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Independents thinking

| Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 2:58 p.m.

Fed up with what Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch call America's major-party "duopoly"• Well, they've got just the book for you.

In "The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America" (PublicAffairs), Gillespie, editor of , and Welch, editor of Reason magazine, suggest the same driving forces that have vastly improved life outside politics -- choice, competition, technology -- can make politicians responsive to voters. And they do so with considerable humor and optimism about "the three great blots on the American dream": the cost of health care and the failure of education and retirement systems.

Following are excerpts from the Trib's phone conversation with the authors.

On their outlook:

Welch -- Libertarianism writ large tends probably to be more optimistic than pessimistic, because it looks at things like technological advancements ... and says, "Hey, look ... since 1800 or so ... things have just been getting ... not just better but exponentially better, and therefore, as long as we don't screw it up too badly, we'll figure out ways to make it better in the future."

Gillespie -- I totally agree with that, and part of ... the problem is that if you orient everything around "What is your connection to government?" you're always going to be unhappy because politics is a zero-sum game ... and ... the two major parties, the two major viewpoints, liberal and conservative, are basically in a dead heat. They each get about a third of whatever votes ... and so it's not even that 51 percent of the population is shoving something down people's throat, it's a third shoving it down the other two-thirds'.

On independents' role:

Welch -- Independents, without a doubt right now, are the swing votes in this country and ... wherever independents go, so goes the actual election. And the candidates themselves know that and understand that.

Gillespie -- The parties are going to have to start doing the bidding of what voters want, and what independent voters want now is fiscal sanity and fiscal restraint.

On the book's aims:

Welch -- The intent ... is to encourage ... fence-sitters, to tell them, "Hey, it's OK to jump off this thing" -- that it's not irrational to not feel any sense of affiliation. ... "Republicanoids" and "Democratoids" alike frequently call independents either crazy people or just incredibly ill-informed ... and I think they're wrong.

Gillespie -- We wanted to write a political manifesto that kind of blows up politics. ... (T)he main message is that there are at least two parts to people's lives: There's the realm of politics and there's everything else, and people know, despite economic troubles and high unemployment rates and screwy policies and housing prices in flux and all of that, they know that the nonpolitical part of their lives keeps getting better, and ... we stress ... that politics is a lagging indicator of what's going on in America ... . It's time to kick down the front door ... and bring everything that is good and decent, all that democratization and decentralization of power and decision-making that we have in so much of our lives, to the political arena. And of course the incumbent powers ... a right wing and a left wing, they're going to scream and cry and shout, but they're finished. They're finished. They're the dinosaurs in the La Brea Tar Pits -- they're stuck, they're sinking and they're not climbing out.


"The impasse over the debt ceiling is exactly the problem that is outlined in the book, and the real issue is that we need to get to a point where we start saying, 'What are the first, second and third priorities of government?' And, 'Let's stop (messing) around with the second and third, much less fourth through 10th, priorities of government.'" -- Nick Gillespie

"We've had three, four years of ... disaster Keynesianism, started under Bush and increased under Obama, and you don't have to be an ideologue, you don't have to even have heard of a single Austrian economist ... to look around you and say, 'Hey, you know what, this really hasn't worked.' ... It's created an appetite for people who want to know, 'OK, what's the alternative to all that?'" -- Matt Welch


Though Aug. 1 isn't until tomorrow, this summer has already brought plenty of "dog days," when high heat and humidity can sap enthusiasm and inspiration for reading. Yet any day's date holds a key to countering that malaise.

It's as easy as checking out "this day in history" lists such as those at The World Almanac's website ( . Try it today and you'll find that, among other notable events, the U.S. Patent Office opened and issued the first U.S. patent on July 31, 1790; Thomas Edison received his phonograph patent on July 31, 1877; and the late, great free-market economist and author Milton Friedman was born on July 31, 1912.

Manager Karen Rossi and her staff at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Downtown & Business branch used that "instant inspiration" to compile the following list of titles dealing with Edison, patents and Friedman, which should last most readers at least through Labor Day weekend.

At Work with Thomas Edison: 10 Business Lessons from America's Greatest Innovator

by Blaine McCormick

(Entrepreneur Press, 2001)

The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World

by Randall Stross

(Crown, 2007)

Edison's Electric Light: The Art of Invention

by Robert Friedel and Paul Israel with Bernard S. Finn

(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010)

Patents: Ingenious Inventions, How They Work and How They Came to Be

by Ben Ikenson

(Black Dog & Leventhal, 2004)

Free to Choose: A Personal Statement

by Milton and Rose Friedman

(Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980)

Money Mischief: Episodes in Monetary History

by Milton Friedman

(Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992)

Milton Friedman: A Biography

by Lanny Ebenstein

(Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)


Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate

by Juan Williams


The notion of defending another's right to free speech no matter how disagreeable that speech may be underpins American political discourse -- or at least it used to. In "Muzzled," liberal commentator Juan Williams, fired last year by National Public Radio after expressing the same nervousness many Americans feel about boarding airplanes along with people wearing Muslim garb, uses that incident as inspiration for a broader exploration of what the publisher calls "the countless ways in which honest debate in America ... is stifled" by political correctness and strident party-line voices' media dominance. "Muzzled" is a rare book in that it's drawing praise from both Karl Rove and David Axelrod, former senior advisers to President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, respectively, and from Fox News Channel head Roger Ailes, who says: "Though we disagree on many issues, I was pleased to help make sure that his strong voice was not silenced by those who give lip service to the First Amendment."

American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party

by Margaret Hoover

(Crown Forum)

A great-granddaughter of President Herbert Hoover, Margaret Hoover grew up as a self-described "ditto head" and worked in President George W. Bush's White House. Now with Fox News Channel -- she's among Bill O'Reilly's "Culture Warriors" -- she contends that the GOP is out of step with young voters who helped elect President Barack Obama, but need not be. Believing Republicans have the best solutions for debt, deficits, education, immigration and national security, she urges them to emphasize individual freedom on not just economic issues but on social issues, too. In her view, for example, conservatives should avoid double standards in matters of individual freedom by supporting gay rights and gay marriage. Her book should give social conservatives skeptical of such stances plenty of food for thought -- and the GOP's need in 2012 to convert young people whose votes were crucial in 2008 should have all Republicans thinking hard about their party's appeal to the electorate's new generation.

A Page of Books, written and compiled by Alan Wallace, appears on the last Sunday of each month.

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