A couple of years ago, Republicans made no secret of their love for Uber -- not just as a service, but as a model. "Republicans love Uber," Politico noted
. "The Republican Party is in love with Uber, and it wants to publicly display its affection all over the Internet," National Journal added
. Uber has become a "mascot" for Republicans "looking to promote a new brand of free market conservatism," The Hill reported
late last week that John Kasich is making this affection for Uber a central rhetorical element of his struggling presidential campaign.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference [Friday], long-shot Republican presidential candidate John Kasich argued that we should "Uberize the federal government." Kasich didn't go into much detail about what this means, but it's a line that he's been using for weeks on the campaign trail.
Much of this is symbolic, not substantive. Republican policymakers at the local level actually tend not to like Uber much at all, but at the national level, where presidential candidates tend to paint with broad brushes, the car-service technology has come to represent a breakthrough against regulations and against organized worker rights.
And with this in mind, when a presidential candidate like Kasich says he wants "Uberize the federal government," it's worth asking what in the world such a model might look like.
Bear in mind that the federal government is best thought of as a giant insurance company with an army. Nondefense spending is dominated by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and a few smaller social-insurance programs (now including the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act.) How, exactly, is an Uber-like model supposed to do anything to make that work better? And don't say it would remove the vast armies of bureaucrats. Administrative costs for those federal programs are actually quite low compared with the private sector, mainly because they're not trying to deny coverage and don't engage in competitive advertising. If Kasich means anything, he means "privatize", not Uberize -- convert Social Security into a giant 401(k) plan, replace Medicare with vouchers. But that wouldn't poll very well, would it?
No, it wouldn't. Uber is popular with voters Republicans are trying to reach, so it's become a vehicle (no pun intended) for conservative policy goals the party has long wanted anyway -- only now GOP candidates can wrap unpopular ideas in a tech-friendly package.
Of course, Kasich isn't alone on this front: Marco Rubio has been eagerly touting
the service for years, while Ted Cruz last year described himself
as the Uber of Washington, D.C.