The Need to Prepare for What You Want

During the past month or so, I concluded a campaign for Congress, wrote a couple of articles about it, submitted a significant scholarly project, and then spoke at one of the big Southern Baptist seminaries.  In between, there was a lot of teaching.

As I stood in front of the seminary audience of what looked like a couple hundred people or so, I felt the challenge.  Felt the necessity of having had to write something that would be meaningful to them.  Felt the obligation to try and keep their interest.  I had written about 6000 words for that purpose.

When you speak to an audience and have about 50 minutes, that can be a big mountain to climb.  It isn’t the same as teaching.  When you teach, you invite the students into conversation (or at least I do) and between the questions and answers 50 minutes can go by quite rapidly.  But when you carry that ball alone (and the audience is grading you instead of receiving a grade from you), it’s a bigger task.

I thought about how much I wanted to speak to audiences like that one when I was younger.  How I wanted to get the attention of groups and have them listen to what I had to say!  Now that I look back, I realize that was a classic example of the immature desire to do something when you aren’t even close to being ready.

I make no claim to being a great speaker.  For example, I don’t have the gift of memorization.  (It was tremendously comforting to me when I learned the same was true of William F. Buckley.)  But I do make a strong effort to develop the content and to really have something to say.  When I was younger, I think I would have felt fantastic about speaking to a big audience all the way up until the moment when I suddenly realized I didn’t have the rhetorical horse to ride.  (The same was true of the first time I tried to write a book.  I suddenly realized that I barely had enough for a chapter!)

I didn’t begin to hit my stride career wise until I was in my mid-thirties.  But all during those earlier years I was reading, thinking, making attempts at writing, learning from wiser men and women, and generally preparing.  I didn’t know whether all the preparation would bear fruit, but it did.  And now, when the time has come that there is some interest I have something to offer.

So, to follow the title of this piece, I want to offer advice to the young (or maybe even the mid-career or the old).  Perhaps you are like me.  Maybe you are that person who didn’t have a clean path to engineering or accounting or nursing or whatever profession where the steps seem fairly clear.  Maybe you have had some ideas about what you want to do with your life, but you have a lot of uncertainty about how to do it.  My advice is to turn preparing for that life into your hobby.  Read, watch, and learn.  Find smaller opportunities to do the things you hope to do on a bigger and possibly professional scale.

If you spend enough time getting ready, you just might have something to offer when a door opens before you.

 

Diary of a Congressional Candidate – Obion County Edition

Last night was the second big candidate forum of the campaign for TN Congressional district 8.  We had thirteen candidates in attendance and 235 people present to hear from us.  There was a straw poll.  Several of the big candidates brought a posse, including staff.

There are a few notable things to tell you.  First, I suspected there would be a question about Trump.  I drew the final answer on that one.  I watched as every candidate before me embraced him.  George Howell, expressed some reservation.  When it came my turn, I just told the audience exactly what I think.  I said that as a person who has spent my life in conservative and pro-life causes, I am incredibly disheartened by his nomination.  In addition, I characterized him as a crony capitalist.  However, I added, I view him as a wild card in comparison with Hillary and that I may end up voting for him in the general election.  Whether that stance alienated people I can’t say, but I suspect I gained ground in terms of voters who feel the same way.

Another question had to do with our likelihood of selling out the district when we go to Washington.  I pointed out that I am a Christian conservative who chose to go into higher education.  Such a move, I said, is either a sign of madness or of the utmost sincerity.  I think it is the latter.  I also noted that I have publicly promised not to become a lobbyist when I’m done.  Instead, I have pledged that I will return to Union University as a professor if they will have me.

We had the opportunity to make closing statements.  I used mine to talk about Nietzsche’s claim that every time a new sanctuary is built, the old one must be shattered.  There is a movement to build a new sanctuary, a secular progressive one, and an effort to destroy the old one, which is Christianity.  I reflected on Christ considering the coin and how he told us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar, but also to God what is God’s.  The soul is for God.  The soul is for God.  I said it twice to get across the reality that Caesar (the government) is overreaching.  It is not entitled to our souls and our consciences.

After we finished, several people came up to me to express their agreement and to thank me for some of the things I’d said.  The straw poll results came in.  Greer (the hometown candidate) won, Kelsey came in second, and Flinn came in third.  All three brought substantial posses with them.  I had just a handful with me.  Despite that, I came in fourth by one vote.  I was one vote behind a candidate with millions of dollars.  And I was ahead of two of the major suburban Memphis candidates.

What this tells me is that the message resonates.  If I can speak with the voters, I can share that message.  The website and facebook pages are the next best thing.  If I sound like your kind of candidate, please help me spread the word.

