It may be a stretch to say liberty is thriving in small town Republican politics, but if Amherst, Ohio is any indication, it definitely has a real presence.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, visited the upper-middle-class town last month to discuss national issues with his constituents. The people there didn’t vote him in—his fourth district was redrawn when Dennis Kucinich lost his seat—so he’s been on a road show of sorts, getting his face out in local communities. I went there to get to know the new guy.
Jordan struck me at first as one of those Republicans trying to cash in on the Tea Party. I didn’t know a lot about him, but his God, guns, and gold rhetoric certainly fit the frame.
Even though I expected a total mockery going into the forum, I was still taken off guard by its blatant jingoism. When I entered the town hall door, I saw dozens of people milling around, talking amongst each other over punch and pizza. A familiar tune hit my ear:
I’m proud to be an American, for at least I know I’m free…
And I proudly stand up! Next to you…
Looking over, I saw a slide show being projected on the wall, flashing images of little girls praying bedside, soldiers carrying coffins of their fallen brethren, bald eagles, and other symbols of nationalism. I immediately searched for an empty seat before someone ambushed me into enlisting for armed service.
An old man sitting next to me noticed my camera.
“Are you with the papers?” he asked.
I told him I was and asked why he was here.
“To see if the congressman is a true son of liberty,” he replied.
My ears perked up. Was he just uttering a Tea Party slogan, or were there real supporters of liberty at a Republican Q-and-A forum? I decided to find out.
“So what do you think about the war on drugs?” I asked.
He looked around and leaned in: “Don’t put this in the papers, but I think we need to end it… I also think we need to end these f—— wars overseas.”
He then had my full attention. The story, for me, became less about Jordan and more about how radical libertarianism had infiltrated the zeitgeist of grassroots Republicanism.
Surely if I happened to sit down right next to a libertarian, there had to be many others in the room. I would soon have a chance to find out, as Jordan walked to the front of the room.
The congressman gave a brief speech talking about how “freedom was under attack.” He gave typical Republican talking points, bringing up the debt, taxes, Obamacare, and the now-popular whipping boy Federal Reserve. He also didn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about the Benghazi, IRS, and Department of Justice scandals, criticizing the executive branch and promising accountability.
The local GOP coordinator then began reading questions submitted from audience members. Apparently, this was the Q-and-A portion of the event.
Most of the questions were softballs. One submitted by a self-described Democrat asked how he plans to temper his politics, to which he talked about working with the far left to oppose bank bailouts. When Benghazi was brought up again, the discussion turned a little more interesting.
“An ambassador getting assassinated,” Jordan began. “I mean, this is about as serious as it gets. Someone needs—.”
“You voted against additional funding for that embassy!” interrupted the person who turned out to be the Democrat in the crowd.
Jordan then launched into an explanation of how additional funding didn’t matter. But the Democrat wouldn’t be satisfied, grilling him with more questions.
I began to get bored. The old man next to me must have been thinking the same thing.
“This is just political theater,” he muttered. “Distracting from the real issues.”
By this time, the crowd was growing restless, telling the Democrat to sit down and shut up. The coordinator tried to hush the audience, saying that questions should only come from the submitted cards.
“I can take questions from the floor,” Jordan said, in a moment of confidence.
OK, I thought. Maybe this won’t be a controlled political campaign session. I’d have a real chance to gauge the crowd, to see how liberty-friendly they were, by what questions they asked.
I was pleasantly surprised. My stomach churned a little when the room erupted in applause to Jordan’s “we need to secure the border” comment, but most of the questions and gripes from the crowd were about the federal government overreaching into both the economic and personal spheres.
And when it was the old man’s turn to ask a question, I positively popped at the back-and-forth between him and the congressman.
“You voted for the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the government to kill and indefinitely detain American citizens,” he said. “How can you say you’re for limited government when this is your record?”
“These are the freedoms you just said were under attack,” chimed in someone from the front row.
Hazzah! Maybe the immediate future isn’t as dark if these baby-boomer conservatives actually understand the importance of civil liberties, I thought—OK, maybe “hazzah” wasn’t the exact word that came to mind.
“With the IRS, Benghazi, and DoJ scandals, believe me, I know the importance of privacy. But the threats to our national security are very real, and we have to find a balance,” replied Jordan.
At least he’s admitting to invading people’s privacy, even though he’s saying the ends justify the means, I thought.
Since Jordan wouldn’t be available for the press afterward, I decided to ask a question over the mic. The few hell raisers in the crowd made it apparent that his record on civil liberties wasn’t exactly stellar. With that out of the way, I wanted to find out if he was truly the free-market champion he claimed to be on his web site.
My question was simple: “Internet sales tax: pro or con?” But for me, it was the litmus test to find out if a Republican truly understood the free market. Many of them are supporting the tax because they say it “levels the playing field” between the Amazons and bricks-and-mortar stores of the world—which is ridiculous, by the way. There’s no need to “even the playing field.” Let the waves of creative destruction sweep away all the bricks and mortar in the world.
But anyway, expecting him to be for the tax, I had a follow-up comment ready. If he’s for it, I’m going to point out that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause because it allows states to tax across borders. I almost started salivating.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised—at least the taxpayer in me was; the obnoxious libertarian in me was disappointed that I wasn’t dealing with a phony congressman I could expose.
“I understand the bricks-and-mortar argument for the Internet tax, but I have to say that I just can’t support any increase in taxes,” he said.
Satisfied and with the mic still in my hand, I asked if he had a favorite economist, since I read in his bio that he had a degree in that subject. He must have had some sense as to with whom he was talking.
“C’mon, you can guess,” he said, laughing. “It’s Milton Friedman. I still remember when our class watched his ‘Free to Choose’ documentary. It taught me how markets work and how they benefit all of society.”
I was very happy not to have a totally rotten taste in my mouth when I left the hall. It was much more than I had hoped for.
Sure, the congressman votes with Republicans when it comes to issues of war and peace, as well as civil liberties. But at least many of the crowd were asking him the right questions and making him aware that those issues matter to grassroots conservatives. And when it comes to domestic economic issues, he seems to “get it.”
The old man left shortly after asking his question, so I didn’t have a chance to ask him whether Jordan qualifies as a true son of liberty. If only more people were interested in the issue.
Ken Silva is a writer from Ohio. Paul Revere image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.