Libertarian Comedian Dave Smith on the Alt-Right, Christopher Cantwell, and How the Left 'Went Off the Rails'
Bernie Sanders vs. Ron Paul is "the difference between a propagandist and a truth teller."
New York comedian Dave Smith says he "became a libertarian through the Ron Paul movement. "He challenged all of my preconceived notions about what government was [and]…inspired me to read all of these people, like Rothbard, Mises, and Friedman."
When Bernie Sanders became a national figure, what Smith hated most about the Vermont senator was that he was aesthetically like a carbon copy of Paul—"a kind of disheveled, older guy who's just a truth teller."
"[The difference was that] Bernie would go around to these kids and be like, 'Hey, so you're a college kid in 2017, you're among the richest, freest, most privileged people who have ever existed, [so] billionaires should be paying your bills for you'
…It was the difference between a propagandist and a truth teller."
Smith, 34, is a regular on the New York City stand up circuit and hosts two popular podcasts on the GaS Digital Network, Legion of Skanks and Part of the Problem. On September 11, he'll release his first comedy special, Libertas, which will be available for download here. You can watch teaser clips of the special here and here.
Smith sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie to talk about how Trump manipulates the left, why the media's reaction to the Syria bombing was "the most disgusting thing I've ever seen in my life," how to turn millennials libertarian, and his decision to have alt-right lightning rod and "racist shock jock" Christopher Cantwell as a recent guest on his podcast.
"I have to play this left-wing game," Smith says. "When I go on a Fox News panel with…a CIA killer, or somebody who's advocating for the next war…I never get accused of being chummy with them."
Edited by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Andrew Heaton.
This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Dave Smith: Thank you for having me. It's good to be here. I've made it. The libertarian Super Bowl.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, this is it. Well, the libertarian Buzz Bowl, which is a much maligned and ignored Reason TV video starring Chuck Schumer and Four Loko versus Juice back when they were caffeinated. Never mind. Talk about "Libertas."
Smith: It's my first comedy special. I've been doing stand up for 11 years. I'm very proud of it. It was produced by GaS Digital Network, which is my Podcast network and Luis J Gomez, who is a hilarious comedian. Just a great entrepreneur, he's the guy who started GaS Digital and he directed it. Yep, it's out September 11th. He chose that date, not me, but I'm excited and I appreciate the nice words.
Gillespie: So this is going to do for libertarian comedy what September 11th did for libertarian comedy?
Smith: That's libertarian comedy. Yes, exactly.
Gillespie: It was a redevelopment project according to Paul Krugman who literally, like less than a week after the 9/11 attacks said, "You know, the silver lining in this is that there's going to be a lot of building down there now."
Smith: That's right. Why does Paul Krugman never give George W. Bush credit for being such a great president? I mean, the record high spending, the wars, what could you not love? I mean, how was it that we were left with such a wonderful economy?
Gillespie: A crappy economy. It is strange. Well, talk about "Libertas." Why is it called that? And, I've watched and it's very funny.
Smith: Thank you.
Gillespie: What I love about it is that it's a critique both of Trumpism and anti-Trumpism.
Gillespie: So, talk a little bit about how you came to say, "Okay, this is the set that I want to commemorate in a special."
Smith: I think the special is, it's really … like the first half of it is my take on the last year and the Trump moment in politics, and the second half is more my take on the big picture of the country. But yeah, I think we live in like the most profoundly hilarious times ever. I think the Trump side and the anti-Trump side are both cartoonish and ridiculous, and in this profound, hilarious moment that we live, no one … It seems like everyone is too angry and dug into their side to enjoy the humor of all of it.
Gillespie: Two questions. One, how much when you say the Trump versus the anti-Trump side, and like neither Trump nor Hillary could get a majority in the presidential election. People are leaving the identification with the Republican or Democratic party for, obviously, what's taking them so long? But like how much of America do you think constitutes Trump and anti-Trump? Like, is it 40% total? Is it 80%? And then, what was the funniest thing or what is the most bizarre thing about Trump's totally, unpredictable … Who could've guessed that this fucking would happen?
Smith: Oh, my God. If I had to guess I'd go more like 10% and 10% most. I think there's a big chunk that's just livin' their life and not really consumed with this. The people who don't vote, who don't really care, who don't … and God bless those people by the way. The Trump moment, of course, caught us all off guard. I think what I really saw out of the left wing, which was interesting over the last year, is an inability to deal with the facts on the ground and an inability to deal with anything that doesn't fit their narrative perfectly.
So while they're yelling, "Trump's a racist. He's this horrible racist." I'm looking at Trump rallies and he's going, "You know, the media says we're racist, but we're going to do tremendously well for the black people." And these huge ovations. Then you're like, well maybe he's not literally Hitler. I mean, there's something cartoonish and ridiculous about him. I mean, Trump is literally a cartoon, literally. I mean, from his hair to his skin color to his, it's like you're watching the news and there's people and then a cartoon character comes out.
Gillespie: And the way he talks, "All right, we had a very big job. It's very tremendous." He talks like an eighth grader from 1945 or whatever.
Smith: It's amazing, and I remember after the James Comey thing came out. I forget exactly how he said it, but he was like, "He's a hacker. He lied. No good." It was like bullet points for a first grader, but the amazing thing about Trump is he's like this buffoon but he holds a mirror up to the entire system and reveals how buffoonish it all is.
