I’ve been a life-long Republican. A child of the Ford Administration, one of my earliest memories was of sitting with my parents at our house in Rockford, Mich., while Walter Cronkite anchored the returns declaring Ronald Reagan the winner over Jimmy Carter. I can’t say I remember much about what it meant — only that I have vivid visual memories of that evening’s TV programming.
As a student at Western Michigan University, I served for two years as an officer in the College Republicans. In that capacity, I joined the executive committee of the Kalamazoo County GOP and supported them with A/V assistance for a weekly cable-access TV program that spread the good word. While with the College Republicans, I attended the College Republican National Convention in Washington, DC and also ran the campaign for a Kalamazoo City Commission candidate. Later, I returned home to Ottawa County, where I briefly served as youth chair in the Ottawa County GOP and as an elected precinct delegate for Tallmadge Charter Township.
(My late grandfather served as treasurer of Tallmadge Charter Township for nearly 16 years. I learned a lot about public service from his example. After he died, a commercial development near Standale — Sessions Pointe — was named in his honor.)
I left the world of politics after I joined the staff at the Western Herald, although I continued to cover politics in my earliest role as the newspaper’s opinion editor. I also covered some of the news beat for state politics, including an interview with then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm during her “bad news budget tours” and frequent interviews with Michigan legislators around higher-education financing in those lean fiscal years.
I re-dipped my toes into partisan politics in 2013. I had been elected twice as a precinct delegate in Kent County and have attended several state conventions as a seated delegate. In 2015, on a whim, I ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for the Grand Rapids Public Library’s non-partisan Board of Library Commissioners. In 2016, I was nominated by my party to serve as our candidate for Kent County Commission, 17th district. Although — as expected, given the lopsided demography of my district — I lost that race, my candidacy earned me a slot on the Kent County GOP executive committee. And more than 2,000 of my neighbors cast a ballot for me in an overwhelmingly +D district, so that was nice.
In the 2018 election cycle, I primarily worked behind-the-scenes to support the election of my longtime friend Matt Hall to the Michigan House of Representatives. Because business obligations kept me in Minnesota in the run-up to the election, I was proud to cast my ballot by absentee that year. Later, I was elected by the county convention to another term as a member of the executive committee.
What I Believe
There’s no such thing as a “typical Republican.” We come in all shapes, sizes, styles and colors. I tend to identify (mostly) with the Reagan Revolution as colored by thinkers including George F. Will, Kevin D. Williamson, Timothy P. Carney, Victor Davis Hanson, Yuval Levin, and Robert F. Kagan. If pushed, I’d probably classify myself as center-right and a supporter of the Fusionist consensus.
I distill my governing philosophy into 12 points:
- Nurture subsidiarity. The people closest to a problem are the people who should solve that problem — federal intervention should always be a last resort, not because the federal government (or the state government) are intrinsically bad, but because they necessarily lack deep insight into the specific signals that shape effective local policymaking. Strong local and state governments provide an excellent national laboratory for solutions that work and solutions that fail. Federalism is one of our republic’s strongest assets; we abandon it at our peril, and to the enrichment of rent-seekers with deep pocketbooks.
- Promote solidarity. Civic health follows from proliferating “little platoons” of institutions that cross-cut race, class, economic and ideological lines. Citizens who are well-connected with each other through intermediary organizations or churches tend to experience the solidarity that transcends solipsistic partisanship and generates stronger and more mature social bonds. Communities with higher levels of solidarity tend to yield better long-term outcomes in terms of stronger marriages and two-parent homes, and they do better at avoiding poverty and “diseases of despair.” Solidarity is most at risk from identity politics from both the Left and the Right that would rather position us as collections of labels struggling against the phantoms of “privilege” and “replacement” than as unique citizens equal before the law and each other.
- Reduce tax burdens. The less of a tax burden the average citizen endures, the more of that citizen’s hard-earned money he or she can invest in family, charitable giving or entrepreneurial activities. Families are better positioned to maximize the value of their dollars than are tax assessors and big-government redistributors. The invisible hand, working through millions of individual actors, outperforms the administrative state’s oppressive fist working through dozens of elite institutions.
