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.
And I am persuaded by their argument that we'll see single issue groups win libertarian victories in the future. Welch told the Portland audience that he is most optimistic about legalizing marijuana. I expect legal gay marriage to spread through blue and then purple America. And I've no doubt that the combination of more political independents and easier organizing makes possible libertarian victories I can't even anticipate. But I do have one nagging reservation.
In the question and answer session, I put it to the authors. Deregulating the airlines, permitting micro-brews, legalizing marijuana: all those policy changes either made or would make sizable constituencies better off, I said, and it's great that such changes may become easier to effect politically in a nation of newly empowered independents. But what about civil liberties issues where there is no sizable constituency being made worse off -- just a small minority being mistreated by the state? Are independents ever going to organize on behalf of prison inmates being raped or people unjustly put on sex offender registries or Muslims being targeted by law enforcement for no reason other than their religion? Does the book's theory of politics offer any hope on such issues?