Can Independent Voters Fix Our Broken Political System?

Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie argue yes in their new book, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America.

Roughly 100 people showed up at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, Monday evening to hear the editors of Reason magazine, Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie, talk about their new book, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America. The presentation they gave was much like the one featured in the video at the top of this item.

They argue that although it may seem like we're stuck with two lousy political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, their perverse duopoly, headquartered in Washington, D.C., isn't going to last forever. Disgusted by the status quo, voters are increasingly identifying as independents, and if they team up on certain issues, aided by Internet technology that makes grassroots organizing easier than ever, they can successfully lobby for once unthinkable policy changes.

The work of entertaining writers, the book is refreshing, especially among political tomes, for several reasons: it offers an original but plausible take on recent history, doesn't blame a partisan enemy for all that ails America, and advances an argument too complicated to fully convey in a review -- hence its critical success in a genre where many titles run out of ideas at the end of the subtitle.

This book is full of ideas, many of them quirky: there are anecdotes about the role of protest rock in spreading political freedom, homages to innovative CEOs and home brewers, even an extended analogy involving Pop Tarts. In letting their freak flags fly, Welch and Gillespie are underscoring their assertion that there is great variety among Americans. A surprising range of Pop Tart flavors are at our disposal. Why wouldn't we rebel against a political order that forces us to pick between two unsatisfying choices, now that coordinating mini-rebellions is so doable?

The future, as they predict it, includes always changing coalitions of motivated citizens who are loyal to neither party, and thus better able to pressure politicians, tea party style, to support them on single issues, whether spending cuts or gay marriage or legalizing marijuana or ending a war -- or to pay the consequences come the next election. As George Will wrote in his sales boosting column about the book, "America is moving in the libertarians' direction not because they have won an argument but because government and the sectors it dominates have made themselves ludicrous. This has, however, opened minds to the libertarians' argument."

Lest you doubt that the U.S. is moving in a libertarian direction, given the post-9/11 security state and inconsistencies of the tea party when it comes to championing liberty, zoom out a bit: over the last 50 years, we've seen the Civil Rights movement succeed, afforded women economic equality, deregulated airlines, telephones and breweries, gone a long way toward equality for gays, seen rising support for medical marijuana -- so the authors would say, and it's hard to contest that on the whole, American individuals are more free than ever to pursue happiness as they see it.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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