The $1.05 Farce

A few summers ago I interned with a small, political nonprofit in the area of Richmond Virginia.  For lack of a better term, I was “campaign muscle”, which meant most of my work consisted of mailing literature, making calls, and toting heavy carts of boxes to the local post office. My boss had formerly managed Dave Brat’s campaign which ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and was a man of knowledge beyond his years. He had a habit of mentioning little “campaign truths” to me, one sentence at a time. As I taped envelopes poorly he would look up from whatever he was doing at his desk and say something like, “Understand, it costs us about 3 times more to change someone's mind than it does to get those who already agree with us to vote.” Then he would return to his graphs and charts.

I was reminded again of this “campaign truth” while observing the March For Our Lives a few weeks ago. Students and Marchers wore pins with “$1.05” written on them, to protest, as David Hogg remarked, how much senator Marco Rubio took from the NRA “for every student's life in Florida.”  

Their indictment however, is ignorant of how lobbying actually works. A similar principle to the “campaign truth” any manager or grassroots activist worth their salt knows, also applies to how interest groups choose to support or oppose politicians. Strictly speaking, it is so terribly expensive to change minds, that in order to remain competitive, identifying allies and energizing them is paramount. This is part of why, for example, Planned Parenthood doesn’t send mailers to social conservatives, even those who are less staunch than your textbook March for Life attendee. In other words, it isn’t as if Senator Rubio decided to support gun rights as a result of NRA funds, the NRA chose to fund him because of his support for gun rights.

Inherent to the “$1.05 per child” line is a nasty little piece of subversion; the implication that Senator Rubio cannot sincerely hold the views he espouses. In actuality, there is no evidence that Rubio would relinquish his support for gun rights whether or not he received funding. He has defended the Second Amendment for his entire political career. While there have certainly been morally ambiguous politicians who shift positions based on populist change or new veins of funding, Rubio’s steadfast views suggest he is not one of them.

The ability of Americans to have vastly different perspectives on important issues condemns the shortsightedness of David Hogg and other Marchers. In order for debate to be constructive, both sides must understand that the other is arguing in good faith. Conservatives shouldn’t suggest that liberal politicians are really only concerned about their Planned Parenthood dollars, and liberals shouldn’t argue that conservatives care just about the gun lobby. Assume that the other side is genuine in their disagreements. Assume that their contentions are just as heartfelt as your own. The country will be better for it.

For those interested in this sort of thing, check out guest Charles C.W. Cooke on Slate’s “The Gist” podcast from this week. Or National Review’s “The Editors” gun control episode.