Opinion

Jeff Bell’s Case For The Middle Class — And Against The Federal Reserve

David Wagner Research Fellow, National Legal Foundation

On June 3, Jeff Bell unexpectedly defeated four rivals to become the Republican challenger to Sen. Cory Booker in New Jersey.

If you ask the NRSC, he doesn’t have a chance, so they aren’t spending a dime. But Jeff Bell has often been underestimated, including this year. No one else foresaw his primary victory. Now he is closing the poll gap, from 20 points, down to seven according to one poll; the average gap is around ten, with six weeks to go. Booker has made a $7 million ad buy, and has welched on a promise for multiple debates. He doesn’t think Bell is trivial; any reason conservatives should?

Bell is raising issues that resonate with the blue-collar audiences that conservatives often try but fail to reach. Though he has strong conservative beliefs across the board, Bell told The Daily Caller that, with a shoestring budget, he can only go with one issue – and that is the shafting of the middle classes through unpredictability of the dollar caused by the abandonment of gold standard by President Nixon.

“For about a quarter century after World War II,” Bell explained to TheDC, “we had greater growth, and growth more equally shared. Since we went off the gold standard, the rich have gotten very rich, while the middle classes, who don’t have resources to navigate a man-made monetary system, have been confined to savings accounts that suddenly became worthless as wealth-building instruments.”

But in making that case, doesn’t Bell meet with the comeback that everybody’s an investor now, even if only through their retirement plans?

“From the audiences I talk to, never. Never. The real middle class does not have a portfolio. They have savings accounts, and they can’t build up any savings in them. The Fed-directed economy pushes money into equities. There’s none left for savings instruments open to little guys. That didn’t happen when we were on the gold standard and the value of the dollar was stable.”

Bell has been debating these issues for years before taking them on the road. “Some say it’s other causes, like the rise of tech. But nothing has as much explanatory power, for the decline of the middle class, as the unstable dollar.”

Bell has a long history in conservative politics. He was with the Reagan campaign – the one in 1976. Next he decided that New Jersey’s incumbent liberal Republican Senator, Clifford Case, needed a primary opponent in 1978. That was before terms like RINO were common. The day before the primary, the media barely noted that Case was being challenged by “a Reaganite.” Move along; nothing to see here. But Jeff won. Said the New York Daily News the next day: “Bell Tolls, Case Closed.”

Bell did not win the general election, because the Democrats ran basketball superstar Bill Bradley. But he kept the campaign focused on an idea: supply-side economics. During the Reagan years, he helped the president implement those ideas, and even had a persuasive influence on, of all people, Senator Bill Bradley. Bell is more interested in good policies getting enacted than getting credit for them.

He stayed active by founding or running various conservative organizations. He helped Lew Lehrman found Citizens for America, served as president of the Manhattan Institute, and has held a fellowship at Harvard and a visiting professorship at Rutgers. He has written two books, both arguing for a conservatism the benefits the common people.

Booker can afford a TV blitz; Bell has been able to buy only a few radio commercials, featuring one issue – stabilize the dollar for the good of the working middle class, and one slogan – “Ahead of his time. Now it’s his time.” No graphic, because it’s radio. But his handbill shows the origin of the slogan: a young Bell with Ronald Reagan in 1976.

David M. Wagner has been an editorial writer for The Washington Times, speechwriter for Attorney General Ed Meese, staff counsel for a House Subcommittee, and professor of Constitutional Law at Regent University.