LAS VEGAS, July 16, 2016—FreedomFest is about ideas, not politicians, so it is the rare politician who shows up for the conference—and when one does, it’s usually someone with Libertarian leanings. This week two such senators—Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Rand Paul of Kentucky—showed why they belong at this venue and how the liberty movement is changing the Senate for the better.
Sasse won election in 2014 as he puts it, “as a movement conservative who was elected over the objections of the GOP establishment.”
Prior to his election campaign, he was the president of Midland University and before that he summarizes his career as a business turn-around consultant. He can be viewed as someone with both an academic and a business background. And if you think academics is devoid of politics, think again.
Sasse said he is one of only five senators currently serving without having attained prior political office. He must have meant Republican senators, because there are two Democrats as well: the comic Al Franken and the academician Elizabeth Warren. The five Republicans include his friend Mike Lee from Utah (who was at FreedomFest last year) and Kentucky’s Rand Paul, an optometrist.
Electing senators who are not politicians is quite unusual but the liberty movement has found and supported such people since 2010, although not always successfully.
Sasse hasn’t made big splash in the Senate. You don’t see his name all over the media except quite recently as one who opposed Donald Trump on philosophical grounds; and this only because the left-wing media seeks to report on differences of opinion and “divisiveness” among Republicans, not Democrats.
Sasse’s goal is not to build a political career but rather, as he said, but to encourage the long term reform of the Senate. To this end, he speaks frequently on the floor in an attempt to revive debate in the upper house once celebrated as the greatest deliberative body in the world.
Speaking Thursday night, he said that neither party is committed to a government of limited powers. He summarized the election rhetoric as the Democrats wanting to make America Europe again while the Republicans want to make America like the ’50s again.
Neither is the right thing to do, he said. He takes a broader, longer-term view of what ails us, and regards the current tendency toward political disengagement as a bigger problem than political polarization. He told the story of Tocqueville coming to America in the 1830s to try to understand what made America great.
It was, Tocqueville concluded, the civic engagement of ordinary Americans. To recover that, and to advance in the 21st century world of technology, we need a society devoted to life-long learning, not stagnation and impasse. But it appears we’re not ready for this.
As Sasse speaks, you sense the teacher and the visionary behind the words. He speaks quickly and concisely. To understand, one must focus and listen. There’s nothing he says that’s fluff.
The Senator did talk about some of the legislation he’s sponsoring. One is a bill with a Democrat co-sponsor aims to flip the Freedom of Information Act on its head. Instead of citizens petitioning government to release information, he says the government should make all information accessible by default. Another bill, co-sponsored with Mike Lee, seeks to reduce Federal government licensing requirements.
Sasse also agrees with Rand Paul and others that tax reform needs to happen sooner rather than later and that tax reform legislation must originate in the legislature, not the executive branch.
Rand Paul attended a luncheon and then the general session on Friday. Better known than Sasse because of his father and his presidential run earlier this year, Paul is also all about reform. He says, for example, that we are being regulated to death—and notes the current cascade of regulations is not coming from Congress. It’s coming from un-elected, unregulated and unaccountable bureaucrats. Paul correctly attributes the origin of this out-of-control army of bureaucrats to Woodrow Wilson, whose actions have been amplified by both Republican and Democrat administrations ever since.
Paul made mention of “Brexit: The Movie,” a film that recorded a day in the life of a British citizen and how that citizen is still wrapped in regulations that feel like being surrounded by invisible barbed wire. The “Leave” vote, he said, was the formal recognition of that situation by the British people.
Americans, too, Paul said, need to understand the effect of over-regulation on our lives. It should be the government, he believes, not the people, that gets surrounded by barbed wire.
Paul also reviewed a number of his familiar positions on issues such as prison reform and a the maintenance of a strong defense focused more narrowly on American national interests.
Together, these two senators, along with others such as Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, are changing the nature of the Senate. Senators are elected to six-year terms, and so the change we see will be gradual, as it was intended by the Founders to be.
If we continue to support people like Senators, both they and their efforts will determine the power and the legacy of America’s early 21st century liberty movement.