Are We Serious?

In the wake of their resounding victories in New Hampshire, the excitement emanating from the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns is palpable. Both (old, white) men are populist leaders. Both have built their campaigns on the promise of what they can do for the people, though in somewhat different ways – Sanders by getting the government to fund everything from your health care to your college education, Trump by using his force of personality to revive the economy and stop illegal immigration.

Even if you disagree with Trump and Sanders, which I emphatically do, it’s not hard to understand their appeal. Both men are unapologetic “straight talkers” who claim to be beyond the influence of big corporations and their party’s establishment. In fact, both men only recently joined the parties they are now vying to represent.

I get it. People are fed up with Washington. They’re fed up with Wall Street. They’re tired of both parties, let down by Bush and Obama. Voters are sending the message that they will not be controlled. They will not dutifully line up behind their party’s Chosen One. This year, people are choosing passion over pragmatism.

And perhaps this is not an entirely bad thing. Party leaders who would prefer to bypass the people will now have to persuade them. In a democracy, this is where all power originally resides. But the same can be said for a lynch mob. What keeps our system of government from descending into mob rule, anarchy, and despotism? Respect for the rule of law, certainly, but also the virtues of moderation, prudence, and humility. In embracing Trump and Sanders, I fear we have abandoned both.

My question for America after New Hampshire is, are we serious? Do we realize that we are choosing someone to do a job here, the most important job in the world? This is not reality TV, and it’s not a popularity contest. We are not deciding the next American Idol here, but the leader of the free world.

The next President of the United States will have to work with Congress to pass legislation that the American people will accept. Not a passionate quarter of the electorate, but the whole country. You might love the idea of socialized medicine, but guess what? The rest of the country doesn’t. You may want to deport all twelve million illegal immigrants currently residing here, but this is never going to happen.

The main task of the next president will be to deal with the international crises that have been accumulating over the past seven years, as well as any others that may arise. These include, but are not limited to: the Syrian Civil War, the spread of ISIS, deteriorating security in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russian and Chinese aggression, the threat of a nuclear Iran, saber-rattling in North Korea, and European democracies threatening to buckle under the weight of millions of Muslim refugees.

And yet it is on foreign policy that both Trump and Sanders are at their weakest. Trump offers few specifics beyond “getting along” with Putin, killing the families of terrorists, and doing “much worse” than waterboarding. For all his tough trade talk on China, he erroneously identified them as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Sanders is even worse, preferring to ignore foreign policy altogether. I don’t doubt he would dissolve the military entirely if it meant being able to fund his domestic agenda. When Sanders does address the issue of global terrorism, it is to utter something truly idiotic, like the claim that ISIS is the result of climate change.

I know that a good chunk of the American electorate would prefer to ignore the rest of the world and focus on things here at home. I recently had a Bernie Sanders supporter tell me that ISIS doesn’t matter because more people die from car accidents than terrorist attacks. But whether we like to think about it or not, these are dangerous times. In an era of globalization and terrorism, the distinction between domestic and foreign policy is increasingly blurred.

Just think beyond the rallies and debates and campaign trail euphoria, and imagine an actual Trump or Sanders presidency. Do you really want to see either of these men in the Oval Office? Do you want them representing America, negotiating with Congress, and handling all the inevitable crises and surprises of a presidential term?

I realize the Democrats don’t have much of a choice here, as a Hillary Clinton presidency would be no better. Their rejection of Jim Webb, the only Democratic candidate qualified to do the job, is truly disturbing. But Republicans still have options. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are conservative alternatives to Trump, though I still don’t see how Cruz gets elected. Even Jeb Bush and John Kasich, though too moderate for my liking, could do the job of commander-in-chief.

You wouldn’t choose a doctor, a pilot, or even a dog-walker on the basis of their rhetoric alone. Why are we treating this election with less seriousness?

Time For Republicans to Rally Around an Experienced Candidate

I wrote my first analysis of the 2016 Republican Primary race back in early August, when most Americans were still getting to know the candidates in the respective fields. In the roughly ten weeks since then, we’ve seen three debates: two Republican and one Democrat. Two Republican candidates have dropped out of the race, including an old favorite (Rick Perry) and an early leader (Scott Walker). Now there are reports that Jim Webb is bowing out of the contest for the Democratic nomination.

