The Declaration of Independents

Meet the future of American politics.

(Page 3 of 3)

2. Reject Cap & Trade

3. Demand a Balanced Budget

4. Enact Fundamental Tax Reform

5. Restore Fiscal Responsibility & Constitutionally Limited Government

6. End Runaway Government Spending

7. Defund, Repeal, & Replace Government-run Health Care

8. Pass an “All-of-the-Above” Energy Policy

9. Stop the Pork

10. Stop the Tax Hikes

You may object to some of those items. (We get the vapors when the phrase all-of-the-above is mentioned anywhere near policy.) But there is no doubt about the overall philosophy: It’s the spending (and the Constitution), stupid. 

Although unquestionably a right-of-center movement that overlaps to a large extent with the GOP, the Tea Parties have been able to pursue this focused agenda by showing a willingness to take on and even sabotage the Republican Party. Any GOP incumbent deemed soft on spending was fair game for a Tea Party–backed primary challenge in 2010, even if it required backing such not-ready-for-general-election candidates as Alaska’s Joe Miller, Nevada’s Sharron Angle, and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell. Most terrifying for the party regulars, Tea Party activists demonstrated early on—in a special House election in upstate New York—a willingness to back a third-party candidate even at the cost of giving the election to a Democrat. Nothing shakes a major party to its core more than when the refrain of “yeah, but the other team might win” no longer works.

Such independence has tactical value that is surely not lost on what remains of the anti-war movement on the left. Having followed their original champion, Howard Dean, into the bosom of the Democratic Party, where they overwhelmingly backed an allegedly anti-war presidential candidate, anti-war progressives now have no organizational infrastructure to challenge Obama’s new wars. 

Where will the next political smart mob, the next online swarm, come from? Look wherever there is too broad a gap between the two major political parties and their bases. One good short-term bet is the issue of rolling back the drug war, which professional Democrats from the president on down openly mock while a growing number of Republicans (such as presidential candidates Ron Paul and Gary Johnson) gain surprising support by uttering the unspeakable. Other swarms will likely be much more hostile to libertarian policy aims (free trade is forever open to populist attack, and attempts to reform Medicare are likely to draw anger from across the political spectrum), but each new wave will succeed at doing to two-party politics what technology has done to the rest of the economy: undermine the gatekeepers who want to control your life.

Political independence has individual virtues as well. Thinking for yourself requires much more work than setting your compass by the direction of the tribe, but, oh, the liberation. Suddenly the political bully boys look a good deal more ridiculous, tawdry, and intellectually beatable. There are other hyphenated weirdos, just over there, who have genuinely interesting things to say. Voters free from the affiliation of party membership are more inclined to view political claims with the skepticism they richly deserve, to hear the atavistic dog whistle of partisan politics as a deliberate attack on the senses rather than a rousing call to productive action. By refusing to confer legitimacy on the two accepted forms of political organization and discourse, independents (especially of the libertarian flavor) hint strongly that another form—something unpredictable, fantastical, liberating—is gathering to take their place.  

Matt Welch (matt.welch@reason.com) is editor in chief of reason and Nick Gillespie (gillespie@reason.com) is editor in chief of reason.com and reason.tv. They are the co-authors of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America (PublicAffairs), from which this essay was adapted.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

  • Crickets||

    Chirp.

  • ||

    Yawn.

  • Crickets||

    Precisely.

  • coniefox||

    Behind the government must have an economic groups supporting him.

  • sarcasmic||

    If you don't vote for one of the two established parties you lose, and if you vote for one of the two established parties you lose.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Said it before, I'll say it again.

    I've never really gotten the "wasted vote" argument. If there a candidate who reflects my views (80% or more), I'll vote for him or her. The idea of "winning" with a candidate I disagree with 65% (or more) of the time isn't really all that appealing.

  • sarcasmic||

    I can accurately guess the outcome of an election by the inverse of my ballot.

  • Nomad||

    The idea is that by voting for someone who absolutely won't win, you're giving up what little power you have to choose between Giant Douche and Turd Sammich. Maybe you think one will be .5% less awful?

    Of course, the argument also assumes that you can somehow magically determine how each of them would rule, since what they say and even their prior record, to a certain extent, isn't much of an indicator. ...and it also assumes that your vote somehow is statistically significant...

  • ||

    You know, if, say, the LP were regularly getting 10% of the vote, their ideas would get the attention of the major parties, simply because they need that 10%. Granted, that might only mean more libertarian rhetoric and no other changes, but if libertarians can just move us a little off the statist course, that would be worth doing.

  • Bill||

    But then when they only get 4% and are completely ignored, it's frustrating. Maybe this time it will be different? Let's hope so.

  • some guy||

    When you choose between Team Red and Team Blue, you aren't choosing the lesser of two evils, you're just choosing the next, new form of oppression. Would you prefer to lose social choices or economic choices after the next election?

  • ||

    I've never gotten that one either (and I hear it from friends and family at least every four years). I can only figure that most people need a win real bad, and think that by voting D or R they actually can claim one.