- Optimize market regulation. The market serves a vital purpose in lowering transaction costs and improving access to information, but the market isn’t an end in itself that ought to be fetishized for its own sake. Free-market policies that lead to adverse economic and sociocultural outcomes for large segments of the population are worth regulatory scrutiny, on the traditional and well-established grounds that both economic externalities and the health of the commons require prudent public oversight. Similarly, well-functioning markets flourish with minimal-necessary regulation. A strongly pro-regulation or anti-regulation stance is less helpful than a minimal-necessary stance that recognizes that markets must serve people and not the other way around, provided that the starting point for any such conversation truly embraces the term minimally necessary.
- Celebrate liberal democracy. The heritage of ordered liberty bequeathed to us by our Founders and the leading lights of the Western world is worth both protecting and advancing. Liberal democracy is an intrinsic good that should be promoted with enthusiasm and defended from its detractors within. In particular, critiques of liberal democracy arising from the heirs to Marx must be fought not only on first principles but also on the grounds that the terrible, bloody history of Marxist-inspired regimes have left tens of millions dead, destitute or depersonalized. Similarly, the move away from liberalism by members of the Right in recent years (e.g., the Catholic Integralist movement or blood-and-soil nationalism of the Alt-Right) ought to be carefully studied and resisted as being inimical to individual flourishing in a free and just market.
- Protect the liberal-democratic order. America isn’t the world’s policeman, but the world is safer when America maintains a strong defense and actively confronts evildoers on the global stage. Our role as the pre-eminent superpower, in an age where “the end of history” now yields to resurgent authoritarianism in Russia and China, requires us to remain vigilant so that liberal democracy can thrive. We must never forget the lessons of the 1930s, when incremental but aggressive actions by Germany and Japan met with weakness until the point of no return. An “America First” mentality undermines the deep fragility of the order forged by two world wars and a cold war—and marks an astonishing refusal to understand the world as it is.
- Encourage the orderly flow of people. As a nation of immigrants, we prosper when people flock to our shining city on a hill. But we rightfully insist that those we welcome must come to our shores in accordance with our laws, and that appropriate protection of our borders and our political culture is a core and just purpose of our government.
- Respect the difference between rights and preferences. Because citizens acting in good faith naturally disagree about matters related to culture and lifestyle, the hand of government should not force people to celebrate others’ cultures, beliefs or practices — especially when such coercion undermines our freedom of worship. In particular, the assertion of new civil rights by elites, unanchored by either the Constitution or statute, undermines the deliberative public process by which emerging virtues and vices resolve into rights (or not-rights) in light of contemporary norms. The assertion of a right in a federal republic requires the broad consent of the people; it’s not appropriate for elites — political, cultural or economic — to masquerade their preferences as rights for favored self-identified minority groups and then berate the people into grudging acquiescence.
- De-politicize the academy. Higher education unlocks a lifetime of economic success, but only if our institutions of higher education do not actively undermine our shared values. The crisis of confidence in liberal democracy as evidenced by nihilism, totalitarianism, radical atheism and identity politics threatens the body politic when these doubts are legitimized or even celebrated in core curricula.
- Ignore the activists. Activism represents the last refuge of cowards and scoundrels. Change the system from within, don’t just change your avatar or join a march or publish an op-ed masquerading as news analysis. In particular, the best response to the Twitter outrage mob is to simply not participate. (That clique is smaller and less important than the shrillness implies.) Ignoring empty activism requires, in particular, great care in the selection of news sources. Modern journalism, as both an industry and as a guardian of the public interest, has deteriorated significantly over the last two generations. It has no replacement but social-media mobs and young activists with bylines. This weakening of institutional journalism — along with the radicalization of curricula — represents a significant threat to the liberal order.
- Defend life. Every life matters, even the ones that haven’t yet experienced the world outside the womb. And even the ones who’ve committed grave crimes against the public order.
- Settle the science. Resist the urge to use science as a political weapon. For just as it’s easy to say that “the science is settled” about climate change, it’s also easy to say that “the science is settled” that chromosomal configuration determines male and female status and “the science is settled” that a human exists before he or she exits the birth canal. Science can inform our understanding of complex social and political issues, but “science” never dictates a political solution to those issues — especially when “science” is alleged to enjoy a progressive political bias.