another and drains our communities of their vitality.”

For Ryan, “the solution to these challenges often involves government, but in a supporting role. The people—in a robust and free civil society—should have the lead.” Ryan’s poverty reform program fills a chapter in his book. It is focused on making the safety net, like the rest of the federal government, “simpler, smaller, and smarter.” The centerpiece of Ryan’s reform is a consolidation and reorganization of many of the federal government’s at least 92 programs that in 2012 spent at least $799 billion on efforts to help low-income Americans. Ryan would provide block grants to those states that chose to try his reform program. The states would then contract with nonprofits and for-profit corporations to hire caseworkers who would not just pass out checks but show their clients the path to a better life and use their discretion to provide aid based on regional and individual circumstances.

Ryan speaks from experience when it comes to the safety net. After his father’s death, he “saw government make a difference for the better in our lives” through survivor benefits. They helped him go to college and in a few years his mother “transformed from a widow in grief to a small businesswoman.”

As Ryan has traveled the country these last two years, he’s seen civil society in action, revitalizing neighborhoods by helping addicts escape their disease and rescuing the homeless. Ryan wants government to help society heal its own wounds.

For all the promise of Ryan’s poverty proposals, one risk remains: If Ryan’s programs were put into place, would we run the risk that enmeshing civil society more deeply with the government could undermine it? Introducing tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars of new federal money to non-governmental organizations could lead to some serious distortions and perversions in the motivations of the organizations that make up civil society. Couldn’t such a system in fact make government stronger and undermine a powerful mediator between government and the individual? Ryan calls for conditions on federal disbursements. They make sense, but conditions are already a major tool for the federal government to exert its influence in state policy and could prove excessive or counterproductive for anti-poverty grants.

Speaking of making things worse, Ryan does criticize his fellow Republicans for doing so. He directs some blame toward himself, speaking of his own error in using the language of “makers and takers” to describe those who are net contributors and net recipients of federal tax money, when recipients include soldiers, retirees, and the upwardly mobile poor. He also writes that he wishes Romney’s team made 2012 less a referendum and more a choice election, with lines like: “You can’t simply run against your opponent; you have to stand for something.”

Ryan’s most aggressive language, however, is reserved for the Ted Cruz faction of the Republican Party, which he views as excessively opposed to compromise and, perhaps, immune to reason. Although he is known for his strong conservative credentials, Ryan provides examples of bills that came up during his legislative career that he did not like, but that he voted for nonetheless. Responsible legislators accept the best legislation possible at a given time since “votes that look ‘pure’ can really pave the way for a more harmful policy.” The government shutdown was the Cruzers’ lowest point:

For weeks, a few conservatives in the Senate and some outside groups had been claiming that the House could unilaterally defund Obamacare by refusing to fund the government. That’s not how the law works.

Ryan references James Madison in response to Ted Cruz-style Republicans. Ryan applauds Madison for making serious concessions in the process of crafting the Constitution and then ardently working to see it ratified by the states. “We became the country we are because James Madison was a prudent man.”

Now, on to the real question: Is Paul Ryan running for president in 2016? Does he see himself as the next James Madison? He’s a young man. At 44, Ryan still has about a quarter century ahead in which he could and at some point probably will seek the presidency. But is 2016 the year? Based on his book, it seems likely. It reads like a campaign book with its mix of autobiography and policy prescriptions. In a sign of restraint, there is no chart or data table in the book from the first page to the last. He will confront Ted Cruz. And look at that cover.

The policy issues raised in his book are just a few of the many conservatives must consider if they are ever to attempt an aggressive reform of the massive modern bureaucratic state. If we want a government that is more comprehensible, more manageable, and less irrational, Ryan’s ideas aren’t perfect, but nobody’s are. His do seem likely to lead the right direction, toward a “simpler, smaller, smarter” federal government.

This review opens a series on the changing philosophical bent of contemporary conservatism and the ways it can be applied to policy.

Mitt Romney interviewing Paul Ryan on C-SPAN
Ryan Lizza’s 2012 profile of Ryan
The 2015 Ryan Budget
The Budget Committee’s report on the War on Poverty
Ryan’s poverty proposal, “Expanding Opportunity in America”

Andrew Sullivan: Obama’s ISIS “Fantasy”

Before Andrew Sullivan’s talk at the Athenaeum this evening, I had a chance to sit down with Sullivan, one of the nation’s most widely read bloggers, to discuss the current state of U.S. military affairs and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, otherwise known as ISIS.