He had this ability to almost drag everyone down into the mud and then when they're all down in the mud, you're like, "well, it's kind of a wash and Trump kind of belongs in the mud." So, once they're swinging insults back and forth, he's winning.
Gillespie: Going into the debates, out of the Republican candidates, I was most favorable towards Rand Paul.
Smith: Yeah, me too.
Gillespie: For obvious reasons. He was the most libertarian by far and the most interesting I think in terms of trying to shake up a traditional Republican thing. But like when he would turn to what's his face, Jeb Bush, and just be like, "Oh, you're low energy." You know, you could see Jeb Bush almost crying and Ted Cruz, like his lower lip was trembling because they couldn't come back. I mean what was wrong?
Smith: I've never seen anything like that in politics. Jeb versus Trump, he just alphaed him. It was just alpha verse beta there was no like—
Gillespie: How do you get to being, I mean, Jeb Bush is not a minor political player. He's a very successful two-term governor. Comes from an aristocratic family in terms of politics and is it that he had never been confronted by a tough, not even a tough guy, a clown before?
Smith: I think something was exposed in him, a weakness, like this is not a guy who wants to fight and Trump is a guy who is a fighter. I agree with you, it was Rand Paul—
Gillespie: It was like Mike Tyson after he got clipped by Buster Douglas and then suddenly everybody could beat him.
Smith: Yeah, well there was something that was exposed and once that something was exposed, you couldn't go back from that. I remember the moment, and Rand Paul I thought was the best candidate by far, not even close, by far in the race. There was this moment when Donald Trump, I must say even I thought it was one of my favorite debate moments ever, but Donald Trump goes, he was talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and how he's against it. And then he goes, "The Trans-Pacific Partnership does not address China's currency manipulation and that's the problem," and Rand Paul, no moderator, Rand Paul goes, "Should someone point out that China is not a part of the TPP?" It's an agreement between us, Japan, and South Korea, we can't address China's currency in this.
Gillespie: Well, he was pointing out that it was an attempt to hem in China in the Pacific region.
Smith: Yes, yes. Of course, we can't make a deal on their currency in an agreement that they're not in. And then Donald Trump goes, "Rand Paul is at less than 1% in the polls." It was just like, "Oh, I guess Trump just won that moment. That's where we're at." That is hilarious and tragic.
Gillespie: In the special, you talk about Trump's ability to kind of just wing it, and you talk about the pussy grabbing comments, and it's like once he says that and the world doesn't end. The sky doesn't fall and he isn't rushed off the stage. It's like anything goes. Talk a little bit about that and what is it that Trump clearly exposed the weakness of conventional politicians to talk back to people who are kind of in their face but what else is Trump bringing to political discourse?
Smith: Well, I think you are absolutely right. He's bringing this unscripted, this idea that I'm not playing within the agreed upon parameters. We're going to be out here. I can just say whatever I want to you and politicians have a very tough time. They're all like scripted robots, so they have an amazing time struggling with that. The other thing that is really, really interesting about all of it and this is my critique on the left, and I know you can really relate to this because as libertarians, right? You're someone who has been here writing, for years, like criticizing Obama for his—
Gillespie: Are you calling me old?
Smith: I'm just saying, like, since the '30s you've been writing for Reason magazine.
Gillespie: I thought that Wendell Willkie, uh, not such a good guy.
Smith: You were very critical of Obama's deportations of him being at war for every day of his administration and then Trump comes out and he's like, "We're going to deport people. We're going to bomb the heck out of them," and the liberals are like freaking out and your like, but the guy that you're celebrating who is the greatest president ever is doing this. One of the things that Trump exposed is that it's his words that they're so offended by. Meryl Streep actually, how out of touch are you? When you go, "It was the moment that he made fun of a reporter with a weird arm." Okay, Trump shouldn't have done that, but was this the moment, forget starting a war that was unnecessary. This was like the sin of all sins. The guy's an adult, he can handle it I'm sure.
Gillespie: It's like South Park with Mr. Garrison as a transgender Trump candidate makes a sexist joke and then people are like, "Oh, that's it. I'm out." I was like, "Oh, what took you so long?"
Smith: That was the most brilliant, I thought political comment ever when he said grab them by the pussy thing and then people started storming out and then Mr. Garrison who is Trump goes, "Oh, did that do it for you? Not the fucking immigrants, right?" And that is … What an amazing comment though, on our society. It's like oh, yeah, "I don't actually care about people being victimized and being oppressed, but I need to be the one who cares about that, so just don't talk about it. So, do it quietly."
Gillespie: Two thing, and first, does Trump's rhetoric, though, where he makes explicit, in many ways, in terms of blowing up Middle Eastern or third world countries, in terms of deporting illegal immigrants. He's only making explicit what Barack Obama did, but is he also playing to a kind of tribalist, nativist, racist sentiment in America or maybe tribalist is better, and then what is it about, you know, talk about that … Is that part of what he's motivating in America?
