I'm happy to acknowledge that P.J. O'Rourke is one of the (many) reasons I consider myself libertarian—and why I wanted to write for a living. My first intro to him was in the pages of National Lampoon way, way back in the day. His stuff there wasn't political in the typical sense of the word but looking back, I can see an antinomian streak in his work that generally didn't appear in the his colleagues' work (as he and others tell it, they tended to come from more-privileged backgrounds and so were perhaps less invested in really destroying things than him).
His post-Lampoon work, especially his 1980s reportage for Rolling Stone may be the last time that mag had a great prose stylist who was also regularly churning out fantastic pieces of New Journalism worth a damn. In the late '80s, I was writing for a variety of music, movie, and teen mags and his example motivated me to work harder and try to get better at writing, reporting, and analysis.
So it was with some sadness that I learned (at Reason, earlier this week) that O'Rourke is backing Hillary Clinton in 2016. WTF! This, from a guy who released a book in 2010 called Don't Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards. Sure, he's not proud of it or happy, either, writing in The Daily Beast:
"Hillary is wrong about everything," he averred. "She is to politics and statecraft what Pope Urban VIII and the Inquisition were to Galileo. She thinks the sun revolves around herself."
While still reeling from the news that a member of my personal libertarian pantheon is part of the #imwithher crowd, I learned that Peter Thiel, the billionaire libertarian co-founder of PayPal and a major factor in a bunch of other businesses and platforms that have made the world a freer, better place, is a Trump delegate in California! Double WTF!!!
Just a few years ago, Thiel was singing the libertarian tune of better-living-beyond-politics and it sure sounded pretty goddman sweet to my ears.
"Politics is about interfering with other people's lives without their consent," wrote Thiel in 2009. "Thus, I advocate focusing energy elsewhere, onto peaceful projects that some consider utopian."
Thiel wasn't just talking the talk, either. He was (and is still, I assume) backing seasteading, life extension, and all sorts of "utopian" plans. Good on him.
I don't begrudge these guys (or anyone else) the desire to vote for somebody who might, you know, actually become president. But as I write in a new Daily Beast column, there's got to be a better way to influence both presidential politics than shoveling whatever gruel is slopped on our plates every four years. To that end, I write:
At the very least, I'd urge either [O'Rourke or Thiel]—not to mention the rest of the country—to think about going outside of the major parties and voting Libertarian as a way to potentially drag politics into the 21st century.
Voting for the lesser of two evils is still evil and it's not at all clear to me that the road to better candidates—not to mention smaller government—runs through either Cleveland or Philadelphia this summer.
I've already announced my interntion of voting for the Libertarian Party candidate in the fall, just like i've voted Libertarian since 1988. I have no loyalty to the LP (and to the best of my recollection, I've never been a registered member), it's just I find its platform in keeping with my views.
In case Trump and Clinton, or party honchos, are reading, I do want to underscore that my vote is probably the easiest goddamn vote in the country to get. I'd love to vote for a winner at some level of government (which I haven't done since high-school class elections).
If a major-party candidate actually articulated one or more of the following, I'd almost certainly vote for him or her: state a non-interventionist foreign policy built around trade and engagement, rather than leading with military concerns; pledge to cut year-over-year spending or even just promise to freeze spending for a year; tackle entitlement spending; declare an end to culture-war bullshit and embrace abortion rights, marriage equality, and at least pot legalization (if not full-on drug legalization); promise to make it easier for immigrants and everybody else to legally enter and work in the United States; support robust speech rights in all contexts and not say (as both The Donald and Clinton have done this campaign) that parts of the internet have to be shut down or policed because of terrorism.
That list is non-exhaustive, of course, but what are the odds that the presumptive nominee of either the Democratic or Republican Party will embrace any of that this time around? Or even 2020?
This election, I'm voting Libertarian with some real enthusiasm. In 2012, Gary Johnson had the best showing in decades, pulling over 1 million votes and getting around 1 percent of the vote. If the LP really seizes the moment, it could realistically crack double digits in terms of the percentage of votes cast. Indeed, an early (read: meaningless) Monmouth University Poll even had Johnson getting 11 percent of the vote in a three-way race with Clinton and Trump. If the LP candidate (who will be chosen at the end of May) either does that or covers the spread between Trump and Clinton, the Republicans and Democrats will have to pay attention. As I never tire of pointing, these are two old and tired brands that are in various stages of breakdown, implosion, and dissolution. They need to retool and reboot and a strong showing by the LP in the presidential race may force either or both parties to adapt libertarian policies and positions going forward.
We are never going to get better (read: more libertarian) candidates until the major parties realize they need to cater to our interests. We've won the culture wars and many important ideological and policy battles. According to Gallup's taxonomy, voters who are "libertarian" (meaning socially liberal and fiscally conservative) are the single-largest bloc out there, bigger even than conservatives. The "libertarian moment" was left for dead when Rand Paul suspended his campaign in late 2015. I understand why conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats want to believe that, but it's wrong. Regardless of Rand Paul or any other politician, the plain fact is the United States is not just moving toward a more-libertarian mind-set but actually adopting libertarian policies and priorities when it comes to criminal justice reform, public-sector pensions, K-12 education, infrastructure spending, and more.
As Matt Welch and I wrote in The Declaration of Independents, politics is a lagging indicator of where America has already headed. For all sorts of reasons—including a state-enforced duopoly and guaranteed revenue streams—change will come last to politics. There's a good prima facie case that that is exactly what we are seeing. For god's sake, how else are we supposed to make sense of Donald Trump (!) taking over the GOP? And Bernie Sanders, effectively a joke candidate (and like all joke candidates, not very funny), forcing Hillary Clinton to break a sweat to win a nomination she should have sewn up in 2008?
What is it that old Ron Paul meme used to say? Oh yeah: IT'S HAPPENING! Or, same thing: It won't happen until we make it happen. And we're already down at least two libertarians, so we can't afford to lose any more.
In 2014, Reason sat down with P.J. O'Rourke to discuss his funny and moving book, The Baby Boom: How it Got That Way and It Wasn't My Fault and I'll Never Do it Again, his millennial children, his career, and the massive changes roiling the journalism industry.
Take a look below or go here for more links, transcript, and versions.