(I didn’t spend any money on this post, but Paid for by Hunter Baker for Congress.)

Diary of a Congressional Candidate

Last night I had my first real opportunity to participate in a candidate forum.  It was held at Union University, which is my home turf.  The Union University College Republicans hosted the event.

When I arrived, I was surprised to find that a straw poll was being held.  I panicked a little as I had brought with me Andrew Baker (age 13) and Grace Baker (age 11), neither of whom I felt would make sense as straw poll voters.  I considered what a disaster it would be to lose at the place where I teach.

In addition, I had to bribe the kids to sit through the two hour event with the promise to take them to Sonic afterwards.  They won their prize and even provided a little comic relief as Andrew shouted “Amen!” when one candidate said he agreed with me about religious liberty.

I’ll save you the suspense on the straw poll.  I think the students came through for me.  I won.

The event was a “forum,” which translated into each candidate giving a five minute speech and then answering questions in rounds at the end.

It may not surprise you to hear that I left thinking that we could save everyone a lot of time (and money) if we simply sat down for an essay test on the issues of the campaign and then let the voters apply their own grades.  (That’s the kind of answer a professor would give, isn’t it?)  🙂

One candidate promoted the credibility conferred by fundraising.  I wonder what he would have said if I had responded, “The candidate sitting next to you has raised about four times what you have.  Does that mean he is four times as credible?  In fact, should we just forget the forums and debates and put the guy with the best fundraising in the office?”

It’s pretty crazy to be a lifetime observer of politics actually on the stage watching a candidate do one of the things you have noticed in the past.  I’m not naming names because the phenomenon is what’s important.  One candidate clearly had something like a focus-group or poll-tested phrase to describe himself and his record.  He was careful to repeat it several times during the debate.  It reminded me very much of the 2000 election when Al Gore developed tremendous discipline around using the word “lockbox” to refer to his plan for social security and “risky tax scheme” to refer to Bush’s tax cuts.

I talked about the things you would expect me to discuss.  I said there is a civil rights struggle yet to be won, which is for the rights of the unborn.  Hillary Clinton has said the unborn have no constitutional rights.  I pointed out that many great thinkers, including Martin Luther King, Jr. have declared that an unjust law is no law at all.  Roe is an unjust law and must not stand.

I recited a list of the victims of the new sexual orthodoxy:  Brendan Eich, Kelvin Cochran, Eric Walsh, Barronelle Stutzman, David Daleiden, and even the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  Then I launched into a discussion of the aggressive secularism developing among the Fortune 500/DC/Hollywood nexus and how the only way to combat it is with solidarity of the type shown in the examples of the Chick-fil-A firestorm and the attempt to subpoena sermons of Houston pastors.

We covered all kinds of issues during the Q & A, including gay marriage to the consternation of some who complained the issue is “settled.”  The highlight of the evening probably came at the end when we received a question about transgender bathrooms.  George Flinn was unable to attend and sent a proxy.  His proxy was boisterous and loudly declared, “If you have a bathroom in your house, then it’s a transgender bathroom!”  Lots of laughter and a nice way to end.

Information about Hunter Baker for TN Voters

baker union pic

Hunter Baker is an associate professor of political science and university fellow at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. In addition, he serves the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as a research fellow.

Hunter is married to Ruth Baker, M.D. They have two children, Andrew and Grace, who attended Thelma Barker Elementary School and now attend the Augustine School. They are members of Englewood Baptist Church. His father’s family, the Bakers and Johnstons, have lived in Tennessee for over 200 years, which includes Hunter’s grandmother Winnie who turns 100 this spring in Columbia. The Johnstons still occupy the old family farm in Hohenwald near the Natchez trace.

Baker holds a degree in economics and political science (double major, Florida State University) and graduate degrees in public administration (University of Georgia), law (University of Houston), and politics and religion (Baylor University). He has worked as a corporate analyst, a public policy director, and college dean, in addition to his time on faculty.

He is the author of three books (The End of Secularism, Political Thought: A Student’s Guide, and The System Has a Soul), has contributed chapters to several others, and has spoken in venues around the nation (including Hillsdale College and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). Baker has also published widely in both popular and academic outlets including National Review, the Federalist, Touchstone, the Journal of Markets and Morality, and the Journal of Law and Religion. His work won him the Michael Novak Award in religion and liberty given by the Acton Institute.

 

I’m Running for Congress in the 8th District

Baker Outside CFA Jet

UPDATE:  The campaign now has an official website.  You can see it here.