Smith: Yes. I think yes. Obviously, yeah. To a large degree, but I don't … Racism is a very, very broad term. You can have somebody who's by today's microaggression standard, anything not politically correct is racist, but yeah, a preference for your own, or wanting to live around your own is something that a lot more of us have than we actually voice. If you just look at real estate and self-segregation and things like that. A lot of people, you know, I'm like a person who's from a city and always lived around a lot of different groups of people, but I think a lot of people in the middle of the country look at the demographic changes in America, and don't like that. And don't like that.
Gillespie: Have you spent any time in the middle of the country?
Smith: I have. As a stand-up comedian, that's one of the things that I've been able to do, is I've traveled all over the country.
Gillespie: Do you only go to whites-only comedy clubs? Or are they effectively whites-only comedy clubs?
Smith: No. Let me tell you something, I've done quite a few black rooms, Spanish rooms in my life, and lots of mixed rooms.
Gillespie: Oh, mixed rooms. Speckled. They used to be called. Salt and pepper rooms.
Smith: I'll play any of the rooms, but I like them to be completely segregated.
Gillespie: You know, that's Malcolm X meeting George Lincoln Rockwell that's like they both agreed on segregation, right? So, what is the response from a libertarian perspective to that kind of dynamic in Trump?
Smith: Well, I thought, and I think this really says something, because I think Hillary Clinton is like one of the worst candidates you could possibly … Like just absolutely horrific would've been a nightmare, and it was … Trump was disqualifying for me. I just couldn't get on board with that, and I would've loved to be able to get on board with any anti-Hillary, you know, anyone who had a real shot at beating Hillary was very tempting to me, but no. I mean, just as you said, once you start talking about mass deportations, targeting families, bringing torture back, these things to me were too profoundly un-libertarian for me to support.
Gillespie: How do you convince, I guess what I'm asking, how do you convince Trump supporters that this guy is kind of fucked up? This isn't good. This doesn't have a good ending.
Smith: Well, I don't know. I guess, at this point, we can start looking at the facts on the ground, and you know, I mean he's—
Gillespie: He's done some spectacular things. He's done more than any other president ever.
Smith: That's right. So much winning.
Smith: Well look, I like to point out the obvious bullshit of Trump. So, I really enjoyed making fun of some of my alt-right friends who you think I'm too sympathetic to, but when Trump made that trip, and he went to Saudi Arabia, and then to Israel, I was just laughing at all of them. I did a whole podcast on how do you guys feel? You just gave $100 billion in weapons to the most radical Islamists on the country, and then you went and kissed the ring of all your Jew friends over in Israel. So, I think it's like yeah. Trump had a brilliant insight. He saw an opening and played to it. Trump is not that guy. Trump was a Hillary Clinton supporter. This is all just an act.
Gillespie: But he's not a cuck right? Because what he's doing is he's turning the alt-right into cucks, because they'll follow him to the gates of hell.
Smith: I believe there is a lot of cuckatry on the alt-right, yes.
Gillespie: Cuckatry. That's even better than cuckleberry.
Smith: I think, in a lot of ways, and I've said this very consistently: I think the alt-right mirror social justice warriors. They're like their equal opposite, but they're very similar in a weird way. They remind me, I remember when the men's rights movement thing popped up, you know, and it would kind of be like the feminists would be out there like we need these programs for women, and government programs for women, and then the men's rights activists would be like we need to government programs for men. And you're like just as bad. You're doing the exact same thing!
Gillespie: Yeah, we need affirmative action for guys, and stuff.
Smith: Yes, right. Like this is insane. And I see a lot of—
Gillespie: Well, and then there's the Trump kind of … the Trumpian version of political correctness, which I'm sure you get in any time you write or commit to public speaking. You know, people are like, "Shut up. You're a commie. You're this. You're that." If you're not balls deep with your nose up Trump's ass, and I realize that doesn't make any sense, but it's—
Smith: If you hadn't said that, I would've just gone with it. Like yep.
Gillespie: But it's like then that means you're a communist, and you were the one who transported Obama's birth certificate from Kenya to Hawaii, or something like that, and it's kind of like …
Smith: Which I still don't know who did that.
Gillespie: But we do know what happened.
Smith: But yes, no. I agree with that. And they actually have… You know, the same way the left has like this virtue signaling thing where everyone's got to change their profile picture to Fight For 15, to let you know I'm on the right side. So, the alt-right internet guys have like anti–virtue signaling. So, it's like whoever can be the most hardcore. Like "I'd throw the Jews in the oven," and then you're like "Yeah, you're the man." And you're doing the same thing they're doing, but I do think, like I've had this feeling for a long time, which really drives me crazy in America, and this is very true on the left is like what we were saying with Trump, is like this thing where words are the worst thing in the world. Like saying something offensive is horrific. Like if you were to go like I just think Muslim culture is violent. You're like you gotta go, but if you went Islam is a religion of peace. And then you bomb the crap out of them, then you're okay.
So, I hate that, and what I don't like, in the libertarian world, is this thing where it's like oh, I have to come out and repudiate, I have to make it clear that I'm not a Nazi, which is the most obvious thing ever. I'm a Jew preaching for individual rights who hates the state. What's less Nazi than that? But I have to condemn the alt-right because they've said mean words. Meanwhile, our party can run like a guy who supported the war in Iraq as their VP, who opened the campaign supporting Kasich, who's like a war hawk, and then we can have a guy who's saying Jews have to bake Nazi cakes as our nominee, and these people who aren't outraged about that, are outraged that someone said no-no words? I just don't have that same priorities.
