Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Commentaries on this Media!

Ron Swanson: Working (Or Not) From the Inside

by Ethan Tussey

by David J. Loehr for IN MEDIA RES


Parks & Recreation has come a long way from its genesis as a proposed spinoff of The Office.  It’s certainly the best representation of how government works since The West Wing, an acknowledged inspiration along with The Wire.  

So how is it that Ron Swanson, a Locke-style libertarian, is often presented as the voice of reason and/or sanity?

He believes all government is a waste of taxpayers’ money.  He’s spoken of staying in government to help dismantle it from within or at least slow it down to a crawl.  And yet, despite being philosophically 180 degrees apart, he shares a Lou Grant-like relationship with Leslie Knope’s Mary Richards.  Why?

Because he’s not alone.  His viewpoint is one of many on the show, and the others are allowed to disagree.  Often, he winds up working for the greater good in spite of himself.  Leslie brings out the better angels of his nature as he grounds her in the reality of how municipal government works.  

Also note, there is no talk of political parties, nor will there be, according to executive producer Michael Schur.  Good government isn’t about one or the other, it’s about working together.  Ron illustrates that, despite his professed ideal form of government being one man alone in a room, doing nothing.  

The high-wire act that Schur and company pull off so gracefully is in presenting Ron’s beliefs as worthy of respect at least, consideration at best.  There is a logic to Ron’s positions, and even when Leslie--or the writers or we--don’t agree, we’re allowed to see his logic clearly.  Better, we see how it might apply & adapt to a given situation.  It’s why I prefer this to Wing--it presents a more nuanced & balanced government workplace.

Would that all civic discourse were as civilized.

As it happens, I live in a small Indiana town much like Pawnee.  (The murals are spot-on, as are the festivals.)  Their version of life here is uncanny, to say the least.  If only we had Ron & Leslie out here…

Ron Swanson on Government

libertarian government worker

from Parks and Recreation (2011)
Creator: NBC
Posted by Ethan Tussey