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Hipsters Against the (Political) Machine

By Heather Wilhelm - July 5, 2011

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And, when you think about it, it's also a sad errand. "We need independence not just in politics but from politics," they write. "Contrary to the myths perpetuated by liberals and conservatives alike, the winning and losing of elections is not transformative of what matters most." The things that truly matter in life (our families, friends, churches, communities, teams, relationships, and culture) do not stem from state capitols or Washington, D.C. Most great things in life happen despite politicians, not because of them, which makes the pervasive nature of today's politics (from ceiling-mounted talking heads in airport waiting areas to mainstream churches pushing the federal government as a charitable arm) seem all the more creepy.

This is where libertarianism makes a great deal of sense, and it doesn't require privatizing roads or wiping out social safety nets. "Take the government out of nonessential questions," Gillespie and Welch write, "and the endless disputes that separate us become the subject of friendly dinner arguments, not life-and-death battles over our own confiscated money." The book also manages to fight back against one particular libertarian stereotype in that it offers solid recommendations for repairing, not eliminating, the current federal approaches to K-12 education, health care and retirement systems.

Certain portions of the book will turn some readers off -- for me, it was sections pooh-poohing the threat of global terrorism; approvingly noting the increasing number of crazy "choices" in Internet pornography and the rise of aggressive, something-to-prove individualism; and the implied grouping of abortion into the "nonessential questions" that government should leave alone.

But in the end, "The Declaration of Independents" is an important read with solid insight into today's political mess. Increasing freedom may be uncomfortable, and it can lead to vulgarity, moral depravity and more. But making the state the god of every issue ultimately weakens society's hold on the most important things in life. It also raises questions that should give any statist pause: Who decides? Who will, for instance, be the culture police? The morality police? The fashion police? (Me! Pick me!)

Gillespie and Welch are full of optimism for the future, predicting a world that keeps improving, year by year. But can their political vision -- one of independent, freedom-minded citizens pushing the parties around on an issue-by-issue basis -- even get off the ground? Upstart political movements, as they note, are often ridiculed.

But then again, they can also succeed. Look, for instance, at the tea party, lampooned as clueless hicks before propelling long-shot candidates like Scott Brown and Rand Paul into office. Look at the Czech revolution, sparked by, of all things, punk rock music.

And really, just how daunting is the concept of breaking through the current political mess? We live in a world where not just Al Gore but also Barack Obama can win a Nobel Peace Prize. Where Shia LaBeouf is not only rich and famous but also claims to have hooked up with Megan Fox. Where some Cubs fans, bless their hearts, have still managed not to crack.

Crazier things have happened. They might just happen again.

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Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at  http://www.heatherwilhelm.com/ and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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