Thanks to my friend, Rod Dreher, the news is out that I am running for the 8th Congressional district seat in West Tennessee.  I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of friendship and goodwill that has arrived from friends and brothers and sisters in Christ in the wake of the news.  Their good opinion and encouragement helps me to walk out on the field and to run the race.

I am not running out of a desire to check a career box.  My goal in life was to write books and to teach and speak.  God has been gracious to allow me to achieve those goals and to enjoy a loving wife and children.  I do not crave office or the difficulties of coordinating a life in Washington, D.C. and a life in Jackson, Tennessee.

I am running because I feel called to do so.  The people in this district hold the same values and beliefs that are dear to me.  I have spent much of my adult life trying to represent their views in the court of public opinion and in academic discussion.  It is important to me that their convictions are well-advocated and strongly defended in the American capitol.  I believe that I am prepared to do that work.

Religious Liberty

As Chief Justice Roberts warned in his dissent to the Obergefell decision, a right not found in the Constitution (gay marriage) is now likely to threaten one that actually is present in the text of the First Amendment.  Religious liberty is already under attack as Christians in the wedding trades are discovering.  But see also non-profit organizations such as the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor.  Without a vigorous defense, it is entirely possible that orthodox Christian organizations will be severely marginalized as part of the non-profit sector in American life.  I think that result is wrong because religious liberty helps us to live together in peace whereas the lack of it puts us into conflict with each other.  It is also wrong because government should try to avoid putting its citizens into a crisis between God and Caesar.  The state must not overreach.

I should add that many of the large corporations in the United States are not friends of religious liberty.  They are not friendly to accommodations for religion and conscience.  Part of that is because they are slaves to elite opinion in many cases.  And part of it is simply in their nature.  Big Business tends to be pretty comfortable with Big Government.

Pro-life

While religious liberty is the issue that most strongly drives my sense that I should run, I will also be as good an ally as the pro-life cause could have.  Likewise, I will be an implacable foe to the agenda of Planned Parenthood.  While I recognize that people of good will believe strongly in abortion rights, we cannot escape the reality that the unborn deserve to be protected as members of the human race and not as merely a part of the mother.

Economic Liberty

Another reason I am running is in an attempt to moderate the appetites of the state.  I look at the virtual printing press of regulations that pour out of Washington and the thousand page bills few can read and understand and see threats to freedom and self-government.  If we make our government too complex, too unwieldy, and too expensive, we will sap the initiative of our people and cause them to wither under the weight of something that overpowers them.  We need a simpler government that does fewer things better.  It should be easy to work, easy to do business, and easy to pay taxes.  Government is first and foremost a hammer.  It is the one entity in our society that operates with a legal monopoly on the use of violence.  We should resort to it as little as possible.  There is good that government can do, but it should rarely be our first answer.

I also believe economic freedom is critical to the future of our young people.  Every year, I watch a new group of graduates leave our university in search of opportunity.  The same process occurs across the globe.  Opportunity tends to shrink as government spending dominates the economy.  The more free and dynamic our economy can be, the more likely it is that the young and generations following them will be able to make a good start in life.

Something We Should Expect from Candidates

Office holding too often becomes a device for generating great fortunes.  We might look to the Clintons as a grand example, but there are many others on both sides of the ideological divide who turn office into millions.  We deserve representatives who do not see Congress as a career or wealth-building opportunity. With my yes being yes and my no being no, I will tell you that I will not go to Congress only to become a lobbyist and influence peddler when I’m done. I will go to defend life, religious liberty, and to moderate the appetites of the state so that freedom and self-government remain.  That will be the whole of my mission.  When I am done, I will return to the district and take up my old life if I am able.

The Thinking Man’s Guide to Bernie’s Socialism

bernie

There are good reasons why Bernie Sanders’ version of socialism is catching fire with a segment of the electorate.  One explanation is that Barack Obama’s much ballyhooed healthcare plan (“the big ****in’ deal” as Joe Biden called it) has turned out to be helpful to many fewer people than expected and more costly to many more than believed.  If clever American entitlement engineering doesn’t work, then why not go for the real deal Canadian or British style?  We also might note that while President Obama has not made great strides in terms of socialism, he has certainly put a friendly face on that kind of thinking throughout his two terms in the White House.  His worldview fits more comfortably in that frame than it does in the portrayal of “rugged individualism” that has often inspired Americans.  We used to applaud Horatio Alger’s rags to riches stories, but today the author’s name is mostly a byword for a cruel hoax.