Yet for all the ups and downs of the campaign, there has been remarkably little movement in the polls. Hillary Clinton continues to tower over the rest of the Democratic pack, despite her many scandals and complete lack of authenticity on the campaign trail. In the recent CNN debate, she made her competitors seem small. None would challenge Her Highness, save the embarrassing and ineffective Lincoln Chafee. On the Republican side, Donald Trump continues to lead the still-overcrowded Republican field, to the bewilderment of the pundits and the dismay of the Republican establishment. Party insiders who scoffed at a Trump candidacy weeks ago are now beginning to entertain the possibility that he just might win. In fact, he will win unless Republicans can rally around a compelling alternative.

With that being said, I’d like to offer my thoughts on the best course of action for Republicans, as well as some general observations on the current state of American politics.

First, the political landscape has changed over the past decade. We used to have a center-left Democratic Party and a center-right Republican Party. The Democrats’ embrace of socialist Bernie Sanders and rejection of centrist Jim Webb is proof that the center-left element of the Democratic Party is gone. In 2008, Barack Obama became the most liberal politician to ever occupy the White House. In 2015, Democrats are debating whether to run slightly to his left (the Hillary approach) or way to his left (the Sanders approach). Keep in mind that Clinton ran to Obama’s right in 2008, just seven years ago.

Three factors help explain this change. First, Obama’s failed policies have been disastrous for centrist Democrats, now an endangered species. After disastrous midterms in 2010 and 2014, most of them are gone. In fact, Joe Manchin of West Virginia may be the last one standing. Second, the only remaining Democrats represent reliably liberal districts or states where they have more to fear from a primary challenge than a candidate from the other party (the same being true for most Republicans). Politicians can now take what would have once been considered extreme positions without fear of voter reprisal. In fact, they have more to fear from appearing too eager to compromise with the opposition. Remember when politicians used to brag about “reaching across the aisle?” Yeah…

Third, Democrats have stopped even competing for working class whites without college degrees, the party’s former bread and butter. They have surrendered the political center in favor of a demographic strategy that relies on rising numbers of Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, and young people, cobbled together with urban-dwelling, over-educated white liberals, to carry them at the national level.

But while the Democrats’ identity as a hard-Left party is settled, the Republican future is less certain. Moderates like John Boehner and Jeb Bush would like to see the Republican Party remain center-Right or center-center-Right: rejecting the Democrats’ identity politics and European-style socialism, but not the premise of big government intervention in areas like the economy and education. On the other hand, conservative insurgents would like to do to the Republican Party what the Democrats have done to theirs, eschewing centrist compromise in favor of ideological purity. Conservative frustration with the Republican establishment is certainly warranted, and this intra-Republican rivalry is in many ways a sign of health, but it carries its share of risks. If Republicans can find a way to bridge the right wing of their party with what remains of the political center, while making modest inroads with Millennials and minorities, they beat the Democrats in a landslide. If not, the Republican Party may be headed for a messy divorce.

This brings me to my second point – the state of the Republican race. In August, I wrote favorably about the inclusion of “outsiders” Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Since then, I’ve had a bit of a change of heart that I think is (or will soon become) fairly typical of Republican primary voters. I now believe that in order to beat Hillary Clinton—who, barring the late entry of Joe Biden, will be the Democratic nominee—Republicans need to nominate someone with political experience. I was never a fan of Donald Trump, and that much has not changed. But if I can rationally conclude that Ben Carson, a man I personally respect and admire, is not qualified to be president, can Trump supporters not do the same?

Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of a non-lawyer, non-politician running for office. If a successful businesswoman, doctor, teacher, or actor wants to run for senator or governor or delegate, more power to them. This is government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as envisioned by our founders. From there, they can move up to the national stage, like Ronald Reagan did in 1980.

But when you are seeking the highest office in the land, isn’t it nice to have at least some experience running a government? Isn’t it important to have at least some record that voters can judge against the soaring rhetoric of the campaign trail? Expertise in one area does not necessarily translate into expertise or even competence in another. Michael Phelps might be the best swimmer of all-time, but there’s a reason he’s not pitching in the MLB. Tom Brady might be an elite quarterback, but no one is asking him to run the point in the NBA.