Gillespie: So, did you vote for Gary Johnson?
Gillespie: Did you vote?
Smith: I did not. I made a whole video about how I don't think you should.
Gillespie: So, why are we talking to you about voting? Why are you talking about voting?
Smith: This is … Well, because it's a pretty big thing.
Gillespie: You might as well be talking to me about having sex. I mean, it's like if we're just going to talk about stuff that's not happening.
Smith: Well, no. Because no matter whether I vote or not, the winner of that election does rule over me. So, it's relevant.
Gillespie: So, you're happy then, that at least two of three candidates that you disliked lost.
Gillespie: Gary Johnson and Hillary.
Smith: Well, I guess, in a sense. Look, Gary Johnson certainly would've been preferable to these guys. I'm not denying that, but as a third party candidate, you have to do a little bit more than be preferable. I'm not looking at you as the lesser of two evils. What I'm talking about is not … democracy. I'm talking about libertarian principles, and where your outrage should lie, like if you're looking at all these sites. And yeah, if there's someone marching with a swastika …
Gillespie: I think Gary was pretty good on … He clearly was not gonna bomb a bunch of foreign countries, right?
Smith: That's for sure.
Smith: Yes, look. If I thought there was a reasonable chance that Gary Johnson would've gotten, and look, I think you've gotta be—
Gillespie: You would've gotten out of bed. You would've woken up that day, right?
Smith: Yeah. Maybe. You gotta convince me. If you're gonna be a third party, you've gotta convince me. And when you're sitting there and you're running away from your own philosophy constantly, and then apologizing for how terrible it would be.
Gillespie: So, was there a libertarian candidate early on that you would've voted for? Just as … Not as virtue signaling, because it's not … You know, I voted for Gary Johnson, 'cause he was the best candidate out of the ones who were there.
Smith: And I get that argument. I'm not like … I just-
Gillespie: I don't think that my vote ever swings an election, but I like to express my preference.
Smith: I was open to voting for Rand Paul at the beginning. I mean, he didn't make it to the New York primary, but I was … I voted for Ron Paul, and I would vote again for him. He's a little old.
Gillespie: Tell me … Well, is he that much older than Trump in 40 years?
Smith: I think he's still working harder than he was in Congress. The guy puts out like two articles a week and four podcasts.
Gillespie: Yeah, he's always on TV.
Smith: He's a beast.
Gillespie: So, talk about the left's inability to deal with…You've talked about this, and what I love about the special and it's not like a false equivalence or anything, but it's great to see somebody making fun of Trump, and understanding Trump and also enjoying Trump, on some level, but then the discombobulation on the left is amazing, and they used to … Back in the day, they were fond of talking about being part of the reality-based community, and all of this. And now, you have people who just can't … It doesn't compute. Reality no longer computes for that.
Smith: I don't know what happened to the left over the last 10 years. I don't know what … They went off the rails, and I thought … When I first came into libertarianism, I thought overall, the left was a little bit better than the right. Like I don't believe in this false equivalency thing, and I was like well, you know, they're pretty passionately against war, and mass incarceration, and those are kind of the most important issues to me.
So, but I just look at the right over the last 10 years, and I think by and large, even if you want to focus on the 50 crazies in Charlottesville, by large, I think the right wing has gotten a lot better from a libertarian perspective. They're much less hawkish. They're cooler about gay marriage. They're less pushing religion. Most of them have kind of retreated to libertarian positions. So, instead of like you really hearing people like, "We have to overturn Roe v. Wade," they're like "I don't want my tax dollars going to Planned Parenthood." To a libertarian, I think that's a very reasonable compromise. "Oh, gay marriage can be the law of the land, but I don't want to have to bake you a cake."
Gillespie: I will eat the cake if it's freely offered.
Smith: I will eat a cake with a swastika on it. I like cake, okay? I just don't want Gary Johnson to make me bake one, if I don't want to. But I'm just like … Now, the left has gone-
Gillespie: You might want to. Wait. So, you're baking a lot of swastika cakes? You're not at all pro-Nazi, right? OK.
Smith: Look I'm from…There's a lot of Nazis and they're paying for these cakes. I mean, let's…No. I'm just saying, and in the mean time, in 10 years—
Gillespie: They all pay in gold too, right? Swiss gold?
Smith: I take Bitcoin. So the left then has gone from being antiwar to like okay, that kind of went away, and now it's like Trump could bomb the third world tomorrow and then make remarks that are offensive to transgender people, and they wouldn't even care about the first.
Gillespie: Or they would say, and this happened after Syria, that oh, Trump became presidential today because he bombed a couple of air strips and like a Dunkin Donuts in Syria.
Smith: As much as the media's been convincing me, and you can watch CNN all day or something like that, and they're convincing you how outraged you should be about Trump, nothing has outraged me more than the media coverage of his bombing of Syria. It was the most disgusting thing I've ever seen in my life, and to me, Trump has, and I didn't think anyone could, but has exposed the media even more than I thought they were exposed. Like I have never been so disgusted. CNN's gonna sit here every day and talk about how like we're so concerned that somebody would undermine democracy. You leaked debate questions to Hillary Clinton! You undermined democracy in the most profound way, and you haven't even apologized. Literally, they just move on, like that's no big deal, it's like man, it is terrifying that this guy's in control of the military, but what's even more or equally terrifying, is that you guys are covering it.
