The Right Wing

NYT Sunday Magazine Falls Hook, Line and Sinker For Libertarians' Big Propaganda Lie

There's nothing hot, new or sexy about oligarchy and the economy for the 1 percent.

Rand Paul speaking at the Young Americans for Liberty conference this month in Washington.
Photo Credit: YALiberty.org

On Sunday, the New York Times Magazine will be running a 7,100-word puff piece that portrays the Libertarian Party as today’s hot, new, sexy political trend that is enthralling rebellious Americans of all ages and is finally having its day in the sun.

The best-known Libertarians, such as U.S. Senator and 2016 presidential candidate, Rand Paul, are compared to dead and living rock stars. Serious, stilted and uptight mainstream Republicans sneer and snicker, and don’t quite get what’s depicted as Paul’s seemingly mystical appeal——who, we are told, dazzles even when evading simple questions.  

Reason magazine editor “Nick Gillespie is to libertarianism what Lou Reed is to rock ‘n’ roll, the quintessence of its outlaw spirit,” a typical passage reads. “Gillespie poured me a glass [of Green Hat gin, named for a Prohibition-era bootlegger to congressmen] and led me to a sitting area beside his office, which is festooned with vintage rock posters.”

Every few years, bored political editors and reporters announce they have discovered the next new thing. This happened when Washington Press corps rued an Al Gore presidency after tiring of Bill Clinton and peddled the line that George W. Bush was the guy you’d rather have a beer with. That same dynamic appeared in 2010, when one Washington reporter after another elevated the same old white right-wing cohort that supported Ross Perot and Richard Nixon into what they called a Tea Party “movement.” 

In 2014, we have the Sunday magazine of America’s most influential newspaper touting these anti-authoritarians, who claim to be the political purists that the country is calling for. It’s a ridiculous profile that amazingly overlooks the defining feature of the libertarian cause, which has almost entirely been bankrolled by the Koch brothers since the 1980s. That cause is to attack government at every level, because corporate America can make more money when government’s oversight shrinks.

As Reason magazine editor-in-chief Matt Welch recently told Pando.com, “Charles and David Koch have been for the last 40, 40-plus years the most significant backers of libertarian-based organizations and philanthropies in the country. It’s not even close. It is Charles and David Koch 100, everybody else 2.”

In early January, the Washington Post published an extensive report—with an alarming graphic—that showed the $400 million political network funded by the Kochs and their Ayn Rand-worshipping, anti-regulatory brethren in the last presidential race. For years, these shrewd corporate barons have peddled their “leave me alone” and “hands off” meme to whatever constituency will bite. In 2010, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity underwrote numerous local Tea Party chapters.

In 2014, this same old strategy is being dressed up in Libertarian clothes—as the Times tells us, dark jeans, black tee-shirts and Friday afternoon gin drinks. We’re introduced to ditzy-but-hip politicos, like Fox Business Network host Lisa Kennedy, who thinks Ron Paul is as hip as Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, compares Rand Paul to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, and thinks Ted Cruz belongs in Stone Temple Pilots. We get treated to the vacuous ramblings of Reason editor Gillespie, who, tells us, “The whole point of America—and this is an admixture of Saul Bellow and Heidegger and Jim Morrison lyrics—is that it’s in a constant state of becoming, constantly changing and mongrelizing.”

And that’s a quote from an editor? In fairness, maybe the Times thought it heard something and forgot to include the context. But much of this 7,100-word screed is lacking in context. Perhaps the writer, Robert Draper, believes that conveying these opaque anecdotes will make readers roll their eyes and reach the obvious conclusion—that the exemplar Libertarians are as ignorant of American artists they cite, as they are about the extreme pro-corporate agenda of their paymasters. Unfortunately, whenever the Sunday Times gives this much attention to a topic or trend, it telegraphs something is to be taken seriously.

So we are brought to Washington, D.C. dinners where hosts blare, “Are you hungry for more liberty,” where the definition of liberty is freedom to do with your property as you please. Draper says Libertarians are hip, if not prescient, for supporting legalizing marijuana and same-sex marriage, which are two of America’s leading change movements. He doesn’t mention that’s a happy coincidence, as these movement’s activists have labored for a long time under arduous conditions.

“The group most responsible for delivering Obama his first two terms may well become a political wild card over time, in part because of its libertarian leanings,” Draper writes.

Oh, really? Another set of data points not mentioned in the Times was the results of mid-July poll commissioned by Reason magazine of millennials’ political leanings. Guess who got 53 percent of the vote from under-30 year olds from across the country when asked about 15 possible presidential candidates, including Rand Paul?

The Reason poll’s winner was Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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