Are Libertarian Friends the Key to Fixing American Democracy?



Jessica Hische/Washington Post

Bursting your personal political bubble is important, but hard. It's so annoying to talk to people who totally disagree with you, amirite? Today in a forum on fixing democracy in The Washington Post Magazine, I argue that libertarians are the gateway drug to transpartisan understanding:

On the left and finding that Trump fans turn your stomach? Consider chatting with someone who will give you a hearty amen when you grouse about his immigration restrictionism and warmongering over a craft cocktail or a joint, but can still offer some insight into why a sane person might think environmental regulatory rollback or Social Security privatization is a good idea.

On the right and struggling to figure out how you'd connect with a blue-haired Occupy Wall Streeter? Find a libertarian: We'll grab some burgers and cigars. We can talk about repealing Obamacare and cutting taxes before easing into a conversation about why it might be time to seriously consider reforming our criminal justice system.

Innovative solution for repairing America's broken civic institutions, or shameless bid to make new friends? You decide.

Read the whole forum here, including entries from Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, Yuval Levin, George Takei, and more. Of particular note, ProPublica's Alec MacGillis, who very sensibly suggests allowing garage rental units, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, who likes instant-runoff voting.

NEXT: Alabama Secretary of State Wants Willful Violators of New Voting Law Jailed for 5 Years

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  1. I know, let’s send out the H&R commenters as libertarian evangelists! Nothing could possibly go wrong.

    1. “Attention, slavers, please read this pamphlet and learn how to fuck off.”

    2. Screw you, Eddie! Fuck you! I’m a fucking delightful person to hang out with, you fuck.

      1. I bet most commenters are very pleasant people with whom one could spend some time. Emphasis on most.

        1. Emphasis on *some* time.

          Ha ha, no, y’all are great.

          1. Better than the glibertarians?

            1. Must we get into that?

              1. Deflection!

                1. Deflection would be saying “I’ll say hi to yo momma for you.”

            2. Better, but not as graceful at cocktail parties, because we don’t get invited as often.

              1. “Mr. Melon, Your Wife Was Just Showing Us Her Klimt.”

        2. True fact: Mike Hihn is the most popular man in Boise, and cultured Idahoans clamor for invites to his frequent dinner parties.

          1. True story, I recently had a paid ad show up on my facebook feed for Alan Venneman and his incredible novels. No kidding. The Facebook AI must really hate my guts.

            1. Well, now I am intrigued. What are the novels about? Cause I just googled “Alan Venneman” and all I got was a page about recent drunk driving sentences dished out in Jackson County, Michigan.

                1. I sort of love his obviously self-written Wikipedia entry.

                  The topic of this article may not meet Wikipedia’s notability guideline for biographies.

                  1. So NOW Wikipedia is gonna make a big deal about notability? What are they running out of bits or something? Why not have 7 billion wikipedia pages, one for each person on Earth?

                  2. He is 73? If I knew that, I would have enjoyed all his comments that much more.

                2. he was making a stupid joke about your spelling john

            2. I think you misspelled Alan’s name ?

              1. Oh, John misspelled the guy’s *last* name, well, that’s less interesting than I thought.

          2. Cultured Idahoan libertarian = turnip?

            1. I am starting to think Memory Hole is a Hihn sockpuppet. Just a theory but it seems to fit.

              1. Until he writes (snicker) I don’t believe.

          3. That would explain why Idaho is such a socialist enclave.

        3. Watch it chipper, there are a lot of people on here who take great pride in being insufferable assholes.

      2. All are welcome to hang out with me. I have a lot of video games and alcohol, but I only currently have one controller. If you let me know ahead of time I can buy another. Also we can go shoot a gun or something, shit. Maybe I’m not fun to hang out with.

    3. Libertarians make the best friends because they don’t tell you how to live your life, they don’t want your money, and they don’t expect you to bail them out.

      1. And we always have alcohol on hand.

        1. Alcohol in hand…

          And we do want your money, we just plan to get it by convincing you that you want to give it to us.

      2. What you talking about, Willis? Libertarians love telling folks how to live their lives just as much as the next. The only difference is that, if you actually stick to your principles, you don’t try to use the government to *force* folks to. But you lot are no more restrained in backseat driving then anyone else.

  2. Yes, we absolutely have problems that need to be dealt with, but I’m not sure I buy the premise that American democracy is fundamentally “broken”. I suspect most of the people making this claim are just sore loser Obamatards who thought things were pretty awesome a year ago.

    1. I do think there were many times we were more “broken” than today. All in all, things are pretty good. Our poor people live better than 75% of the world. Does it still suck to be poor? Absolutely. But everybody really needs to keep things in perspective once in awhile. Open a goddamn history book and then complain today’s really that terrible.

      1. – The federal deficit is at its highest rate of all time, even adjusted for inflation.
        – The number of Americans incarcerated each year is the highest number for any country in the history of the Earth.
        – War has been rampant as america builds its empire. Civilian casualties are the norm, although we’re probably getting better at this (because you can’t get much worse than the early to mid 1900s…).
        – Taxes are at their highest rate ever.