Gillespie: So, how old are you, if you don't mind me asking?
Gillespie: And you're allowed to say that as a comedian? So, do we add seven years? What's the typical comedian … I know for actors it's 10 years. Comedians, it's …
Smith: No. We don't care.
Gillespie: So, you're a solid millennial, right?
Smith: I guess, yes.
Gillespie: And that means that you, in a way, I mean, it kind of sucks to be you, because you've grown up in a world that has only known, like, nonstop conflict, and it's not even good conflict. It's, like, nobody's pretending that the world is really held in balance between Iraq or Afghanistan. I mean, it's not the Cold War. It's not even the Olympics or Boris Spassky playing Bobby Fischer in chess, or like nothing really matters, but it's always on in the background. Shitty economic growth. The one thing that's really clarified for millennials, is you got, and I assume you got to see Bush in action, and he's conservative, and then we elect Obama, and he's everything that Bush isn't, but does exactly the same stuff.
Smith: The biggest story that nobody's talking about right now with Trump is like, just what you're saying, like how much is the same? I mean so much is the same. Like yes, it's a little bit different, what you see on TV. He's using Twitter. He's doing this, but like all the things we care about, like foreign policy, monetary policy, fiscal policy, like all of these things are exactly the same from Bush, to Obama, to Trump. As different as you could be, and we're still … It's like oh, Obama, Bush broke the records in terms of spending, and then Obama broke his records, and guess what Trump's gonna do? He's gonna break Obama's record.
Gillespie: So, then why are millennials so totally in the tank for Democratic presidential candidates? And granted, there's only three of them, basically, and it's fascinating. Bush versus Gore in 2000, they basically split the male/female vote. They split the youth vote. I mean, it was kind of even-Steven, but now, it's like … Are any millennials, if they vote for a major party, will they ever vote Republican again?
Smith: I don't think so. I mean, not any, but in terms of like major demographic trends, yeah.
Gillespie: We're talking like two thirds or more.
Smith: I mean, if you look at what was going on in college campuses in the 60s, and then kind of the generation that came after that. I mean, look at what's going on at college campuses right now, I don't see there being like a conservative trajectory for young people. No, I think … I don't know what it is, but socialism, leftism, all of that, it's really great propaganda, and it spreads like wildfire, and it's very popular with young people, and I don't know. I don't see anything. I see that going more … Bernie Sanders wing has all the energy.
Gillespie: So, how does Bernie Sanders, and I always thought of Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul as kind of interesting, because they're old, kind of nice guys. I mean not nice guys. Bernie is always huffing and puffing. He's like pure Brooklyn bathed in a Ben and Jerry's cream bath or something in Vermont, but he and Ron Paul are interesting, because they're not charismatic speakers, but they're also very idealistic.
Smith: That's right.
Gillespie: And they both latch into kids. Like what is going on there?
Smith: I hated that about Bernie Sanders, because I thought so much of it like erased the Ron Paul memory, because it was aesthetically almost like, from a conspiratorial sense, you're like, "Did they just try to copy this, but make a leftie version of it?" 'Cause it was. It was like a kind of disheveled, older guy who's just a truth teller. Like I'm not really up here concerned with making the perfect speech. It's like, "let me tell you what's going on." But then, you look at the major differences, and not just that like … The difference to me and the two of them, is that so Ron Paul was going around … So, someone like me, who came into the Ron Paul, this is how I became a libertarian, through the Ron Paul movement.
He challenged all of my preconceived notions about what government was. He inspired me to read all of these people. Like Rothbard, and Mises, and Friedman, and all of these great thinkers, and think about all of these things, that he has kids chanting "end the Fed!" You've read a few books if you're chanting end the Fed. Bernie would go around to these kids and be like "Hey, so you're a college kid in 2017. You're among the richest, freest, most privileged people who have ever existed. Billionaires should be paying your bills for you." I mean, it's just like…He just played into everything…So it was the difference between a propagandist and a truth teller.
Gillespie: What's also kind of interesting, too, thinking back to some earlier comments we had. Sanders also talked about the economy more. Like he is not a hardcore identitarian. Like he's not a social justice warrior. He is, in terms of the minimum wage, and unions, and he's always afraid of Pinkertons coming in and busting up a union meeting, or something, but he's not talking about transgender rights, and stuff like that. If anything, he was attacked by Black Lives … Yeah. I mean he got pushed off the stage, literally, in Seattle, by them early on, because he wasn't sensitive enough.
Smith: That's right, and also, he did very poorly with the minority vote. Hillary killed him. I think Bernie Sanders is more attracted to this more kind of old school economic socialist argument, and he's not so into the cultural Marxist argument, where we've changed the oppressor and oppressed to race, LGBT, gender. So, he still sees it through this like "no, no, no. It's the billionaire class," and the economic, but it's really … To me, it's all the same thing. It's all the same thing, because it's this forced Marxist way of looking at the world as everything is oppressor versus oppressed, and it's utterly ignorant.
