Robert Fellner has an interesting piece on the GOP’s platform plank to resist the expansion of on-line gambling:
The stated justification for this horribly intrusive, un-Constitutional, un-American, nanny-state action that the most hardcore Progressive would be proud of, is that “compulsive gambling is a serious disease” blah blah blah, Why is there no call to ban all forms of poker? Or all gambling? Or what about tobacco? Or alcohol? Is alcoholism not a serious disease? What about high-fat diets? Red-meat, perhaps?
Although I wouldn’t agree this is “Unconstitutional,” (gaming has always been regulated, and expanding online poker necessarily entails dealing with those regulations on an interstate and international basis, which I think comfortably falls within the Commerce Clause power), I agree with the sentiment. We’re $16,000,000,000,000 in debt, and THIS is what we think the Feds should spend time on? Come on.
Eugene Volokh has similar thoughts on the platform’s urge to crack down on porn:
How can the government’s policy possibly achieve its stated goals, without creating an unprecedentedly intrusive censorship machinery, one that’s far, far beyond what any mainstream political figures are talking about right now?
(Volokh’s post is an awesome exercise in, “OK, let’s game this out – how do we actually meet your goal, and do you really like where this leads?” – a skill far too few policy makers have.)
The problem with planks like this has nothing to do with your stance on Gambling or porn. Rather, it’s the Rubicon that must be crossed to get there. It’s like motorcycle helmet laws – once the individual health decisions of individuals (or their souls) become justification for government action, there is literally no intrusion into your life that government can’t justify.
I must differ sharply with Mr. Fellner, though, in his argument that this somehow makes the GOP “no different” than the Democrats. The differences between the philosophies of the parties – and their candidates – is as vast as it’s ever been this year. While Republicans have hardly been fiscal saints, there is simply no comparison to the monetary recklessness of the current administration and its Chief Obstructor who leads the Senate these days.
Fellner gives far too much weight to the importance social issues play in ANY election, much less in this one. Really – does anyone think Republicans will ACTUALLY “get into the bedroom” in any substantive way? Abortion will still be legal in 2016 no matter who wins this race. Porn will still be widely available, and I suspect you will be able to lose vast sums of money over the internet by the end of it, too. The only party who has a realistic chance of actually regulating your bedroom activity is the Democrats, because thanks to Obamacare every single health decision you make (including reproductive health) is now subject to government review and regulation, if not now, than in the future on a bureaucrat’s whim. I think one of the biggest blind spots of any Libertarian is that they make the social stances of the GOP much larger in their minds than they actually are, either in importance to most Republicans or in terms of actually ever becoming policy.
Platforms are a good communication tool between the party faithful and various candidates. But really – when was the last time the inclusion or exclusion of one platform plank or another make a whit of difference in a policy outcome, where all else was equal? And in Nevada, both Dean Heller and Governor Sandoval have very clearly expressed their disagreements with the anti-online gaming platform plank, and I doubt very much that either of them see the plank as a hindrance to them – they are independent contractors working for their constituents, and that isn’t going to change because a committee in Tampa suggested they act otherwise. And there are plenty of other planks in the GOP platform that I think Fellner can find agreeable – planks far more likely to actually result in policy change.
But he’s right to warn that “keeping children safe from porn and poker!” is not the winning argument in a year when un- and underemployment is over 23 million people. There was a reason Rick Santorum isn’t the nominee this year, and all of our candidates should remember it when deciding just how closely to the official platform they feel compelled to hew.