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Going for the Gold

Jeff Bell’s unorthodox Senate campaign.

Sep 1, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 47 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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They knocked on door after door,  took meeting after meeting. “Nobody would listen,” he says. He shouldn’t have been surprised, and wasn’t. Republican and Democratic officeholders alike have been corrupted by easy money: Zero interest rates artificially lower payments to finance government debt, disguising the annual deficit and making it easier to spend, spend, spend. “We couldn’t even get anyone to give a single speech.” 

Frustrated on Capitol Hill, Bell turned to the hinterland for a candidate to take up the cause in a Senate race. “I’m convinced that unless there’s something new on the Republican menu in 2014,” he says, “there won’t be anything new to offer in 2016, and Republicans will probably lose again.”

As a veteran of Ronald Reagan’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns, Bell clings to the antique notion that the purpose of a political campaign is to embody an idea, and that a successful campaign can force the political class to take the idea seriously, no matter how far outside the mainstream. Many Reaganauts credit Bell with convincing Reagan to adopt a proposal for radical tax-rate reductions as he prepared to run for president in 1980, a policy endorsed by a cult-like circle of supply-side enthusiasts and condemned as insane by right-thinkers of both parties. After Reagan won, Congress passed the tax cuts with bipartisan, if grudging, support. Marginal rates on income fell by one-third, and the course of the American economy was forever altered.

Bell came up empty in his search for a senatorial candidate who would make the gold standard the central issue of a campaign this fall. This left him nowhere to turn but the mirror.

“I’m a one-issue candidate,” he says over dinner in the hotel restaurant, with his staff tapping away across the lobby. “I don’t really want to get into state issues. With no money, my only real opportunity is to be known for just one thing.” 

So Bell, an eloquent and ardent pro-lifer, defense hawk, and foreign-policy interventionist, ties nearly every issue he’s asked about back to the destructive power of paper money. He spent $90,000 on his primary campaign. Almost $60,000 of that went to mail a three-page letter to a list of 99,000 Republicans who had voted in the 2013 primary. The letter is charming and impressive in its earnest refusal to pander and condescend to its audience, or to affect the breezy tone of typical campaign come-ons. Breeziness is probably hard to do anyway when you’re talking about the gold standard. 

“Why is it so important to return to gold-dollar convertibility now?” his letter asked the unsuspecting Republican voters of New Jersey. “Things have gone too far for limited half measures to work” [overemphasis in the original]. A return to the gold standard, he concedes, would of course result in higher interest rates, as the dollar sought its own level of value without direction from the Fed. 

“Washington’s political elites and Wall Street’s financial elites are deathly afraid that cutting off the dollar printing press will hasten a new financial crisis,” the letter goes on. “They may well be right. What they don’t want to think about is that a new financial crisis will happen anyway. [Meanwhile], the U.S. economy is trapped in a bleak landscape and the middle class continues to be ground down.”

It’s not exactly the old Reaganite “Morning in America.” But then again, it’s not morning in America. Bell credits the letter with his primary victory, precisely because average Americans agree with his diagnosis, even if they remain uncertain about his cure. 

“It’s effective because people are puzzled,” he says. “They’re being told we’re in a recovery. They’re being told things are getting better. And they know they’re not.”

Consider the cost of living—a persistent concern despite officialdom’s insistence that inflation is under control. 

“Well, sure, the price of an iPad may fall by half,” he says. “But people know their wages are not keeping up with the prices they pay regularly. The price of food, energy, medical care—all going up while wages stay flat. You tell people inflation is not a problem, they’ll laugh in your face.”

Bell’s difficulty as a political candidate isn’t necessarily his single-minded advocacy of the gold standard—it’s that the gold standard would end the financial bacchanal being enjoyed by the wealthy people who finance political campaigns, and they show nothing but hostility to Bell’s gold-plated party-poopery. Chris Christie, New Jersey’s Republican governor, has agreed to host two fundraisers for Bell this fall, but beyond that it’s not clear where the money will come from.  

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