Gillespie: How do you reach millennials? And I'm assuming as a comedian and through your podcast and what not, and we'll talk about those in some detail. How do you reverse this? Or are you just kind of like oh, you know what? It's over, and I'm just gonna enjoy myself while it lasts, but I mean is the question that your cohort, your generation doesn't remember history, or they have forgotten it, or are they like actually they're knowledgeable and they've embraced something that has been proven wrong? I mean, how do you engage people? Like you say, Ron Paul, if it took an 800-year-old obstetrician to get you to think your premises, what are you gonna do to make people your same age think differently?
Smith: That's a really great question, and I think you always … Like I love doing a podcast and talk … I'm a New Yorker, and I was raised by a single mother, so I kind of speak their language, inherently, so I feel like I can talk to millennials in that sense. To me, I make the argument that I find compelling, but I look at it like … for libertarianism, in terms of spreading the ideas, I mean, the people who did the most ever, just most undoubtedly, are like Ayn Rand, and she did it through novels. I don't think that's today's America. You know? I don't think that's how you're gonna reach a … That was, in that time, that was how you could reach a lot of people. Like Milton Friedman had that TV series Free To Choose, and a book to match, but I think the TV series probably converted more people than the book.
Gillespie: The book was a big deal.
Smith: The book was a big too, but it's like—
Gillespie: Yeah. But it was a companion to the TV show.
Smith: To me, I do kind of look at podcasting today as being like, to some degree, of being the medium of the time.
Gillespie: Snapchat, can you become the Ayn Rand of Snapchat? Instagram? Peach? Is Peach still a social media platform?
Smith: The Ayn Rand of Snapchat might be one of my new nicknames. I'm going to start branding myself that way.
Gillespie: Well, you just need a Snapchat account now, and then somebody to tell you how to work it.
Smith: That's right. Just gotta figure out Snapchat. I've already read some Ayn Rand.
Gillespie: You don't think of it. You're already there, because your messages disappear immediate in time, and you've already, are you leaving a ripple behind on that?
Smith: That I can't complain about. I guess there is a case. I actually talked to … Two people made comments, two libertarians made comments that really stuck with me. One was at a Reason event where Katherine was speaking.
Gillespie: Katherine Mangu-Ward, the editor of the print edition of Reason.
Smith: That's correct. Yes. And she said no matter how frustrated we get with the growth of the state, you always have to remember that the market is growing as well, and that we're living at like a better time than anyone's ever lived, and we have more wealth. So, I think it's very important for libertarians to always remember that, too. Like there's the state, but there's also all this great stuff that's going on here that we live through, and the other thing was what Ron Paul just convinced me that he said that libertarians absolutely should be optimistic, and he convinced me. He said that we should have the case for optimism is stronger than the case for pessimism, and I just took it as a guy like him who's been around this game for a long time, who's kind of seen it all, and I think America might be on the way to a crack up, but like when the USSR cracked up, that was probably the best thing that ever happened to the Russian people, and the Ukrainian people, and so, maybe the fact that … Maybe this whole thing can kind of come unglued in a positive way, and we're not gonna just not have the technology anymore. That's gonna be there. So, maybe we can figure it out.
Gillespie: Well, this is like the idea that yeah, you know, the Roman Empire fell, and that was bad for the Romans, but it wasn't so bad for other people.
Smith: Right. Right. And you could see very clearly like—
Gillespie: It certainly was good for the Huns.
Smith: Yeah. But now, it's not so great for people maybe who are invested in government bonds or something like that, like there's gonna be a lot of damage, probably, but I think even you see just having interest rates as low as we had for all these years. You're like oh, okay. So we don't have to feel the crash, but you're punishing all the savers, everybody on a fixed income, and rewarding all the speculators. So, there is still pain going on, and it's not the people who deserve to be feeling the pain.
Gillespie: Your podcast, you do a podcast called Part of the Problem, which is a political one, and then you also do the Legion of Skanks?
Smith: That's right, which is filthy comedy. Yes.
Gillespie: All right. Okay. So, let's talk about the filthy comedy, first, and then, if we have time, we'll get to the libertarian politics, and these are on the GaS Digital Network?
Gillespie: What is the best place for people to find the GaS Digital Network?
Smith: It's gasdigitalnetwork.com, it's right there.
Gillespie: All right. There you go. Two Gs? Two Ss?
Gillespie: What do you talk about on Legion of Skanks?
Smith: Legion of Skanks will be just whatever. It's me, Louis J. Gomez, and Jay Oakerson. Two of just the funniest comedians out there, and we're just over the top. We try to find comedy in the most tragic, fucked up things, and-
Gillespie: Like name one.
Smith: One time we did this what's called "The Gauntlet," of we just have to sit there and watch the most horrific videos that are on the internet, and our reactions to who could break down first and look away, and stuff like that. So, we go over the top, but it's just comics kind of talking shit, having fun, that's the vibe. Nothing too serious. And then, Part of the Problem is my outlet where I rant and rave about what's wrong in the world.
Gillespie: And this is where recently, or within recent memory, you had Christopher Cantwell, the former member of the Free State Project, who got kicked out of that years ago for basically saying, "Hey, you know, it's not just a … You know, you're not just justified in shooting tax collectors, you're kind of required to."
Gillespie: And they're like, eh, let's take this, and then he was the Jimmy J.J. Walker of the Charlottesville march.
