In our continued effort to explore thoughts on federalism and the Constitution with prominent political leaders, we reached to Ben Howe. Mr. Howe is a writer and filmmaker who gained attention late in 2010 for a series of politically charged videos that went viral and helped him launch his production company Mister Smith Media, which was later renamed Howe Creative. Prior to the election in 2016, Mr. Howe and his team released the controversial crowd-funded documentary, The Sociopath, currently distributed as part of RedBarre Media’s film catalogue. In addition to filmmaking, Howe is a Senior Contributing Editor at RedState.com, and has written guest columns at The Atlantic and Buzzfeed. He is currently writing a book titled “The Immoral Majority” (Published by Harper Collins and slated for release in early 2018) on the ever lowering standards of the evangelical right in their quest for Republican victory. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The Blaze TV as well as a number of online and radio outlets while engaging a large audience daily through his immensely popular twitter feed.
We are incredibly thankful to Mr. Howe for taking the time to answer questions for our members and our readers. We think you will enjoy his insightful responses.
- Tell us about your journey into political activism. What prompted you to get involved in politics in the first place?
- I’ve always been very politically-minded. Throughout my childhood and even during my (tumultuous) teenage years, I was fiercely Republican. My brother, Caleb Howe, started writing for the front page at RedState.com in 2008 or so, and he encouraged me to write more as well. Eventually I also landed on the front page of RedState. Through it all I was making videos, many of which involved going to marches, interviewing people, and then making videos out of the content. Before I knew it I had people asking me to make videos for them, was getting invited to speak at gatherings and conferences and doing interviews on television. I’m surprised at how it all turned out honestly, I didn’t expect for my career to become politics but it did, and as frustrating as it can be at times, I feel well suited for it.
- Do you have any advice for citizens who want to make a difference but don’t have the connections to run for office?
- You can do this in several ways. You could do it at the party level by becoming a Precinct Committeeman. Not only would you have the opportunity to work in your local party to nominate conservatives but you would start to meet members of the party at every level. If you’re like me and are not sure the party is where you’d like to be at the moment, conservative media is another avenue. Go to the conferences. Go to the rallies. Film things, write things. Stop worrying about how many people are seeing it. You audience will start small and that’s ok. As you build an audience over time your connections will grow with you. And finally, the more brazen answer, just run for office without the connections. Connections can be a hugely valuable asset but they are not a requirement and many times connections will appear simply as a result of you showing up and putting your name in the hat. People have won elections in the past by spending every moment of free time knocking on doors. Put the boot to the ground and you may find you are surprised at how many people listen.
- Given everything that’s happened over the past year, what is the current status of the conservative movement? Is the brand tainted?
- I believe the brand is tainted and I believe it’s been happening for much longer than a year. I could go back decades when the conservatives took control of the House & Senate for the first time in 40 years and proceeded to backtrack on much of what they’d promised, becoming part of the Washington establishment as opposed to usurping it. Or even just ten years ago when a Republican controlled House & Senate with a Republican president managed to grow government exponentially. The problem with conservatism is that most people who aren’t involved in politics don’t know what it is. They think of Republicanism and Conservatism as the same thing. For a long time that was ok, because the idea was that the Republican Party was the vehicle for conservative governance. But once the party shifted away from that dynamic, and especially in 2016 when it became clear that Republicanism was actually the most important thing to most on the right, it weakened the conservative argument. How can we claim lowering taxes helps people if we keep growing government while it’s happening thus undercutting the results? How can we claim entitlements are bad for the country when we keep growing them even if we have majorities in Congress? The list of what conservatives say we should do vs what Republicans actually do is very long. But to the public at large they read it all the same way “Conservatism is baloney and doesn’t work.” With Trump now in office representing the Republican Party and, for most Americans, representing all of conservatism, this presents a problem. He will now define for America what it means to be a conservative. And he doesn’t even understand it himself.
- We often talk about the federal government being too expansive in power, and traditionally, the Republican Party has been responsible for pushback on growth. Has that changed? If so, who takes up the flag for limited government?
- I’ve come to the belief that Republicans are only pushing back on government expansion of power when they are not in power themselves. It seems clear that the moment a Republican is in office, they are happy to abuse whatever powers they think they “need” to.
- Although many of us are conservatives or libertarians by nature, our members generally speak of ourselves as federalists. What does federalism mean to you specifically?
- To me, Federalism is the very simple idea that decisions should be made about the lives of Americans as close to the actual American’s lives as possible. Someone in Washington should not be deciding how a public school in rural South Carolina should operate. If you get down to it, most people agree with this concept. They want the federal government’s money which is why they always vote for the intrusion anyway, but on a philosophical level I’ve rarely ever encountered someone that thinks bureaucrats hundreds of miles away know what’s best for you over the people directly around you. Obviously there is a purpose for the Federal government as well. But it was not and should never have been the micromanagement of states and municipalities. Federalism is about returning power to the people.
- I’ve come across a lot of people who really don’t understand what federalism is, and how important it is to our system of government. How do we make federalism great again?
- I think a lot of it is optics. Something that a guy like Trump makes especially difficult. You have to be able to sell your message by getting it to relate to someone’s life in a way that they believe an can understand. For the most part this is not so difficult on a 1-on-1 setting. I can sit down with most people (that aren’t invested in political life, just the average Joe or Joanne) and find agreement on so much. But it’s muddied by all the sales techniques from both parties. So even after they’ve agreed for instance that Federalism in theory is best, they’re worried that millions will die because of it. Because that’s the message that anti-Federalists essentially send on a number of issues. If there was a party that could actually sell the truth in a way that countered those ridiculous narratives, and wasn’t leaving behind scores of voters that they’ve “given up on” then maybe we’d start to see a shift. But not many at the party level seem interested in persuasion anymore. They just want to keep their base happy.
- Who in your life has had the greatest impact on your political philosophy and your approach to activism?
- My dad has had the biggest impact on how I approach politics. He is a professor of apologetics and thus has spent his whole life (and my whole life) doing more than offering bumper stickers about religion. Instead he gives thorough, reasoned and convincing answers to complex questions. This is how you persuade. And I’ve tried to take this and use it in my life and in my work.
- Who is your favorite founding father and why?
- It will always be George Washington. For many reasons, but chief among them was that he refused the crown when it was offered to him. He didn’t even want the job of president but he took it out of duty. I don’t think we get much out of having career politicians. I’d much rather have the guy or girl who is smart, capable, honest, and really annoyed they are there.
- Which current member of the House of Representatives would be most likely to cane a colleague on the floor of the senate?
- I’ve never met Justin Amash in person but I have to believe he feels like he’s screaming at a wall most of the day. So if one day I heard a news report that he had pummeled someone on the house floor, I would be like “yeah…that makes sense.”
Thanks again to Mr. Howe for his thoughtful responses.