In 2008, America was so disgusted with George W. Bush and “politics as usual” that we elected a man who just a few years before was a back-bencher in the Illinois state senate. But lest we heap all our scorn on Democrats, let’s not forget that Republicans also celebrated the nomination of Sarah Palin, an obscure governor who turned out to not have a clue about anything beyond the narrow range of issues affecting Alaskan politics. Both cases were the equivalent of promoting jayvee quarterbacks straight to the NFL. To use Bill Clinton’s term, we put a complete amateur in the Oval Office, trusting that his inspiring biography and professorial eloquence would compensate for a complete lack of experience or accomplishment.

The results speak for themselves: disaster for the economy, which would be much worse if the Fed hadn’t kept interest rates at near zero for his entire term; disaster on healthcare, as Obamacare enters its predicted “death spiral;” disaster for average Americans who have seen their jobs disappear or their wages drop, and disaster in foreign policy as the Middle East falls apart, threatening to take the rest of the world with it. America appears weak and indecisive on the world stage, complacent and divided at home. Yes, we face significant challenges that would exist with or without President Obama, but it didn’t have to be this way. Not only has our country fallen deeper into the hole, we have lost precious time to right the course.

So, let’s consider the Republican candidates.

Fiorina and Carson, while compelling, are not qualified to lead the free world. This should go without saying, but neither is Donald Trump. Of the three, I would trust Fiorina the most to stand up to Vladimir Putin, but I have no idea how she would actually implement her domestic agenda, as there is no political record available for me to scrutinize.

Pataki, Graham, Santorum, and Gilmore remain irrelevant. Jindal has the vision and experience, but not the gravitas or political savvy. Huckabee was never a great national candidate, and his time has passed.

This leaves John Kasich, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio as the only five serious contenders. But Kasich, Bush, and even Christie are unlikely to inspire the conservative base, while Cruz is unacceptable to the establishment center. I would put any of these four men against Hillary Clinton, but with reservations in each case. Kasich has nothing to offer social conservatives at a time when they are on the ropes. Cruz has alienated his own party, not a recipe for success for any candidate. Christie has Bridge-gate, and Bush carries more baggage than the rest of the field put together on account of his brother. In this anti-establishment climate, America’s appetite for political dynasties is greatly diminished; Republicans should leave this liability to the Democrats.

Now we’re down to one man: Marco Rubio. He is young, but experienced. He has had enough time to make mistakes (immigration reform), and the humility to learn from them. He can excite conservatives without frightening the establishment class, whose support will be needed to take down Clinton. He is not the perfect candidate, but such a man does not exist. The best the Democrats have been able to dig up so far against him is that his wife got some parking tickets and he bought an expensive boat. This, compared to a Democratic frontrunner whose spouse associates with known sexual predators and who would likely be facing jail time for violating federal law if her last name didn’t place her beyond its reach.

Rubio is likeable and competent: a good fundraiser, debater, and campaigner. He might not be your favorite candidate, or occupy the top slot of your “dream ticket,” but is there anyone you would rather pit against Hillary in a one-on-one debate? Would you rather Donald Trump insult her appearance, or Ben Carson put her to sleep?

No other candidate can articulate an optimistic, conservative agenda with Rubio’s combination of nuance, clarity, and passion. If Republicans are going to win in 2016, they need to unite the political right and center against a Democrat who will be running to the Far Left. Trump, Carson, and Cruz supporters can throw up their hands and say “it shouldn’t be this way,” but that doesn’t change the fact that it is this way. Politics is about more than lofty rhetoric and personality; it is the art of the possible. Our Founding Fathers devised a political system in which compromise is necessary to accomplish anything; whatever our personal beliefs, we should have the maturity to accept this. The contrast between the two parties has never been so clear, and the stakes have never been so high.

Time to Retire the 77 Cents Myth

“Women make just seventy-seven cents for every dollar men earn.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this figure quoted as evidence of workplace discrimination: from my Facebook newsfeed, to my classroom, to the State of the Union Address. I am sure we will hear it many more times in the run-up to the 2016 presidential contest, as the mythic “war on women” has proven such a convenient tactic for avoiding the real issues.