Gillespie: You're not at the right rally.
Smith: And he made quite a crazy transition. I mean, I remember seeing Christopher Cantwell videos from like three, four years ago, where he was rallying against police brutality, and how they oppress the black community. He was a huge fan of Patrice O'Neill, famous black comedian, and he was racially radicalized over the last few years.
Gillespie: So, yeah. I mean having talked to him, and I know you have a great … Well, you have the interview with Cantwell, and then you have a podcast after that talking about where people were like you were too chummy with Christopher Cantwell, which both of these are pretty interesting, but do you have a strong sense of like … How does somebody, and Cantwell's like a New York guy, right? Originally? And he's in his mid to late 30s, obviously, like he's weepy, he's lachrymose in a way that bespeaks not toxic masculinity, but some kind of personality problem, I suspect, or disorder, but how does somebody become racially kind of operationalized? Or actualized, especially now? And if you're like … You know, if you're from New York and stuff, like who the fuck has time to be racist?
Smith: I mean, look, I certainly don't exactly understand that, and it's one of the things that I actually found really fascinating about Christopher Cantwell, is like how could anybody who's accepted like the non-aggression principal in libertarianism, take this turn?
Gillespie: And he's super anti-Semitic, too.
Smith: But you know, Christopher Cantwell's got this thing where … First of all, he is a very talented writer, and he's a very funny guy, and you almost sometimes can't tell … You can't separate what the joke is, and what the reality is, and I tried to ask him this a couple times. I mean, Christopher Cantwell, and this is stuff, as a comedian first, because that's what I am really, is a comedian first, I emailed him after … He had sent me something, and then I emailed him. It was the day after the Charlottesville thing and I said hey, you want to come on my podcast? Give your side of the story? And he said I wouldn't miss it for an autographed copy of Mein Kampf. And that just makes me laugh, man. Even though, it's kind of fucked up. So, he's got that. I interviewed with-
Gillespie: So, he's like Alex Jones, like is he a performance artist, or something? Or Michael Savage.
Smith: He even refers to himself as like a racist shock jock. So, he's kind of doing a thing, and look, I had Richard Spencer on my show. I had him on my show, and I just find it kind of interesting, and I find their take interesting, and I don't know—
Gillespie: You're just asking questions. You find it interesting that World Trade Center 7, obviously, a controlled demolition.
Smith: Well, I'll say this. I always, I make it pretty clear where I stand. People who listen to my podcasts have no doubt about where I stand on all of these issues, and the same thing I say when I go on a Fox News panel with some guy who's a CIA killer, or somebody who's advocating for the next war. I go in there. I mean, I don't know. I never get accused of being chummy with them. So, why all of a sudden … I have to play this left-wing game, where like I go in and I talk to John Bolton and I go, 'no, that's a completely legitimate point. We should fight five more wars that would be a disaster. Christopher Cantwell, you said a no-no word, just so everyone knows, I'm not with him.'
Gillespie: Do you think though, Cantwell was part of a broadly defined libertarian movement, Richard Spencer talked about how Ron Paul was the guy who actualized him into politics. Do libertarians have a special responsibility in the same way that the left does to the Antifa?
Smith: I'm sorry. This is what pisses me off, okay? Richard Spencer and Christopher Cantwell are persona non grata, they can't go anywhere—
Gillespie: Wait, is that Mexican? I didn't understand that.
Smith: Well, that's—
Gillespie: I only speak English, here.
Smith: Can someone translate that? No. I'm saying like these guys can't even speak at their own rallies. Okay? They literally can't even get up. They can't. There's not one conservative institution that would have them. They don't go on any of these television shows unless they're just slamming them. On the other hand, the left, you have full-fledged Marxist tenured professors. So, I'm sorry if they're lecturing us about like we need to get rid of our radicals, you have like three people who came in from libertarianism.
Gillespie: Don't you get tired of though, when people say things, and this was … You know, I find anybody who's carrying a Nazi flag, unless they're in a touring company of The Sound of Music, you know, that's sad and it's pathetic, right?
Smith: Absolutely, yeah.
Gillespie: But people were like oh, as long as they're doing it at a private function, we should have no opinion.
Smith: No. Of course not. No, you can have opinion—
Gillespie: Well, don't you run into that with a lot of libertarians, where it's like—
Gillespie: Oh, as long as it's a private business, who gives a shit?
Smith: Libertarians make the mistake that the only opinion that makes you a libertarian is that you shouldn't be thrown in a cage for it. It doesn't mean I can't sit there and tell you it's not repugnant. And yeah, if anyone who would march with a swastika or a hammer and sickle, I just find it all like-
Gillespie: What about the Stars & Bars? The Confederate Battle Flag?
Smith: I can … You know.
Gillespie: You can live with that?
Smith: Not as bad.
Smith: I don't love it, but it's not the same thing. I wouldn't equate that to the same thing as, I mean that represents other things to people, but these are like not American movements.
Gillespie: What about the Rainbow Flag?
Smith: The Rainbow Flag? I'm okay with that. As a New Yorker, you gotta be okay with the Rainbow Flag.
Gillespie: Yeah. Can we get rid of flags? Flags are like a twentieth century invention.
