I love Thomas Sowell’s story about how he went from being a devout Marxist to a conservative. It didn’t happen during his economic studies, even after studying under Milton Friedman and George Stigler at the University of Chicago. Rather, it happened years later when Sowell landed a job in government and he realized that government just wasn’t capable of doing all of the things he wanted it to do. The level of incompetence, the amount of red tape, the incredible waste of tax payer dollars; all of this adds up and it just makes you shake your head and really think twice about letting the government get anywhere near your healthcare.
But Sowell isn’t alone. There are countless great conservative, libertarian, and classical liberal minds that have gone from one end of the spectrum to the other – John Locke, Friedrich Hayek, and (if I’m not mistaken) even Adam Smith, just to name a few. The transformation these men went through can be inspirational. A man who once thought the only way to achieve prosperity was through authoritarian rule (Locke) is now considered the father of classical liberalism.
Sowell’s story might offer a clue on how to get the message across to those who deem themselves liberal and consistently vote democrat, but occasionally, even if only by accident, agree with conservatives that government is just plain screwed up. If there was only a way to make them realize it! If we could just have them work in government for a month, maybe then they’d realize how messed up it is.
In times past, it was best selling books like Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged that got young people interested in the idea of liberty. Most recently it has been Texas Representative and Presidential Candidate, Ron Paul, who struck a chord with young voters, starting the “Ron Paul Revolution”. Even Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose 10 episode special that ran on PBS in 1980 gave uninformed Americans a basic overview of how the free market works.
Are there new up and coming people that can deliver the message of limited government, individual sovereignty, property rights, and personal liberty? As technology changes, so does the way people accept information. Long interview shows like William Buckley’s Firing Line, just aren’t what its about any more. Unfortunately, the yelling heads on Hannity or O’Reilly are what passes for conservative media. (Not that I have anything personal against Sean Hannity, but he’s no William Buckley or Russel Kirk. Just saying.)
There are other media outlets that are available. Talk radio, often seen as a safe-haven for conservative hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, is a growing medium for information. At a time when FM stations are rebranding, going online, or closing all together, AM radio, “news & talk”, is doing perfectly fine. This is simply because there is a demand for the product. People want to hear what Rush Limbaugh thinks. Not only is talk radio informative and entertaining, but it also offers listeners a chance for their own views and beliefs to be validated. “There are other people out there who feel the same way I do!”
Just as democrats have been trotting out celebrities to make their cause, conservatives should be doing the same. Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) is an outspoken libertarian. Other libertarian celebrities include Howard Stern, Drew Carrey, and Denis Leary. Not exactly what young people would think of when they hear “republican”. But this is also part of the problem. Too many people associate the GOP with Bush, McCain, and Romney. (It’s been said before – W Bush has done an enormous amount of harm to the republican party with his wild deficit spending. There’s no excuse for it.) It is up to conservatives to spread the word that the Republican party is the party of small government, lower taxes, and more freedom. This is a message the resonates.
Atlas Shrugged was turned into a 2 part movie. Ron Paul still sells best selling books. Even NBC’s Parks and Recreation pokes fun at the failures of government with the libertarian character, Ron Swanson. Is there hope for the future of liberty minded politics? One can only hope. On one hand, nothing is inevitable until it happens. Any law passed can be repealed. On the other hand, there is such a thing as a point of no return. Some already think we are past that point (Sowell, for instance), while others hold a more optimistic view.
I tend to think that an out of control central banking system, a fiat currency, a growing dependency class, schools ditching American history for “social studies”, and trillion dollar deficits will all lead us down a bad road. Even if things turn around, it will be painful, and it is at those times when politicians vote for the path of least resistance and kick the can down the road. If Americans continue to put their faith in politicians and government, there is no hope.