If the GOP is to regain majority party status, it must earn the loyalty of Internet-savvy young people, especially the young activists who fueled the “Ron Paul r3VOLution” and are continuing to make the liberty moment a major force in American politics. One issue these young voters care most about is keeping the Internet free of taxes and regulations.
This should be a no-brainer for the GOP, since defending the Internet from big government is consistent with the GOP’s professed support for limited government, free markets, and individual liberty. Sadly, too many in the GOP are unwilling to consistently apply their principles to the Internet, thus once again making the party look hypocritical and out-of-touch to young voters.
In the last Congress, for example, many Republicans chose to side with large, entrenched corporate interests by supporting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). SOPA would have given the federal government the authority to shut down an entire website based on a single complaint of copyright infringement by one of the site’s users. This might have benefitted bureaucrats, politicians, and their corporate backers, but it would have harmed the young people who made Facebook and YouTube into household names. SOPA was defeated after several Internet companies organized a “black out the Internet day” to protest. Young activists supported the blackout day in droves.
One might think the SOPA experience would have taught the GOP young voters want government’s hands off the Internet. Sadly, while elephants may never forget, they sometimes fail to learn. Republicans followed up SOPA with the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which gives the federal government new powers to spy on us when we use it. Like SOPA, CISPA has energized young activists against the bill and against the politicians of both parties who support it.
Earlier this year, many Senate Republicans once again opposed Internet freedom when they voted for the so-called “Marketplace Fairness Act,” more aptly named the National Internet Tax Mandate. The National Internet Tax Mandate is the perfect bill for the GOP — if it wants to continue repelling younger voters.
The National Internet Tax Mandate allows state governments to force out-of-state retailers to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases, thus raising the price of every product we buy online.
Large, established businesses, such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon.com, are lobbying hard for this bill. These businesses want the government to cripple their smaller online competitors with new regulations. The new costs and burdens this bill imposes will make it considerably more difficult for young people to use the Internet to grow their existing businesses, much less to create new Internet-based startups. At a time when young people have been hit especially hard by the economic downturn, why should they support politicians who vote to destroy their best path to economic prosperity?
Fortunately for the future of the Republican Party, many do get it. Younger legislators, rising stars in the Republican Party such as Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee, all voted against burdening the Internet with new taxes and regulations. While the bill has not yet come to a vote in the House, its opposition is led in that body by Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky, one of the newest members in the liberty wing of the GOP. Representative Massie has been joined in the fight by many other freshmen representatives. It’s no coincidence that not a single GOP senator under the age of 50 voted for the Internet Tax Mandate.
A recent poll by the respected Gallup organization showed that 74% of Americans between the ages of 18-29 oppose the Internet Sales Tax. This is just the latest example of why, if the GOP wants to attract young people, it must fight to keep the Internet free of taxes, regulations, and other government interference. An excellent place to start would be for the GOP leadership to join leaders Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Thomas Massie, and the overwhelming majority of young voters, in rejecting the National Internet Tax Mandate.
John Tate is the president of Campaign for Liberty.