Smith: So, for you, and I thought you, I read your article about this on the gateway, libertarianism being the gateway, and I think you quoted somebody in the article. I want to make it a point that the guy who organized this came in through Occupy, right? So, why don't we … How about we talk about are college campuses a gateway to Antifa? How about that? I mean, how many of these Antifa kids were studying from some left-wing professor? So, why do they never have to have any of this pressure, but then, we've gotta sit here and deal with-
Gillespie: Well, they should though, shouldn't they?
Smith: Yes, they should, and we shouldn't, because this is nonsense. We're preaching something that is, as you point out in your article, the antithesis of National Socialism. I don't need to sit here and talk about it. You guys are preaching Marxism.
Gillespie: Well, actually, when you put it that way, we're not nationalists, and we're not socialists.
Smith: It's the opposite. As I said, people have natural rights. The state is an immoral institution. I mean, how is any of this compatible with Nazism?
Gillespie: Do you worry about … Well, when you go to comedy clubs, is there a sense, and you've been doing it now for over a decade. Is there a rising sense for you that certain things are just not tolerated anymore? Certain types of speech? Certain types of thought? And does this go … You know, like you get a lot of people that say, like "Oh, you know what? It's like now, because of political correctness, I can't use my racial epithet of choice, and like oh, my freedom is being irreparably damaged." That's one thing. But on college campuses, and you see at something like Evergreen State College, within recent memory, where people were patrolling the campus with baseball bats scaring people. There's a thug's veto all over the place saying Antifa does this. They did it in Berkeley just recently, but is there … When it comes to comedy and when it comes to more substantive though processes, do you think something is changing where people are-
Gillespie: … And you know, it's not just different, it's new. We're shutting down discourse.
Smith: I've noticed it in the ten years I've been doing comedy, and I think anybody who's been doing stand up for those ten years would agree with me. It was like when I first started, there was not this thing of there are no-no words and no-no topics that if you approach the audience is gonna get tight on. And just like you said before, just because something is a cultural issue, doesn't mean we can't have an opinion on it, as libertarians, and I gotta say, and I don't really love this narrative, 'cause I always want the state to be the enemy, but in 2017, the threat to free speech is like this left-wing culture where like Condoleezza Rice, who me and you probably consider like a leftist, can't even speak on a college campus because she's like one step to the right of Hillary Clinton, or something like that. That, to me, is a very scary trend.
But with the stuff with the culture and comedy, I've noticed it, but what sucks about it is like it's not we've grown and now we're a little bit more evolved so we realize that minorities are hurt by these insensitive remarks. Look, I've gone all around to black shows in poor areas, minorities feelings are: they don't care. They like a good joke. It's like college white kids who are going so I can feel better as a human being, I'm gonna be offended by no-no words. And it's not what your intent or what you're saying, it's just if you say the wrong words, they get offended by you. It's utterly ridiculous.
Gillespie: Well, to kind of bring this lively conversation to a close, do you hope that your special airing on September 11th, and it's available basically on every digital platform you can, but go to the GaS Digital Network to rent it and check it out. It's very good. I highly recommend it. Do you hope it'll open things up a little bit? That it'll kind of hit people in the head with a cartoon mallet and bong and people will understand we need to be a little bit looser, just as we need to be looser in the economy, we need to be looser at the borders, we need to be looser about drugs, can we be looser about thought?
Smith: I'd love to have that effect on people, and I hope so. I do agree with you. I think we need to be looser on all these things. My goal is always just to put out a hilarious comedy special. That's just what I want to do. I want to make great comedy specials, and I want … you know, I want this to be great, and the next one to be great, and the next one to be great, and I'm obsessed with this. So, that comes out in what I'm talking about. But yeah, I think we want a culture that supports liberty, you know? That's kind of what we want, and I think it's not a bad … I love the idea of Libertarian musicians. There's this guy, Eric July, and his band BackWordz that are like phenomenal-
Gillespie: With a Z.
Smith: That's right. BackWordz with a Z. And he's like-
Gillespie: That's hip. Yeah. That's crazy. I've never seen anything like that.
Smith: He's amazing. His story is phenomenal. He's a kid who was a gang banger who then found Thomas Sowell and then found libertarian writing, and it's amazing, but I think people like that are just-
Gillespie: By the way, I want to say as somebody who roomed in college with a guy who was really into Christian rock, just be careful what you wish for, okay? If you want libertarian music.
Smith: Well, I'll tell you, well, actually, he's one of the guys. And I think I tried to do this with my special, too. It's not like something where I'm forcing libertarianism at you, and then there'll be a little joke here or there. This is comedy. I'm doing comedy, and it happens to be a libertarian doing it. So, I don't know what it's gonna have, but I think we all have our little impact. Like what you guys do with the podcasts, what you do with the magazine, what everyone does. We all have a little impact on our audience, and hopefully, I get this to as big of an audience as possible.
Gillespie: All right. Well, we will be doing our best to see that that happens.
Smith: Thank you, sir.
Gillespie: We've been talking with Dave Smith. He's a comedian. He's got a great special out. "Libertas" on the GaS Digital Network. Look for it on all of your favorite digital platforms. He's also the proprietor or the host of two podcasts, Legion of Skanks and Part of the Problem. Dave Smith, thanks so much for talking.
Smith: Thank you, Nick.
Gillespie: For Reason, I'm Nick Gillespie.