        I don’t think I share as optimistic view as you. But I agree that despite the US government’s interventions in our affairs and in the lives of others, there has been net progress in technology, wealth, and health (the three being strongly interrelated of course). But I can’t help but think that we would be even further along if the US would cut the shit already.

        1. “The number of Americans incarcerated each year is the highest number for any country in the history of the Earth.”
          This is largely because there are only two countries in the history of the Earth with more people than us, and up until recently they were shitty third world countries with almost no functional government or court system. Yes, we incarcerate too many people, but this is a stupid statement.

          “War has been rampant as america builds its empire. Civilian casualties are the norm, although we’re probably getting better at this (because you can’t get much worse than the early to mid 1900s…).”

          America is arguably the least warmongering and least aggressive military superpower the world has ever seen. Never before has a nation or empire with such overwhelming military prowess not used it to acquire new territory or invade its neighbors to steal their resources. To compare historical wars of conquest and actual invasions to the last century of naive and futile attempts at trying to turn shitty countries into functioning countries is just dumb.

    2. “”but I’m not sure I buy the premise that American democracy is fundamentally “broken”. “”

      I find most people that say our democracy is broken isn’t aware that we are not a democracy.

      1. Are we an anarcho-syndicalist commune?

  3. Fun little snippet by Katherine, and I wholeheartedly agree.

    However, the next suggestion after her is mandatory voting and the one after that is actually proposing we focus even more on identity politics, so I’m thinking we’re not getting better anytime soon.

    1. Race, class, gender. These lenses on society have proved revelatory, and no one would ever deny their importance.

      What do you do when confronted with someone who says that other than to politely nod and try and get away as quickly as possible?

      1. “I’ll show your lenses some gender you’ll find revelatory…”

    2. Hilarious.

      Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others….

  4. I find nearly everyone in this forum absolutely terrfying, sans KMW who is just sadly naive. How about this idea?

    There’s a game I like to play called When I’m Emperor in which people go around the table and say the first thing they would implement if every decision in government were theirs alone to make. My answer is always the same: When I’m emperor I’ll abolish private education.

    1. I think the first thing I’d do . . .

      I’d make it so that taxes are all due on election day.

      I’d add a balanced budget amendment.

      1. I’d schedule a referendum on a constitution which abolishes my office and replaces my regime with a federal republic with guarantees of basic rights – with a note attached saying “don’t mess it up this time.”

        1. You’d have the oval office redesigned as the bridge of the Enterprise, and you’d staff your cabinet with nothing but strippers.

          1. If the voters refused to accept my abdication then of course I’d have a mandate, and I would need an imperial residence suitable to my…I mean the people’s dignity.

            1. Just reduce to a purely ceremonial position with the caveat that Emperor gets to decide the nature of the ceremonies.

    2. My answer is always the same: When I’m emperor I’ll abolish private education.

      I’m reminded of Louis CK’s bit about discussing time machines with an annoying friend

      “‘well, here’s what I would do’…because the whole point of asking me is to stare at me while I say mine and then say his”

  5. Kareem Abul Jabaar, a guy that I really try to like and sometimes has good things to say, really embarrasses himself here. He wants government mandated critical thinking classes. That sounds nice except that he goes on to claim that Trump, Breitbart, and Foxnews would melt under the force of reason. Yeah, Kareen, everyone who disagrees with you is irrational. Way to bring the understanding and unity there pal.

    1. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes sometime.

      1. Do you like gladiator movies?

  6. A lot of the heart to heart political discussions I’ve had with people were over them approaching me thinking that we were natural allies. Usually, this happens when they oppose the guy in the White House. They see me denounce Obama for having killed more children than Adam Lanza and ObamaCare as an abomination, so they assume I must be ripe for recruitment into the Republican party. They see me go off on Bush for being having violated our rights or hear about my opposition to the Iraq War, and they think I must be ripe to become an enlightened progressive.

    What I find in those situations is that the more we all get to know each other, the more they realize how much I genuinely hate their heroes and their hypocrisy.

    Nothing makes a progressive angrier than pointing out that Barack Obama murdered hundreds of children in drone strikes, campaigned with the slogan, “Marriage is between a man and a woman”, or point out that he used $hundreds of billions to bail out Wall Street.

    The thing they falsely accuse Republicans of being–rabid capitalist–is what I really am. I am their real boogeyman, and I know the root cause of our problems aren’t really being addressed because there aren’t millions of unemployed, hungry, former government employees protesting in the streets, I can see them start wincing. They can’t believe it when I say that if the Republican Party were really out to slash the budget and kill all the taxes, I’d probably register as a Republican.

    1. Republican without any pretense of morality. Bravo.

  7. Republicans are highly sensitive to accusations of hypocrisy, too. Point out the folly of the Iraq War, and I’m a traitor. Point out that the Republicans spent $350 billion bailing out Wall Street, that George W. Bush expanded Medicare to cover prescriptions, that he violated our rights with warrantless wiretapping, that he disgraced us all by torturing prisoners, launched an attack on our Bill of Rights in the name of fear mongering that we may never fully recover from, etc., etc.–they don’t come to any realization about how we’re really not so different after all.

