HINT: Don’t talk about freedom.

Third, and consequently, freedom is not enough. Appeals grounded in the right to make lifestyle choices and the right to be free of discrimination were mainly persuasive to the audience that least needed persuading. To win, libertarians will need to sound, well, less libertarian. As when marijuana activists foregrounded government regulation and marriage activists foregrounded straight messengers, campaigners need to learn to sideline their own instincts and speak in alien tongues.

This is from an interesting and important article by Jonathan Rauch in the December issue of Reason. It’s titled “Legalizing Marijuana and Gay Marriage Seemed Impossible.” Rauch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In it, Rauch tells how acceptance of recreational marijuana and gay marriage, both in law and culturally, came about so suddenly. The whole thing is well worth reading.

Near the end, he lays out some lessons for libertarians who want to liberalize immigration laws. What follows are two paragraphs on that issue. First:

That is why research on the net-positive effects of immigration misses the point. As long as the public believes that immigrants are a threat to law and order or undermine the country’s social fabric, ears will be shut. Opening them requires telling moral stories, not reeling off crime statistics. Whatever his shortcomings as a messenger, Jeb Bush was gesturing in the right direction when he said that many illegal immigrants come as an act of love.


Immigration reform, for instance, has come to seem intractable at the federal level. However, there may be more room to maneuver by delegating authority to the states—for example, with state-sponsored visas, an idea that has the support of elected officials and legislatures in multiple states, some Republican members of Congress, and the Cato Institute. To tamp down political conflict, push it down to lower levels of government.

While those who like to see an argument based on principle will be disappointed by the failure of principle to persuade, Rauch gives one striking fact that suggests that one particular principle did matter, at least to conservatives. He writes:

Public opinion on these issues also displayed an interesting wrinkle. Many people who opposed legalization of marijuana or same-sex marriage nonetheless opposed federal pre-emption of states’ choices, even if the states favored legalization. Conservatives, in particular, wanted the federal government to butt out. Writing in 2013, E.J. Dionne Jr. and William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution noted: “The gap among Republicans between the proportion supporting [marijuana] legalization and the proportion who nonetheless want the federal government to stand down in the face of state legalization decisions is 20 percentage points.” Similarly, many gay-marriage opponents on the right were against a federal constitutional amendment to ban it.