Republican Ben Sasse, a freshman U.S. Senator from Nebraska, has written one of the best Facebook political rants of the 2016 election season. Not only is it frank, passionate, and as critical of his own party as it is of the Democrats, but it contains lines like "There are dumpster fires in my town more popular than" either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, the two current presidential frontrunners. "WHY," asks Sasse (all caps his), "is that the only choice?"
In the "open letter to majority America" that Sasse posted to Facebook Wednesday, it's pretty clear he's testing the waters for an independent presidential run (if not by himself, than by someone). Yet somehow the standard ranting and raving about "Washington dysfunction" and the need for unity comes off not like a stilted, empty tirade but … honest. Righteously angry. Maybe even a tiny bit substantive. Sure, there's the hokey dialogues he allegedly had at the Fremont, Nebraska, Walmart that morning, but there's also a willingness to engage with the idea—oft touted by the likes of all of us here at Reason—that people's dissatisfaction with both Republicans and Democrats is totally warranted, because both parties failed the people long before Trump vs. Clinton 2016.
Maybe it's just because I was reading along before I had any coffee this morning, but I found my jaded, cynical little libertarian heart filled with some excitement while reading Sasse's letter. So I'm going to highlight the better parts for you, and generously pair them some complementary Reason reading as well. We'll skip right past the Conversations at Walmart series and get right to the "dozen-ish observations" these conversations provoked in Sasse.
The major parties might be worth saving, but not in their current forms. Republicans and Democrats are "like a couple arguing about what color to paint the living room, and meanwhile, their house is on fire," writes Sasse. "They resort to character attacks as step one because they think voters are too dumb for a real debate."
"I signed up for the Party of Abraham Lincoln—and I will work to reform and restore the GOP—but let's tell the plain truth that right now both parties lack vision," he continues. Later, Sasse adds that the "two national political parties are enough of a mess that I believe they will come apart," and that this is probably deserved.
"Remember," adds Sasse, "our Founders didn't want entrenched political parties. So why should we accept this terrible choice?"
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More and more Americans are identifying as politically independent. Most people in the U.S. "don't like either party," admits Sasse. "If you ask Americans if they identify as Democrat or Republican, almost half of the nation interrupts to say: 'Neither.'"
Millennials hate Republicans and Democrats even more than their elders. "Young people despise the two parties even more than the general electorate," writes Sasse. "And why shouldn't they? The main thing that unites most Democrats is being anti-Republican; the main thing that unites most Republicans is being anti-Democrat. No one knows what either party is for—but almost everyone knows neither party has any solutions for our problems."
But far from being an issue, Sasses suggests that maybe millennials' partisan apathy is as asset. "One of the bright spots with the rising generation," he writes, "is that they really would like to rethink the often knee-jerk partisanship of their parents and grandparents. We should encourage this rethinking."
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#NeverTrump, #NeverClinton. "In the history of polling, we've basically never had a candidate viewed negatively by half of the electorate," but "this year, we have two," points out Sasse. "In fact, we now have the two most unpopular candidates ever—Hillary by a little, and Trump by miles (including now 3 out of 4 women—who vote more and influence more votes than men). There are dumpster fires in my town more popular than these two 'leaders.'"
The federal government should stick to the big issues. "Washington isn't competent to micromanage the lives of free people," writes Sasse. Our next president should instead commit to "focusing on 3 or 4 big national problems," such as national security, budgeting and entitlement reform, "empowering states and local governments to improve K-12 education," and "retiring career politicians by ending all the incumbency protections, special rules, and revolving door opportunities."
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The one indication that Sasse might not be talking about himself as the great savior here is a claim that "such a leader should be able to campaign 24/7 for the next six months. Therefore he/she likely can't be an engaged parent with little kids." Sasse and his wife have a three young children, all home-schooled.
From a libertarian perspective, this is probably a good thing. While Sasse diagnoses the disease right, his cures leave a lot to be desired. Though he claims to be for limited government, Sasse supports things like federal subsidies for farmers in the form of crop insurance, has fought against amnesty and Social Security numbers for illegal immigrants, opposes gay people getting married and adopting children, and is hawkish on foreign policy ("to protect our national security, we will be engaged in a decades-long battle against jihadis"), among other not-so-terribly small government positions. But keep the Facebook rants coming, Ben!