Wage equality seems to be one of those topics where facts do not matter. Evidence and logic do not matter. We are not supposed to think too hard about this, or analyze what other factors might explain the slight difference in earnings between men and women who actually perform the same job with the same level of experience. All that matters to the politicians and activists who quote this figure is that we embrace the narrative that our society is so deeply sexist that the only way to ensure equality for women is through the creation of cumbersome new laws and regulations.

Sorry, but I’m just not buying it.

I know women face obstacles in the workforce. I’ve experienced them myself. I know women are more likely to choose lower-paying careers than are men. I have done this myself. I know women still feel slighted or underestimated on occasion because of their gender. I have felt this way myself. But I refuse to believe in a “glass ceiling” of lingering prejudice keeping me from reaching my dreams. I refuse to believe that my worth as a person is best measured by the amount of dollars another person is willing to pay me to do a job. Not only are these ideas false, they are also deeply harmful to the women and girls who might actually internalize them.

The truth is, women in western democracies have experienced remarkable gains in the last century. In countries like the United States, women now have the same legal rights as men, including the right to vote, own property, and make contracts. Women have the same access to education as men, including access to technical and medical careers. Actual, real-life women have taken advantage of these freedoms to achieve incredible success. Oprah Winfrey, Angela Merkel, and Beyoncé are among the wealthiest, most powerful, and most influential people on the planet. If there really is a “glass ceiling,” perhaps someone forgot to tell them.

Women do face tremendous prejudice and abuse, but mostly in the less democratic nations of the developing world. In Yemen, a woman is considered only half a witness and cannot legally leave the house without her husband’s permission. In Saudi Arabia and Morocco, rape victims can be charged with the crime of fornication. In China, millions of women are subjected to forced abortions every year, a fact that likely contributes to their extremely high rate of female suicide. China is the only country (with the exception of the tiny nation of Sao Tome and Principe) where the rate of suicide is higher for women than men, with one report putting it three times as high. Despite having only 19% of the female population worldwide, China accounts for 55% of all female suicides. Millions of rural Chinese women have used pesticides to end their own lives. And let’s not forget the 200 million women killed in the womb by sex-selective abortion worldwide. These are the figures that should outrage us, not the misleading 77 cents statistic.

Like most of the “evidence” used to support the idea that the United States economy is still deeply sexist, the 77 cents figure uses some pretty misleading methodology. It comes from comparing the average earnings of all full-time women against the average earnings of all full-time men, regardless of education, occupation, or experience. When these important factors are taken into account, the actual “gap” shrinks to about 95 cents on the dollar. For further sources debunking the 77 cents myth, see here, here, or here.

Despite all this evidence, President Obama still used the 77 cents line in his State of the Union Address, earning a rating of “dubious” from Fact Checker. Bernie Sanders became the latest politician to deploy this line for political purposes, using the revised 78 cents figure. And I’m sure we can expect Hillary Clinton to make this and other ill-supported claims of rampant discrimination as she campaigns for the White House primarily on the basis of her gender. (Ironically, Clinton and Obama both pay their female staffers less.)

Women do earn less on average than men, but this is largely due to factors other than sexism. For starters, women tend to choose lower-paying majors and careers, like social work and education. Even women who enter higher-paying careers like medicine tend work fewer hours and choose less lucrative specialties than their male counterparts, resulting in lower salaries.

Women also take off more time from work to have and raise children. Motherhood continues to present obstacles to women’s career prospects, much more so than fatherhood. The conflict between having children and a successful career isn’t just socially constructed; it is biological. Women are the ones who have to be pregnant for nine months, go through the physical exertion of having a baby, and then (let’s face it) be the primary caregiver for their infant. Even if men wanted to, they could not become pregnant, give birth, or breastfeed infants. Someone has to do the tough work of continuing the human species, and that task largely falls on women. More time off from work means fewer opportunities for promotion. Even after the pregnancy and infancy stages, women with children are more likely to value jobs offering greater flexibility and shorter hours so they can better meet the needs of their families. These jobs tend to pay less.

