Libertarians Are Now the Off-Limits "Others" (for Certain Tribes)


When I lived in New York City, it was pretty common to hear somebody say, "I could never date a Republican." The speaker wasn't necessarily political at all, and rarely ideological in any real sense. But, in trendy, educated circles in New York City, Republicans were an alien "other," and you could firm up your tribal bona fides by declaring your unwillingness to engage in romantic relations with a significant percentage of the population for political and ideological reasons. So, I guess a piece in New York magazine comparing freshly minted Republican vice-presidential aspirant Paul Ryan to "your annoying libertarian ex-boyfriend," means those of us described by the other "L" word have transitioned from geeky policy nerds to the new forbidden fruit.

In New York Magazine, Ann Friedman warns against the ideological lurker in the romantic landscape that is Ryan:

In the dating world, an infatuation with Ayn Rand is a red flag. You might not see it right away: Your date is probably conventionally attractive, decidedly wealthy, and doesn't really talk politics. But then you get back to his apartment, set your bag down on his glass-topped coffee table, give his bookshelf the once-over — and find it lined with Ayn Rand.

You think back to your conversation at the bar: He treated flirtation like a conquest, a rationally self-interested sexual manifest destiny. He had some dumb pickup-artist questions and maybe a questionable accessory (a cravat? a fedora? a weird pinky ring?) but you overlooked these things, because he was quite charming.

But that dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged tells you everything you need to know. He sees himself as an objective iconoclast. He's unapologetically selfish, because it's only rational, he says. Sure, he grew up with money but he worked to get where he is today. He's all about individual responsibility but he just isn't, metaphorically, into wearing protection.

This is the part where you collect your shoes and bag and GTFO. …

Like the stealth-libertarian date, Ryan has managed to set himself up as an underdog, a savvy and "courageous" hero railing against the status quo, even though his policy proposals would hasten our trip down the path we're already on, creating even greater inequality. He might look cute from across the bar, but we already know what's on his bookshelf at home. And guys like him never get a second date.

Never mind that Paul Ryan makes a lousy stand-in for a libertarian, with an awful record on civil liberties, peace and restraining government spending that puts him, in real terms, well inside the inch-and-a-half of the ideological spectrum considered to represent respectable opinion by the threadbare editorial boards of the East Coast. He's at the smaller-government end of that spectrum, and he occasionally quotes Ayn Rand (when he's not fleeing from her). That makes him a "libertarian" and therefore off-limits to true-blue tribalists.

By the way, among the perfectly acceptable dating options in the social circles in which I moved during my New York days were several obnoxious socialists, a snotty Trotskyite and a self-described nihilist who is now doing time for a high-profile violent crime. Yes, these are stand-out memories from a large group of otherwise perfectly decent human beings with a wide range of viewpoints. But, by contrast, even if it connects me with Paul Ryan, I think I kind of like Friedman's take on libertarians as incarnations of sinister, alternate-universe Bruce Waynes.

Ann … Ann … Look into the dollar-sign pupils of my eyes. You know you can't resist …