  • ||

    Good essay, though you (too conveniently) ignore all the contradiction in the polling that pops up when Americans are asked what programs they're willing to let go of in the name of smaller government. While they may say in overwhelmingly large numbers "I want smaller government and for taxes to stay roughly where they're at", they also say, in poll after poll, "smaller government shall not include the reduction or elimination of (1) social security, (2) medicare, (3) veteran's benefits or (4) defense." In other words, don't touch the very government programs that are bankrupting us (and find the money some place other than my own pocket to pay for those programs.) It's a fundamental conundrum, policy-wise: the people are delivering clearly conflicting wishes to a polity that is hard-wired (as the essay points out so well) to hate the "evil other". Until Americans (especially the much-vaunted Independents) can be cured of the "I want my cake and eat it, too" disease, we can rely on political dysfunction as the operating norm.

  • Frederic Bastiat, 1848||

    Citizens! In all times, two political systems have been in existence, and each may be maintained by good reasons. According to one of them, Government ought to do much, but then it ought to take much. According to the other, this two-fold activity ought to be little felt. We have to choose between these two systems. But as regards the third system, which partakes of both the others, and which consists in exacting everything from Government, without giving it anything, it is chimerical, absurd, childish, contradictory, and dangerous. Those who parade it, for the sake of the pleasure of accusing all governments of weakness, and thus exposing them to your attacks, are only flattering and deceiving you, while they are deceiving themselves.
  • ||

    "I want smaller government and for taxes to stay roughly where they're at", they also say, in poll after poll, "smaller government shall not include the reduction or elimination of (1) social security, (2) medicare, (3) veteran's benefits or (4) defense." In other words, don't touch the very government programs that are bankrupting us (and find the money some place other than my own pocket to pay for those programs.) It's a fundamental conundrum, policy-wise: the people are delivering clearly conflicting wishes to a polity that is hard-wired

    BULLSHIT

  • I||

    our independence from politics

    Hilarious! Do the Reason editors know that politics is a branch of philosophy? That politics is based on three other philosophical disciplines: metaphysics, epistemology and ethics? That politics by any other name is still politics, and that it cannot exist independently of the other philosophical disciplines? That abandoning the two-party system in favor of an "independent" (libertarian) gang is still politics? This clumsy sleight of hand in rebranding libertarian politics and calling it anything but politics is comically transparent. The Libertarian Party, plagued with irreconcilable differences and superficialities and devoid of a consistent, comprehensive philosophical base, was and is a failure, so let's replace it with..."Independents!"

  • ||

    Yes, only by becoming Objectivists will we achieve political success. Brilliant!

  • NotSure||

    Last time I checked politicians do not practice metaphysics, epistemology and ethics, more like mud slinging and baby kissing.

  • cynical||

    Don't confuse politics with ideology. Politics is about power -- who is allied with whom, procedural rules, factionalization, caucuses, lobbying, deals, and that sort of thing.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: I,

    Do the Reason editors know that politics is a branch of philosophy?


    Hey, genius: Nick and Matt meant politics as known colloquially. Of course you cannot get away from Politics, but you can make yourself independent from the political 3-ring circus.

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    2-ring circus man. 2 rings.

  • some guy||

    And they have a BIG overlap.

  • I||

    Beautiful evasions! Wondrous ignorance! Take a bow, all of you!

  • NotSure||

    Hey genius care to point out all the metaphysical politicians out there in the real world (as opposed to your made up "objective" one).

  • I||

    Keep writing. We laugh and laugh.

  • NotSure||

    Vote for me, my metaphysics, epistemology and ethics is better than the other guys. Vote for me my high brow sophisms really mean absolutely nothing in the real world, but hey that makes me a better politician.

  • MJ||

    Yes, claiming independence from politics is impossible in a representative democracy. Politics is the word we use to describe how differences in opinion in how the nation should be run. The only way to have no "politics" is to have near perfect consensus on how the government does and operates, or to have a tyranny. "Independents" is classification that says more about these people's dissatisfaction with the major parties than their political agreement about anything. The article states that independents comprise 38% of registered voters, but only 9% of the populace would describe themselves as libertarian. This means that at best, libertarians are only about a quarter of the independent vote, which suggests there is a wild diversity of political opinion among the so-called independents. How will those differences be resolved? By the process we call "politics".

    Libertarians are Independents, but Independents are not Libertarians. Trying to claim independents as a coherent political force is a delusion at worst, wishful thinking at best.

  • I||

    Somebody gets it. Not too difficult, right?

  • sarcasmic||

    You can ignore politicians, but that doesn't mean they will ignore you.

  • ||

    variety is the spice of life...

  • ||

    I will read your book gentlemen. You currently have the best audience for your sentiments that there will ever be. The Duopoly does not work and everyone knows it.

  • some guy||

    Certainly the Duopoly does work... to some extent. The evidence is all around us. We, counting our debt, are wealthier than any other group of people in history. Our quality of life is better than ever before. The question is whether the Duopoly can be improved upon. Certainly it can.

