Earlier this month, Nick Gillespie and I swung through beautiful Portland, Oregon as part of our tour for The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America. The highlight of the visit was a presentation and lively discussion at Powell's Books, the place that has as good a claim as any as the best bookstore in America. Before the dog-and-pony show, Chris Farley at Powell's sat us down for a probing interview about libertarianism, Jane's Addiction, the debt ceiling, Portland's famous microbrews, entitlements vs. safety nets, whether TARP saved the financial system, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.). Excerpt from Farley's intro:
Not many Americans really understand what libertarianism is, and this passionate and articulate pair have just written as succinct and entertaining a treatise on its principles (the fewer the better) and spirit (Johnny Rotten meets Margaret Thatcher) as you'll find. Not surprising. As editors of Reason magazine and Reason TV respectively, they've had plenty of practice writing, talking, and blogging about libertarianism — and cheerily pissing off both right and left along the way.
As the title of their book implies, The Declaration of Independents, Gillespie and Welch see the answer to our current predicament outside of our sclerotic two-party system. Probably a good thing — which party would have them? You can't be for gay marriage and legalizing pot and giving women full control over their bodies and slashing the military and find a home in today's Republican Party. And what Democrat would welcome anyone who so often sees government not just as a problem but as a joke.
The Ron Paul part of the interview:
Farley: I heard a Ron Paul interview recently, and he seemed to be arguing the opposite, that all environmental problems could be dealt with as property-rights cases through the courts. You know, "I've got my land, you've got your land, if you do something that harms my property, I'm going to sue you." It sounded insane to me.
Welch: Ron Paul is more ideologically based than Nick and I are, but we're constantly asked about him.
Farley: You love Ron Paul, but you don't agree with him on everything.
Welch: I don't love him. I don't love any politician. But, I like Ron Paul and appreciate Ron Paul.
Gillespie: We talk about him in the book. More than anyone else in the 2008 election, he's the reason why there was any discussion of the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War and foreign policy. He's got problems. He's not going to be the next president of the United States. And, yet, you've got to love a guy who is like an 800-year-old obstetrician who was getting college students to come out — like Obama wasn't, even. So, there's a lot there to love.
Welch: He was talking about legalizing heroin at the last South Carolina debate. That's very interesting. As an intellectual exercise, it's interesting to probe the limits of questions like, do you agree with government sidewalks or not? But let's also remember the world that we live in.
The world that we live in is one in which — when was it, about a year ago? — a little girl in Portland had her lemonade stand shut down because she didn't get the right permit for the county fair. You know, "We have regulations here."
And, it wasn't just that she got her lemonade stand shut down, it was that the local Portland city councilwoman or the head of permitting said, "We have to have a process. It's very important that we know what's going to go on in that lemonade."
That mindset is so much more prevalent than the no-government-sidewalks mindset. What we're trying to do in the book is say, okay, we're not talking about a libertarian fantasy utopia. We're asking, how do you bring libertarian insights — libertarian as an adjective or an impulse — how do you bring these insights to bear on issues that aren't working very well right now, such as K-through-12 education, and so on?
We're not talking about getting in and ripping everything up. We're talking about introducing some level of consumerism and individual choice into what's driving policies, so that we can get pricing and markets to drive prices down and quality up.
It's not clear from that excerpt, but the "as an intellectual exercise" bit above was not actually a reference to Ron Paul, but rather to the types of questions we constantly field on the book tour, a la "But smoking bans make bars nicer!" and "Is there ANY government regulation you extremists would support?" Read the whole interview for various departures from anarchism.
Here's a review of our Powell's gig by the legendary Pacific Northwest blogger PortlandAristotle, over at Oregon Live. Excerpt:
I go to a lot of Powell's books author presentations. This is the second largest crowd I have seen in the Pearl room (second only to Chris Hedges last fall). They are very engaging speakers, mixing up their talk with clips from Reason TV. […]
I am still trying to digest everything that I have learned from their presentation and having read their book. I absolutely love original thinking and strongly recommend their book to anyone out there trying to understand where our politics is taking us.
Also in attendance was The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf. From his write-up:
The work of entertaining writers, the book is refreshing, especially among political tomes, for several reasons: it offers an original but plausible take on recent history, doesn't blame a partisan enemy for all that ails America, and advances an argument too complicated to fully convey in a review—hence its critical success in a genre where many titles run out of ideas at the end of the subtitle. […]
Thus far, it certainly seems like independent-minded people organizing to advance single issues tend to call for increases in liberty, whether the subject is gays or drugs or economic freedom. Truth be told, I am as much an optimist as the authors, and I hope their instinct is right: that independents plus technology equals saner public policy and more freedom. There is, or course, a darker possibility. Independent minded Americans might eschew party loyalty, use the Internet to organize, and effectively demand that the borders be closed to new immigrants or that all mosque construction be halted. It isn't, after all, just libertarian-minded folks who are fed up with the status quo. For libertarians, that means that there is much persuasion yet to be done. As stewards of Reason and Reason.com, Welch and Gillespie are well-positioned to do it.