The Democratic-leaning Washington Post recently assessed the chances of the Republicans taking a Senate majority this year as, quite possibly, almost as high as two to one. True enough, and significant. Yet… in inventorying the most obvious races the big politicos are, for now, overlooking the most interesting, and potentially most transformational, race of 2014: that for the seat now occupied by Senator Cory Booker.
Booker’s celebrity status (and thus national fundraising prowess) makes his re-election, in the eyes of the usual star-struck handicappers, a foregone conclusion.
Not so fast.
U.S. Senate contender Jeffrey Bell
An unconventional opponent has entered the Republican primary for Booker’s seat: Jeffrey Bell, a former Republican Senate nominee. Bell is returning from a political odyssey longer than — and, in its specifics, as compelling as — that of Ulysses’s return from the Trojan War. Bell returns to his own Ithaca: Leonia, New Jersey. To run.
Full disclosure: Bell is a long time friend and sometime professional associate about whom it is impossible for this columnist to be objective. That said, there are objective reasons to pay attention to this dramatic development.
The Newark Star-Ledger’s columnist Paul Mulshine deems Bell the “only member of the current field with the sort of experience expected of a senator.” Mulshine:
In 1978, the then-34-year-old Bell was a member of the Reagan revolution, the conservative movement that had nearly denied incumbent President Gerald Ford the GOP presidential nomination two years earlier.
The revolutionaries needed something to do in the lull before the 1980 race. So they coalesced behind Bell in his attempt to knock out another moderate Republican incumbent, U.S. Sen. Clifford Case of New Jersey.
This was considered the longest of long shots.
But when the votes were counted, Bell had 1.5 percent more of them. The headlines told of Bell’s “miracle victory,” but ever since, such miracles have become commonplace.
Today’s tea party candidates are merely following a trail blazed by Bell.
Mulshine concludes with an allusion to Bell’s transformational influence on the man who bested him in the general election, Bill Bradley. He also shows off Bell’s genial generosity in working with Democrats willing to embrace an agenda of equitable prosperity:
Once in office, Bradley began championing the same tax cuts Bell had been suggesting. In 1986, Bradley joined forces with the Reagan administration to draft a tax-reform package that remains a model to this day.
“After it passed, we went to his office and had a glass of champagne together,” Bell recalled.
The odds are that Bell won’t be celebrating with champagne this November. But then the odds didn’t look that good in June of 1978 either.
Mulshine is not alone in his regard for Bell. William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, recently wrote an editorial in which he observed:
Even though Bell lost the general election to Bill Bradley, his upset played a role in changing the character of the Republican party and in paving the way for Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Bell has had a fruitful career since then as a conservative activist and thinker. … As it happens, we suspect, contrary to conventional wisdom, that Bell has a chance—an outside chance—to defeat the overrated incumbent, Cory Booker. We think he has a good chance to help the overall conservative cause by running.
How might Bell’s candidacy “help the overall conservative cause,” and, more saliently, the GOP … and America itself? Why does this race matter at least as much, and maybe more, than the conventional races about which the big politicos obsess? Here’s why.
America is entering its 13th year of pathetic economic stagnation, stagnation punctuated by catastrophe. Neither defending the status quo nor proposing incremental tweaks will suffice. Bell has a radical, rather than incremental, fresh approach to restoring equitable prosperity: a modern gold standard.
If America’s economy had been growing at a historically normative rate in the past 13 years — a rate often achieved or exceeded under the gold standard — our GDP would be around $21 trillion rather than $16 trillion. American paychecks, on average, would be almost a third fatter. Government tax revenues consequently would be almost a third higher.
This would have put Uncle Sam into surplus rather than epic deficit. This would have made our social insurance programs — Social Security and Medicare — fully solvent rather than threatened.
The deficiency can be recouped. The Gerald Ford-Jimmy Carter era propelled Bell into the arena once before. The Ford-Carter era and Bush-Obama eras have a profound similarity: economic stagnation. Carter presided cluelessly over an era of stagflation. The then-feeble Republican establishment itself demonstrated no savvy about economic growth policy.
Then, as now, Bell took the radical step of campaigning against a supposedly unbeatable incumbent on the basis of real Supply Side policies designed to bring about a climate of equitable prosperity. Once both tax and monetary reform were fully implemented, then, they brought the US economy out of recession and to dramatic and then sustained growth rates. These policies created, in the Reagan-Clinton era, millions of good new jobs. They were a major factor in eventually putting the federal budget into surplus.
The Kemp-Bell-Reagan era is most indelibly remembered for the battles fought, and won, to reduce the top marginal income tax rate from 70% to 28%. But there was more to it than that. Kemp, Bell and Reagan stood for both lower tax rates and good monetary policy.
When Reagan, embracing the agenda first put onto the political map by Bell’s “miracle victory,” began his 1980 campaign, the Dow was around 1,000. No typo: Dow one thousand (and even less).
The Supply Side’s political quarterback, Rep. Jack Kemp, recognizing the importance of Bell’s race, courageously campaigned for Bell. Their agenda, however, was not limited to tax reform. It called for lower tax rates plus good monetary policy.
Today, as in the days of Carter, the Fed has gone badly astray. Bad money is a much worse growth retardant than is our current tax structure.
Bell was roundly ridiculed by the elites back then. Establishment Republican hostility, in part, allowed the Democratic nominee, instead of Bell, to claim final victory. But people took note of the Bell campaign. Reagan embraced, and campaigned on, the Kemp-Bell Supply Side agenda. Reagan was ridiculed by his rival, the Republican establishment’s paladin, George H.W. Bush: “Voodoo Economics.”