  • ||

    When the party hacks speak of the need for "informed voters engaged in the political process", what they really mean is "voters who agree with MY party and always vote for it no matter what promises it breaks or what crimes it commits."

    An active electorate isn't necessarily the key to salvation anyway. I'm currently reading Richard Evans' three volume history of the Third Reich (I'm halfway through the second volume The Third Reich In Power). One point that he makes is that the German electorate of the '20s and '30s was very much engaged in the political process; for instance voter turnout was often in the high 80s. We may remember how that turned out.

  • some guy||

    Exactly. What do we do when we find out that all these independents want less gov't spending and less taxes, but don't want any cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or Defense? Many independents are less reasonable than strict party adherents! At least the Democrats think they can force us to pay for those expensive programs...

  • Saro||

    I think I've determined how my next vote for president will go down: If no party fields a candidate that I think can turn this country around, I'm just going to vote for the candidate I think will bring the country down faster.

  • some guy||

    So... you're voting for Obama.

  • MrGuy||

    Voting third party is a vote against freedom, and for terrorists. You don't want terrorists killing you do you?

  • MrGuy||

    "...revolution". So it has officially begun?

  • wildbillnj||

    The trouble with all the "cut spending" talk (and how it breaks down when you mention top-tier line items such as Medicare) is that there are massive amounts of waste, at every level of government, because they're all spending OPM.

    School districts that throw out perfectly good desks, books, etc. just so they can justify the same budget (or more, usually) next year.

    Construction projects that involve kickbacks for everything involved, because the Congressman's brother-in-law owns a building materials supplier.

    "Farmland Preservation" (this may be specifically a NJ thing) that involves government purchasing development rights for many acres of horse farms at a premium price, that are owned by millionaires related to the politicians who passed the law that created the program.

    And this is just "waste". I haven't even begun to discuss fraud.

  • Kjelene||

    I divorced my Republican party at my local Board of Elections...I wrote in my party as "other" party afilliation! It was thrilling! Free at last!!!

  • MattTrey||

    I generally describe myself as a conservative libertarian. For example, while I don't agree with homosexual marriage, I believe it is a state's right to decide, so I do not support a federal marriage amendment.

    As much as I would like to consider myself an independent, I keep my voter registration as Republican, otherwise I will not be able to vote in the primaries.

  • ||

    @DjG2TheWorl per your;
    ~Americans are asked what programs they're willing to let go of in the name of smaller government. While they may say in overwhelmingly large numbers "I want smaller government and for taxes to stay roughly where they're at", they also say, in poll after poll, "smaller government shall not include the reduction or elimination of (1) social security, (2) medicare, (3) veteran's benefits or (4) defense." In other words, don't touch the very government programs that are bankrupting us (and find the money some place other than my own pocket to pay for those programs.) It's a fundamental conundrum,~~

    That's not necessarily true, unless of course the poll question was, "would you like to see these 'programs' eliminated?' We still have plenty or room for cutting back on those programs without the elimination.
    Polls are Not accurate. The questions are asked in the form of positive or negative thinking. There is no in-between.
    Hence, the division of people and political forecasts.

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  • ||

    I have read, and enjoyed, your book. I was gratified that it so closely paralled my thoughts which produced the following plan. Should you read it I'd appreciate your comments.

    1. All persons residing in the U.S. shall come together in “tax units”. Members need not be related, need not reside together, and a tax unit may consist of as few as one person.
    2. Each year congress shall set a "minimum wage" and a "tax rate".
    3. The following shall not be subject to taxation:
    • An amount equal to a year's earnings (2000 hours) at the minimum wage, for each adult (age 20-65), decreasing 10% per year to 50% at age 15, and increasing 10% per year to 150% at age 70.
    • All payments for necessary health care including medical care, pharmaceuticals prescribed by a health care professional, vision and hearing aids, and fees for health-enhancing entities such as gyms. Health care insurance premiums may be deducted but not health care expense paid for by such insurance.
    • All educational expenses including day care for children or legally incompetent persons, the portion of state and local taxes used for education, and tuition, fees and educational materials for private school education, including that portion of parochial school tuition and other expenses going for non-sectarian education.
    • All income saved into an account for investments; withdrawals from this account for the benefit of any member of the tax unit shall be reported as income.
    4. The "tax rate" shall be applied to any income greater than the deductions listed above, regardless of amount.
    5. Any municipality having greater than 100,000 inhabitants or any state may impose on their citizens a surtax which shall be applied the same as the Federal tax.
    6. Tax units whose deductions exceed income, shall be paid a sum equal to the tax rate multiplied by the shortfall in income.
    7. There shall be no federal tax on corporations or other business entities.
    8. The Office of Management and Budget shall compute revenues to be expected using the newly set tax rate and minimum wage, applied to the previous year's reported incomes. No expenses in excess of that amount may be made without approval by 75% of each house of Congress. This tax shall be the only source of revenue for the federal government.

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