The young, in particular, are interested because they are struggling with a deck that seems to be stacked against them.  Compare Generation X vs. today’s group on education.  My state school tuition was a little over $1000 a year in the late 1980’s.  Their rate is about 10 times that, far more than the typical inflation for other items.  They get out of school with debt.  In addition to their own monetary baggage, they enter into a political community hampered by tremendous leverage of its own assets.  Many states are virtually arrested by their wrong-headed pension deals with state employees (which are full of moral hazard, but that’s another article).  Those obligations grow to unmanageable levels.  And to the extent that the crisis states could have obviated the obligations by prioritizing funding, they instead assumed unreasonable rates of return and increased benefits, thereby worsening the problem.  In addition, the national debt has exploded to approximately $20 trillion.  Social Security is not on a sound footing thanks to regular raiding of the trust fund and a bad funding mechanism.

What are Americans to do?  Bernie Sanders emerges with a seemingly simple answer in the Willie Stark style.  He proposes to take the accumulated cream of American wealth and then to spread it out nice and thin so everybody gets a taste.  He’ll do that with taxes concentrated on the fat cats.  In so doing, he will pay for our underfunded obligations, solve the problem of student debt for higher education, force businesses to pay a wage dictated by politics, and create new entitlements to make life better for everyone.  Attractive though it may seem, there are some serious problems with his answer.

Before I get to the critique of Bernie’s viewpoint, I want to be clear about something.  His socialism is definitely of the half-hearted variety.  Strong socialism would mean government ownership of the means of production.  Britain has some of that and has had more of it in the past.  The state owns the apparatus of health care, for example.  Before Margaret Thatcher, the state also owned industries such as coal production.  To my knowledge, Bernie Sanders does not yearn for the state to own production.  If anything, I think the left has learned that actually owning and running things is a big hassle and entails getting blamed when things are done poorly.  Instead, he simply wants to tax business at a very high rate and tell it what to do whenever the government would like to dictate, such as with wages, labor conditions, maternity/paternity leave, etc.  This model fits with what is often called either democratic socialism or social democracy.

Now, why do I think Bernie’s approach is a bad idea?  There are several problems.  I do not propose to give an exhaustive account, but I will offer a number of cautions.

My first critique relates to democratic socialism’s methodology.  The old socialists had to actually run factories, manage workforces, and deliver goods the public wanted and needed.  Generally speaking, they were not very good at that job.  The variety, quality, accessibility, and desirability of goods they produced was poor.  You need only speak to the clients of those systems to know that.  The social democrats seek to solve that problem by permitting private business, while exerting control over it in an ideological fashion.  We already do this to some degree with our extensive regulatory state.  But Sanders proposes a much higher degree of regulation.  Such a relationship encourages the state to be largely unaccountable.  It is permitted to impose whatever costs it wishes, while simultaneously having essentially no responsibility to actually deliver the goods.  The result is the exertion of power in a wishful and largely infantile fashion.  Give me what I want and you worry about the consequences that follow.

More deeply, I question the easy assumption that the state has a right to act in this fashion.  One of the reasons I am passionate about teaching politics is that I am eager to convince students to think about whether such exercises of power are really legitimate.  Okay, let’s imagine that I have a business located within a society and which produces a product which has value.  What is it about that situation that gives the government the right to place a nearly unlimited potential set of demands upon me?  I look back to the HHS mandate, which has sought to provide contraception to all female employees by simply requiring employers to provide it.  Here’s a novel idea for the state:  why don’t you impose the taxes directly upon the public and then pay for the contraception yourself?

It makes little sense to say that simply because a business operates within a community it should have to meet the many conditions government would seek to impose upon it.  May we demand a business not generate adverse costs for the community, such as pollution?  Absolutely.  But let’s scale back to the individual worker level.  May we insist the enterprise serve a nutritious lunch that follows some version of the dietary pyramid?  No.  Why?  Because employees are adult human beings who do all kinds of things such as make contracts, purchase automobiles, raise children, etc.  They can provide for themselves with the income they make by creating value for their employer.  Certainly, they can figure out their own lunch situation (and contraception habits, too).  The same applies to many other aspects of life.  Would we like to simply dictate that some person or organization with money and resources provide for our needs?  Sure.  But that’s not really a free, adult way of doing things.

In addition to the problem of allowing the government to simply impose the will of a public with potentially bottomless appetites upon the productive sector, there is the issue of taxation.  Ideally, taxation should apply as broadly as possible at as low a rate as possible.  The only time you’d want to tax goods or services differently would be in an attempt to stifle them.  For example, high taxes on smoking tobacco, alcohol, or goods from another country might all be designed to curb our consumption of those things.  If you fail, at least you get the money!  The eager consumers of Bernie’s socialism have it in their minds that they will continue to pay very little, while the fortunes of the dodgy and suspect CEO’s of the world offer an endless bounty that may be tapped to cover all needs.  They’ll drop an extra private jet from the fleet and the rest of us will have health care!  What wise king wouldn’t promote such a deal?