The voters took note too. Reagan won.
Reagan then succeeded in his goal of cutting marginal tax rates. The capstone of that victory was the passage of the 1986 Tax Reform Act in which the top rate was dropped to 28%. The U.S. Senate voted 97-3 for a tax rate cut slightly deeper. They created a truly bipartisan pro-taxpayer, pro-growth, initiative. Bell, in his former rival’s office, shared a glass of champagne with Senator Bradley.
Of equal importance, fulfilling Reagan’s campaign promise of good money, Paul Volcker slew the inflation dragon. Equitable prosperity soared.
Now bad money, and, with it, economic stagnation, is back.
Paradise can be regained. Bell is attempting to replicate his “miracle victory” by putting a debate over good money, and its promise of middle class job creation, back into political play. Bell, like this columnist, believes the gold standard is the, well, gold standard of monetary quality (and Constitutional integrity).
Bell is unafraid to say so publicly. Bell’s website, on Restoring Middle Class Prosperity:
To restore the money supply in the hands of the people, we need a dollar whose value is backed by gold. The gold standard, which stabilized the dollar under various iterations through most of U.S. history, is the proven way to encourage stable long-term prices and preserve limited government. This is why the Constitution in Article I, Section 10 directs Congress to “coin money” and “regulate the value thereof.”
Bell also has laid out a startling, authentic, market-based plan for true universal health insurance coverage. This provides the desperately needed counterargument to Obamacare (which Cory Booker enthusiastically, and potentially fatally, has embraced). From Bell’s campaign website:
We should repeal Obamacare and redirect its subsidies into a refundable tax credit generous enough to enable everyone to afford catastrophic health insurance – the kind that ensures no one is confronted with a financially devastating hospital bill. For those who have serious preexisting conditions and still can’t find affordable private insurance, the federal government should offer its own insurance plan exclusively for those in need.
Bell also confidently campaigns on, rather than flinches from, protecting the lives of unborn children, promising to “support legislation introduced by Sen. Rand Paul recognizing the unborn as persons entitled to the right to life under the terms of the 14th amendment” and support “the House-passed ban on abortions after 20 weeks and the proposed ban on abortions for the purpose of sex selection.”
This is in precise accord with the values of most Americans. Bell has an opportunity to set an example for the GOP that championship of protecting the unborn is a net vote-winner, especially among coveted ethnic voter blocs.
Senator Booker’s stances on this issue appear inconsistent. Politifact reports that a Booker campaign spokesman, during Booker’s race with Steve Lonegan, stated that “Cory Booker does not oppose restrictions on post-viability abortions if exceptions are made for the health and the life of the mother.”
Meanwhile, however, an article in National Review quotes a memo from Booker to Planned Parenthood as saying that “I oppose the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and the Supreme Court’s dramatic break from precedent in upholding it.”
Booker’s campaign website says that he will “Protect a woman’s right to choose…; a woman’s health decisions must remain between her and her doctor” — without referencing that Booker “does not oppose restrictions on post-viability abortions.”
While a foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of small minds, the right to life isn’t one upon which one can afford to be inconsistent. Booker sure looks like he’s between a rock and a hard place. According to Gallup a supermajority of Americans oppose abortion in the second trimester, with opposition rising to 80% (or more) in the last three months of pregnancy. Booker appears to be attempting to finesse the difference between militant demands by national Democratic forces (and donors) who dogmatically oppose all restrictions on abortion … and strongly-held voter opposition to abortion after 20-weeks (and even earlier).
Booker appears stuck in a double bind. Adopt his donors’ extreme position, alienating his voters? Or adopt his voters’ position, alienating crucial donors? This apparently is causing Booker to make a badly awkward, and vulnerable, straddle. That, together with Booker’s embrace of Obamacare, could make Booker an adversary with two Achilles’ heels. These acute vulnerabilities present on top of Booker’s chronic vulnerability deriving from New Jersey’s stubbornly high unemployment rate and vulnerability deriving from his loyalty to a president with soggy and eroding popularity.
Political handicappers focus on close, conventional, races. Of course majority control of the U.S. Senate matters. Yet the Republicans — and the Republican contenders for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination — would benefit greatly from an optimistic and dignified agenda more compelling than simple glassy-eyed opposition to Obamacare.
The GOP deserves, and is capable of, an agenda more nuanced than the one mocked by Obama in his re-nomination speech:
“Have a surplus? Try a tax cut.”
“Deficit too high? Try another.”
“Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning.”
Jeff Bell is presenting a dramatically new, yet well-grounded, direction for American politics. He is a sophisticated champion of good money — the gold standard — as the path forward to sizzling job creation … and as a realistic cure for income inequality. (Income inequality really took off after Nixon closed the gold window in 1971.)
Bell presents an authentically humane free-market alternative to Obamacare. Bell’s views on protection of the unborn are those of most Americans… and most New Jerseyans.
Bell’s nomination, if secured, will provide an opportunity for him to pilot aligning the GOP with policies of equitable prosperity, humanitarianism, and civil rights for the marginalized unborn. Bell, in short, is pioneering a race to champion the interests — and values — of ethnic, blue collar, and middle class voters. Bell “played a role in changing the character of the Republican party” once before in running for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey. He’s back … with a recipe for making the GOP relevant again … and potentially dominant in the 2014 and 2016 elections.