Hot Fresh Politics

College senior Taylor Buley on his new book, campus politics, and why young people are turning libertarian


Taylor W. Buley didn't just serve as Reason's Burton C. Gray Memorial Intern this summer (though he was that; check out some of his writing here and here). He's also the author of The Fresh Politics Reader: Making Current Affairs and Public Affairs Relevant to Young Americans, recently out from Silver Lake Publishing.

A rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania, Buley writes for The Pennsylvania Independent, blogs at Fresh Politics, and maintains a Web site here.

In August, he sat down to talk via email with Reason Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie about The Fresh Politics Reader, the state of campus politics, and more. What follows is an edited transcript of that exchange. Responses can be sent to letters@reason.com.

reason: What's the one-minute version of your book: What's it about and what inspired you to write it?

Taylor W. Buley: Many young Americans look at politics like a treadmill running on high-speed. Standing beside it, it can be pretty intimidating. When you talk about politics, people give you the look: "Do you really expect me to jump on that thing?"

What I do in my book is to take that treadmill and slow it down so young Americans can jump on and crank it up to whatever speed they please. I do this by breaking issues down into digestable morsels of information.

What inspired me to write the book was the lack of anything like it on the market. I wrote my publisher asking him to put out a book aimed at issues affecting young people—and he asked me to write it instead.

reason: The back cover of The Fresh Politics Reader says "this book is a libertarian tool for seeing past the stale politics of statism." Why are you a libertarian?

Buley: When you take a look at the world we live in, I think that small government is the obvious conclusion.

Social Security is crumbling. Our foundation for health care is unstable. The roof is collapsing on the heads of the next generations of Americans. And if we don't get out of the way, it's going to hurt.

Truthfully, I think most young people today are libertarians. If you look at polling data, the overwhelming majority fall in line with libertarian principles—abortion, gay marriage, Social Security, etc.

I think our position on gay marriage is simple: More people than ever before are openly gay, so more and more of our friends and family are falling into this category of sexuality. In America, homosexuals are not treated equally under law and I think most young people perceive the unfairness in this.

Abortion is a little more sticky. My publisher bills me as "pro-life," but I think that's just an effort to fit my view into the current paradigm. I wasn't alive for Roe v. Wade, and so America's stance on abortion isn't so much as a "debate" as it is a reality. So I ask: What does Roe v. Wade do? It establishes the principle of "point of viability," which preserves the right to choice while protecting conscious human beings who also have rights. I think this is pretty fair, and when I bring up the point in meetings for political organizations like my university's Penn4Choice, I've found that even "radicals" agree with it.

At my school, a paltry 4 percent call themselves "libertarian." Yet when we put out 3,000 copies of our libertarian student newspaper The Pennsylvania Independent they all disappear. Why?

I know that libertarianism isn't easy. How do I explain that I'm against taxes and pro-gun, but that I also happen to support gay marriage and oppose the death penalty? Most people have just a handful of issues that matter to them, and they look for a group with whom they can identify. They assume that since they agree with one issue they will probably agree with most other issues, which isn't the case.

I think that in the past, [traditional] political parties have been better than libertarians at marketing their politics. That's what I'm trying to counter-balance through The Fresh Politics Reader.

reason: How did you get interested in politics in the first place?

Buley: In the days leading up to the War in Iraq. I was viscerally opposed to the invasion, but didn't really know why. At the time, liberals were better at marketing a reason: Bush was in it for the oil.

Only after reading a book written by my publisher—Liberty in Troubled Times, by James Walsh—that I realized why I opposed to the war: I believe in autonomy on both an individual and national level, and so when we initiated force against Iraq, I just didn't think they had done anything to deserve it.

reason: Is the Iraq war the major thing on college students' minds these days? Let me put that slightly differently: What do kids have to complain about these days?

Buley: If I could decide, we'd just complain about Social Security. I think that there are diminishing returns to the issues we engage in, and the problem today is that we're just auxiliary forces in older people's political battles.

I think that the Iraq War is one of these battles. It's really taken the focus off of other, more pressing concerns. But to answer your question, I do think young people care about the War. Perhaps too much.

Truthfully, our current voting force—only 50 percent of people aged 18-24 vote—isn't going to have any profound impact on the discussions going on in Congress. At least not like the AARP does. If we can have an impact on just one or two issues, I think it would be a victory.

reason: Why aren't more young people engaged in politics?

Buley: I think that the title of my book insinuates this point: Politics have become stale. They're no longer entertaining, and no longer engaging. [Young people] need to start their own conversation.

reason: Do you think America is getting more or less free?

Buley: I think that today we are certainly more free than in the past, and here's a good litmus test: Ask any young American if they had the choice, would they rather live in the 1950s or today? I'm pretty sure most of them will say that there's no better time to be alive. Thanks to technology, and in spite of politics, our standard of living is better today then ever before.

reason: Then why complain and try to change things?

Buley: Imagine a an old-growth forest. Mixed in with tall trees there are also small ones, growing under their protected canopy. The forest needs these young trees because eventually the old ones are going to get old and go away. If there isn't a second generation backing up the first, the forest will die.

reason: What kind of response to the book have you had so far?

Buley: I've gotten responses from across the board, from old people and young, about how there should be more people like me. I think there are, but maybe they just haven't read my book yet.

On a really positive note, I've just sold a little over 500 copies to stock the Army libraries in Iraq. Most of those kids are my age and younger, so I think that's made it all worth it. I'm not making enough money to retire on (or for that matter, pay for my education) but that's not why I wrote it in the first place.