    I can generally agree with Republicans that Hillary or Bernie would have been much worse, but being better than having HIV doesn’t say much for gonorrhea. I tell them I’m tired of hearing about how illegal immigrants shouldn’t be allowed to use government services–as if American citizenship somehow made native born Republicans entitled to my paycheck?! You goddamn welfare queens, there isn’t anything about your kids being American citizens that makes me feel better about having to pay for your kids to go to school.

    Like I said, the more people talk to each other, the more they realize that they really . . . don’t like each other at all.

    The people who are most reachable are the people who probably don’t want to talk about politics.

    1. Take a safe topic like sports and which teams are best.

      1. They tried to recruit me into their shit eating club.

        I’m offended. They need to know why.

        1. You should be the top person in KMW’s libertarian missionary squad, this is gonna be great!

        2. They Need To Know Why I’m Offended, the new weekly column from Ken Shultz, coming this fall to Parade Magazine.

          1. I like that.

          2. I’m not sure Ken could limit himself to a column if given an outlet.

            1. I’m thinking book deal.

              1. The book would be as long as Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, but with more use of the f-word.

                1. Ken doesn’t use swear words, he’s too uppity for that.

                  1. The publisher would insert swear words at appropriate places, like they did with Wittgenstein.

          3. I used to live in a town with a publication for senior citizens and it had a column which could have had that for a title, but it was for film reviews. It was the (unintentionally) funniest thing ever

      2. “Take a safe topic like sports and which teams are best.”

        …like the NFL teams and what’s going on with them lately.

  8. I argue that libertarians are the gateway drug to transpartisan understanding

    You all stay the fuck away from me. It’s bad enough I gotta deal with my father.

  9. RE: Are Libertarian Friends the Key to Fixing American Democracy?

    I don’t see how any libertarian could possibly do any worse.

  10. Let’s reimagine the democratic right of voting as a citizen’s obligation. In our doppelganger ally down under, Australia, voting is compulsory. They have far higher turnouts, and their elections boast greater legitimacy.

    So when the votes are forced they’re more legitimate?

    1. Translation: Low-info voters tend to vote Democrat *if* they go to the polls. Also, informed but alienated members of their base often stay at home out of frustration. These key Democratic demographics must be *forced* to elect Democrats.

      1. Low-info voters tend to vote Democrat *if* they go to the polls.

        I think that depends on the geography. I don’t think the end result would be that much different, honestly.

        1. Maybe not, but I think the ones pushing for this “reform” at least think it will elect more Demcrats.

      2. So Trump is the product of high-information people?

  11. Fuck. Some of these ideas are truly fucked. From just plain dumb to totalitarian.




    A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ON EQUALITY (don’t they already have it?)
    oh it’s really an “Anti-Bigotry Amendment” (ah, ok, that’s so much better then)





    WTF, people?

    1. The entire thing is pretty terrifying. These people are hideous.

      1. You’re not being very friendly, how can you convert them to libertarianism with that attitude?


  12. Think about it: Those giant Ivy League endowments surging into state schools; the best teachers and administrators available to raise the standards in classrooms; public schools sporting planetariums and swimming pools and science labs and libraries, not to mention buildings maintained like country clubs instead of housing projects ? for the benefit of all children. Imagine the parents who, no longer able to ensure the futures of just their own child and those similar, would pour their considerable energy and resources into public education. The rising tide would lift all boats. There would be no other choice.

    There are a few probably outcomes there. First, the endowments would just not flow to any school period. The best teachers and administrators would possibly just become crushed under the forces of public education. There’s a lot of other choices, her solution just assumes the end. Then she mentions how privileged she was to have had private Catholic education, and gives the solution that allowing no one that right is the solution.


    I think we should have an hour every day where we sit and dwell on how great the government is.


    I won’t even joke. This chilled me to the core.




    Looks like a good idea.


      2 Minutes Hate?

  13. Libertarians only occupy a middle ground in their own heads. If anything, the Left thinks libertarians are worse than conservatives and have made that abundantly clear.

    1. Yes, it really seems to be that way. That’s why I’m so curious about the amount of hit pieces on Libertarians I see. They far, far outweigh the amount of power Libertarians actually wield. I can only thus assume that comes from a place of disgust and fear.

      1. Libertarians are super easy targets because their ideals are unpopular and their members are generally socially awkward and often times resentful. So it’s easy to run up the score against them.

      2. Because it’s fun.

  14. Kind of a self-serving headline, isn’t it? That said, if the idea is supposed to be that libertarians are some “middle ground” that can both understand and explain all sides of an issue, then you folks haven’t been reading your own comment section. Libertarians are just as ignorant of other folks rationalizations and justifications as everyone else.

  15. Everyone agrees with libertarians about some things. It’s just that you’re so wrong about some very big things.

  16. On the left and finding that Trump fans turn your stomach? Consider chatting with someone who will give you a hearty amen when you grouse about his immigration restrictionism and warmongering over a craft cocktail or a joint

    What “immigration restrictionism”? What “war mongering”?

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