But it’s not all about babies. Studies show women and men tend to have somewhat different values in terms of employment. According to one survey of 1,000 workers, “male workers regard pay, benefits, authority, status and power noticeably more than do female workers. Women placed their greatest workplace values on relationships, respect, communication, fairness, equity, collaboration, and work-family balance.” My guess is even women without children are likely to have these slightly different career priorities. Anecdotally, most of the workaholics I know are men, but most of the women I know seem to understand the importance of balancing work and life.

Is any of this really such a bad thing? Should we discourage women from choosing lower-paying careers where they feel they are making a difference, or taking jobs with more time off to enjoy recreation, community, and family—all in the name of gender equality? If a woman wants to dedicate her life to climbing the heights of the corporate ladder, by all means—let her do it, and don’t treat her any differently. But most of us also want other things, and those other things should be respected, if not equally compensated with our more work-oriented counterparts.

What should be done to help women’s economic prospects?

First, stop blaming everything on sexism. Don’t turn us into a victim group. This doesn’t help anyone, including women who might be discouraged or embittered. Where there is evidence of actual discrimination or sexual harassment, existing laws are sufficiently strong to protect female employees. The beauty of the free market is that in the long run, prejudice does not pay. If a woman thinks she is being paid less than what she is worth, she should: a) ask persuasively for a raise (something women are four times less likely to do), b) find a company willing to pay her what she is worth, or c) start her own company where she can fully control her own salary.

Second, if we are really interested in fighting sexism, we can start by putting human rights back on the table in our relationship with China, something Obama and Clinton have reversed. We need to do more to stand up for the rights of women around the world, including the unborn.

Third, we must be careful to consider the unintended consequences of any law or policy that overburdens employers in the name of being “family-friendly.” Chile recently passed a law requiring employers to provide working mothers with childcare, and as a result women’s salaries declined between 9% and 20%. Consider the following cautionary tale from Spain, which passed a law giving workers with children under seven the right to work part-time:

Over the next decade, companies were 6 percent less likely to hire women of childbearing age compared with men, 37 percent less likely to promote them and 45 percent more likely to dismiss them, according to a study led by Daniel Fernandez-Kranz, an economist at IE Business School in Madrid. The probability of women of childbearing age not being employed climbed 20 percent. Another result: Women were more likely to be in less stable, short-term contract jobs, which are not required to provide such benefits.

“One of the unintended consequences of the law has been to push women into the lower segment of the labor market with bad-quality, unprotected jobs where their rights cannot be enforced,” he said.

Make it more costly to hire women, and fewer women will be hired; the ones who are will be paid less.

Fourth, there is another reason women earn less than men, and that is that they are disproportionately hurt by out-of-wedlock births and divorce. 40.9 percent of female-headed families with children live in poverty, while the poverty rate of married families with children is just 8.8%. This is just further evidence that the sexual revolution has been a disaster for women and children. Reducing these causes of female poverty would require strengthening a culture of marriage, which unfortunately does not seem likely to happen in the near-future. In the meantime, expecting women to play the roles of both primary caregiver and primary breadwinner dooms many to dead-end jobs, and their families suffer alongside them.

In conclusion, there are several things we can and should do to help women succeed economically. But the seventy-seven cents line exaggerates the severity of the problem and points us in the wrong direction for answers. We should encourage women to consider more lucrative majors and careers, and to start their own businesses, but only if this is what they want. We should teach women to be more assertive, to “lean in” as the expression goes, but only if they are comfortable with the costs of putting career before family and leisure. We should value the non-monetary contributions made by so many women to their communities, especially those made by stay-at-home moms.

We should not sit around waiting for things to be completely fair and equal because they never will be. Studies have also shown that short men tend to earn less than their taller counterparts. Do we need special initiatives to help them succeed? Should employers be required to hire a quota of men under 5’10”? In 2012, men also accounted for 92% of workplace deaths. Is this the product of discrimination, or simply different occupational choices? Here’s a crazy idea: people should be paid according to their responsibilities and contributions– which are most often the results of individual priorities and decisions– even if this leads to statistical discrepancies between groups.