This is the political commentary website of Chris Reed, a California journalist since 1990. These are his views, so it’s on him if he writes something nutty.
Chris Reed: This is a soft launch, but before long, I will have a multifeature site up and running that’s focused primarily on California politics and government and the often-astounding way that big issues are covered by the media. I will write about many issues, but my primary theme will be something I first wrote about in 2007 on TLLAFB (the late, lamented America’s Finest Blog): the fact that a big chunk of the American electorate has relatively distinct and homogenous views, but no politicians to vote for who share their values.
Here’s a modified and updated version:
In a 2004 New Yorker article about the inexact science of food marketing, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about how in the late 1980s, a researcher for Campbell’s Soup, makers of Prego spaghetti sauce, discovered that the public had three broad preferences in its spaghetti sauce: plain, spicy and extra-chunky. The kicker: There were no extra-chunky sauces on the market, only plain and spicy. Campbell’s used this insight to make hundreds of millions of dollars. It gave a huge number of consumers what they wanted and had been waiting for.
For years, polling has indicated that “libertarian lite” politics — pro-free market, fiscally conservative, socially liberal/indifferent, anti-messianic foreign policy — have considerable appeal. It’s the extra-chunky sauce of our politics; I think if it were available, its market share would be — from day one — at least 20 percent of the public. But because of the increasing rigidity of our partisan politics and the nature of our primary/general election system, we have a binary political culture, one that doesn’t give the public a third option that points out the idiocy of positions eagerly embraced and promoted by one or both parties.
I am a libertarian, not just a libertarian lite. I think at least 80 percent of the laws on the books could be wiped off to the betterment of mankind, that virtually all government-imposed limits on personal behavior are outrageous, and that “free minds, free markets,” to use the wonderfully terse Reason formulation, is what our nation and world should be all about. I’m such a libertarian that there are days when I don’t think there should be stop signs — just yield signs.
But the problem with being a genuine libertarian public figure, as Ron and Rand Paul have found out, is that it often leads to detours into exotica — topics that are tough to explain in soundbites or to make seem relevant or reasonable (the gold standard, freedom of association) — and to a focus on passionate, absolutist views on issues that are easy to caricature (gun rights, open borders) and thus can turn off the tens of millions of libertarian lites out there ready to rally for the cause. I also think that pure libertarians sometimes just can’t admit that after all these decades, they still haven’t come up with satisfying, practical explanations on how to deal with some “tragedy of the commons” issues.
But a libertarian lite movement — as opposed to a purist, all-or-nothing libertarian movement — that focused relentlessly on basic issues like promoting the free market and personal freedom, containing big government, limiting rent-seeking, not having the U.S. so eager to use its military to force others to behave as we wish, etc., could be Prego’s Extra Chunky.
It’s a niche that’s waiting to be filled. What would it sound like? A lot like Conor Friedersdorf writing in Newsweek in 2010 in response to the people going after Ron and Rand Paul:
Forced to name the “craziest” policy favored by American politicians, I’d say the multibillion-dollar war on drugs, which no one thinks is winnable. Asked about the most “extreme,” I’d cite the invasion of Iraq, a war of choice that has cost many billions of dollars and countless innocent lives. The “kookiest” policy is arguably farm subsidies for corn, sugar, and tobacco—products that people ought to consume less, not more. [...]
These disparaging descriptors are never applied to America’s policy establishment, even when it is proved ruinously wrong, whereas politicians who don’t fit the mainstream Democratic or Republican mode, such as libertarians, are mocked almost reflexively in these terms, if they are covered at all.
There are many, many issues besides the ones Friedersdorf cites where the libertarian lite view is smart, obvious and easily defended and advocated — issues where the policy debate is still in flux and can be influenced for the better by libertarian thinking.
That’s my starting point for the content I will offer on this website — that and a lot of whining about the media. Thanks for checking this site out, and I hope you come back. Often.
Omniscient narrator: Here’s a bio of Chris Reed.