An early advocate for America’s war on terror, Sullivan has previously been described as having “ultra-hawkish views” and militantly urged the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s. He published a number of controversial articles and essays during this time, harshly targeting those on the Left for failing to back Bush’s war effort. Since then, Sullivan’s outlook on the war has changed, especially after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal that revealed the abuse and torture of detainees in U.S. custody. He later admitted that he was wrong about the war on terror and has regretted his brazen support for the invasions.

When asked about the recent emergence of ISIS, Sullivan’s response was highly critical. “I would have a problem with ISIS if it threatened to attack America,” he stated, “but it hasn’t.” Furthermore, he argues that ISIS is incapable of attacking the U.S. “They have no access to WMDs as far as what we know.”

Earlier this month, President Obama addressed the nation, outlining his strategy for countering the terrorist “threats” of ISIS. His plan includes launching airstrikes against ISIS and increasing the number of American forces in the region. Obama stated, “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region—including to the United States.”

“President Obama’s statement about terrorism and ISIS is a fantasy,” said Sullivan. “I fear that we are now being governed by fear itself, misreading and mischaracterizing things that we should be leaving alone.” Neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, have not intervened in the conflict. “It’s like welfare: they know we’re just going to do it for them, and no one is grateful. No matter how successful we are, we will still be hated,” he grimly noted. “We are a toxic force in the region. Everything we touch there turns to poison.”

Image Source: The White House

Introducing Libertarianism: 5 Quick Reads

Whether you are waiting at the Hub in between classes or tanning on Green Beach on a Sunday afternoon, there is no better way to pass the time than a good read. If you are open to learning more about libertarian philosophies, there are five short works (all of which you can finish in one sitting) that best explain the basic tenets of libertarianism. Below is a list of scholarly articles, essays, and novellas that sparked my interest in the movement.

1. “I, Pencil” by Leonard Read

As its title suggests, “I, Pencil” is uniquely written from the point of view of a pencil. This charming, 3-page narrative describes the vastly interconnected network of people, tools, and resources required for the pencil’s production. Think about it: you need someone to chop the wood, mine the graphite, mix the clay, make the paint and lacquer, imprint the label, supply the metal, manufacture rubber erasers, so on and so forth. The main point the pencil seeks to illustrate is how the Invisible Hand organically brings together millions of people from various industries and all parts of the world. Each of these individuals has specialized knowledge that helps create this simple, yet important good for consumers.

2. “The Use of Knowledge in Society” by Friedrich Hayek

Friedrich Hayek discusses the “knowledge problem” in this famous 14-page essay, asserting that no single person can hold all of the relevant information needed to plan an economy. The essay’s premise is that bureaucratic central planners can never account for an individual’s preferences, skills, and resources––this knowledge is unique and exclusive to the individual. Hayek argues that this problem can be solved, however, through the price system: prices are a form of communicating subjective values between different people. “The most significant fact about this system,” he writes, “is the economy of knowledge with which it operates, or how little the individual participants need to know in order to be able to take the right action.”

3. “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat

When Ron Paul was asked what book every American should read, he answered “The Law.” Frederic Bastiat, a mid-19th century French legislator, explores two fundamental questions in this 50-page pamphlet: What is the law? And how can we tell when a law is just or unjust? Bastiat provides an in-depth examination and a series of compelling hypotheses, many of which illustrate how greed “plunders” the law. This message is especially relevant today, as it echoes Americans’ growing concerns about crony capitalism and corporatism in U.S. politics.

4. Anthem by Ayn Rand

In this 128-page fictional novella, Ayn Rand takes you on the journey of a man who, in a dystopian collectivist future, rediscovers his own sense of selfhood and individualism. If you haven’t read any of Rand’s works before, Anthem is a great start––it is much less daunting (and substantially shorter) than The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Her objectivist philosophy is renowned worldwide, and her influence is even present in modern American politics: Paul Ryan famously tried to get all of his congressional interns to read Rand’s novels, and even gave copies of Atlas Shrugged to his staff for Christmas one year.

5. The Revolution: A Manifesto by Ron Paul

Former U.S presidential candidate and House member Ron Paul undoubtedly has a unique set of governing ideals, as evidenced by his cult-like following. Although not a particularly compelling speaker, he effectively articulates his policy proposals in his 192-page manifesto. Paul calls for a return to the Constitution, increased self-government, and a non-interventionist foreign policy that is the antithesis of the Bush (and Obama) Doctrine. His hardline stance against both Democrats and Republicans, coupled with his libertarian streak and intriguing use of historical analysis, allows for a truly unique view of American public policy.