Why Ron Swanson is NOT an American Hero

Michelle Wilde
Nov 15, 2012 at 8:30 AM

Several years ago, a friend of mine told me to watch this great new comedy, Parks and Recreation.  Unfortunately, my friend typically has terrible taste in comedies so it wasn’t until a few months ago when I was combing the depths of Netflix for a new show to watch that I finally gave it a try. After half a dozen painstakingly stupid episodes, I admit I became a fan. However, I cannot join the join the chorus of enthusiasm erupting from libertarians across the country about the character of Ron Swanson. Quite the contrary, I believe he is a hindrance to the liberty movement, not a blessing.

Of course, I am pleased to see a libertarian character on a network TV show and hope it will help people who have never heard of libertarianism learn about new viewpoints. I enjoy Ron’s comments and lifestyle when he is not at work. However, Ron Swanson’s behavior on the job should make supporters of libertarianism shudder.

We believe the government does not need to do very many things. But does that mean shouldn’t want current government employees to perform their jobs efficiently? When I became a government employee, I adopted the opposite view. We cannot currently change the fact that government employees are, in fact, employed. So, while they are there, I for one want them to do a good job. If the government is spending money on my paycheck, I am going to make darn sure my performance makes it the best possible use of tax dollars.

It is simply frightening that Ron Swanson’s avoidance of work is the only illustration of “libertarianism” some people ever see! That is what will form their assumptions about all libertarians. They won’t actually understand why we believe the government should be smaller. They will only know a lazy slacker on TV is the face of the movement. The fact that so many libertarians accept and love the character will only solidify these beliefs.

If I had to pick a character from the show to embody how a libertarian should work it would probably be Ben Wyatt (before he got fired, of course). Ben performs his work efficiently, but, unlike Leslie, does not seek to increase the role of government beyond its current state. Whereas Ron wastes taxpayer dollars sitting around his office every day, Ben looks for ways to balance the city budget and use money in the most logical way. Ben’s record is far from perfect. His policies as a teenage mayor were disastrous. Nevertheless, I would much rather have him be the only libertarian some voters ever “meet” than Ron Swanson.

So please, next time you fire off a blog post praising the wonders of Ron Swanson, think about what you are really endorsing (mediocrity, or worse). Then consider finding another hero who actually deserves that title.

I'm not sure how far you are into the series, but you've missed that a large portion of what Ron does at work isn't simply doing nothing. He routinely prevents the growth of his department and sometimes others. He then lets Lesile take the lead on all the current projects and she knocks them out of the park. It's actually the perfect way to run an department from a libertarians point of view and not at all contrary to what your ideal role of a libertarian government worker should be. 

Sure the shows portrayal of Ron's libertarianism isn't always positive (nor should it be), but it's also, almost equally, not always positive of Leslie's statism. They do a great job of humanizing Ron and pointing out the places where his ideal role of government actually makes a lot of sense, even if it is at times extreme. Overall though Ron Swanson is a positive representation of libertarianism in mainstream culture and should be celebrated, albiet carefully.

crowlejt's picture

It's a comedy about local government on NBC, what do you expect?

Ron Swanson, as a comedy character is exaggerated, a caricature. It's meant to be slightly outrageous in order to be funny. There's no need to take things so seriously. I really don't think the majority of Americans are going to look at a character on a comedic TV show and think that this character is an accurate representative of real libertarians.

Ron Swanson should instead be viewed as an opportunity for people to hear of a different political philosophy that they may not be aware of, and an opportunity to explain real libertarian principles when people have questions about libertarians because of his character.

Sure, the representation isn't perfect, but how many representations in mass-media are?

Alex C Harris's picture

Meh. Look at me, I know big words, so I shall now hate on a television character and say that this fictional character is not a true American hero. The man who is full of stereotypes of what a man should be. 

Jsmithems's picture