Somehow, the American left has developed the idea that both great progress and a moral statement can be made by placing high taxes on wealthy persons and businesses.  The difficulties with that approach are almost too many to catalog.  But consider a few.  For one thing, there isn’t enough money in the honey pot.  There are some spectacular fortunes out there, but once you start dividing them up by the hundreds of millions and consider the negative impact on incentives, you realize that Margaret Thatcher is correct to say that you eventually run out of other people’s money.

But also take into account that individuals and businesses are mobile.  They can move.  This is why the high tax dreams of so many “progressive” mayors often fail.  The big money moves outside the city limits.  The same can happen with a state or even a nation.  Corporate inversions are turning American companies into Irish ones, for example, with substantial benefit in terms of lower taxation.  What policymakers like Bernie Sanders need to understand is that taxation is a price like any other price.  If people or organizations are not willing to pay it, then they will pay a lower price offered by another provider.  Nations, in reality, are just like states, cities, and even businesses.  They provide value at a certain rate.  If that price is too high, then people and organizations go shopping.  Pay close attention because I have just explained why some countries have to build walls to keep their people in, rather than building them to keep people out.

Take a moment to consider the “moral” victory of a 35% corporate tax.  It seems obvious that we could stop the corporate inversions tomorrow if we were to impose a 25% tax instead of a 35% one.  But somehow there is something morally significant about the 35% rate.  It is as if the businesses are being punished for doing something bad and must not be allowed to escape that punishment.  If the issue were really about helping to pay the bills of the government, it seems one would prefer the rate that will actually bring more revenue instead of encouraging avoidance.  Remember, tax rates are prices.  If you can’t find people willing to pay your price for a product (in this case, government), then you have to control your costs and reduce the price.  Put government services on sale and you might find more takers willing to pay for them.

There is an answer to the problem I have raised.  One might object that companies should be more patriotic (an unusual claim from the left, but still!) and therefore should not shop around for the best deal when it comes to taxation.  There is a further problem in that today’s corporations compete internationally.   If tax policy threatens to make a corporation less competitive than some of its peers, it will either lose business or find a way to adapt.  Corporate inversions are a way to adapt.  Even a company people on the left would consider “enlightened,” such as Apple Computer run by Tim Cook, operates in such a way as to protect its revenue for investment rather than confiscation.  If Bernie Sanders were to win and have his way in policy, he would have to figure out how to confine our companies to the U.S. and then to protect them from international competition.  That’s a pretty tall order and one that is unlikely to have good results.

But what about the Scandinavian countries with their purportedly wonderful experience with socialism?  I think there are a couple of things to say there.  First, the enhanced welfare states of the Nordic countries owe something (as do all of our welfare programs) to an earlier time in which we were demographically blessed.  We had a post WWII abundance of children to sustain a population of elderly that was much smaller.  When the math is on your side and you have a very large young, healthy, and working population, then you can afford to provide more for those who need it.  Unfortunately, if you look at something like social security, we are coming to a place of having two people working for each beneficiary as opposed to a time when you might have more like 10-12 people working for each beneficiary.  Second, and following the first, the Scandinavian countries are no longer pursuing democratic socialism with the vigor they once did.  The reason is simple sustainability and affordability.  Finally, though not conclusively, the Scandinavian countries face the same issue the rest of us do, which is international competition.  The reality is that the old model may have been a demographic blip.  There is a sense in which Bernie Sanders’ view of the Nordic nations may be trapped in an earlier time, which would not be surprising given his age.  I’m 45 and I think music stopped in the late 1980’s.  He may be suffering from the same thing with regard to public policy.

There are other reasons available to combat Bernie Sanders’ brand of social democracy, but I think the ones I have offered help to make the evaluation of it a bit more sober.  The reality is that his policy is more of an anesthesia to ease the pain of modern life as opposed to a tonic designed to improve our prognosis.  What we need to do is to make it easy to do business, easy to work, easy to pay taxes, and easy to collect them.  We also need to figure where it makes sense to have government spend and where it doesn’t.  It’s no accident that things individuals pay for themselves, such as technology and elective medical procedures (like LASIK), continue to get better and cheaper, while those the government subsidizes like education and health care, become incredibly expensive and without the rate of improvement.

Bernie Sanders is right that there is a problem.  If he weren’t, there wouldn’t be so many people listening to him.  But his solutions are outdated and have a mixed track record at best.