“Sorry, my liberal friends, but this one’s all on you.”
The notion hit me like a ton of bricks this morning as I read a story saying that the majority of Democrats now have a favorable view of George W. Bush. How could that be possible? I mean, this is the same man who our friends on the left have referred to repeatedly as either “Hitler” or literally the “Worst President Ever” for over a decade. How could any self-respecting liberal Democrat possibly have a favorable opinion of this man, let alone a majority of them?
As I thought more about the hate and vitriol levied at Bush over the years, I had an epiphany of sorts. In fact, was reminded of a recent experience of my own. It started innocently enough with a discussion about a recent online poll which asked something along the lines of “Who is the worst Libertarian.” The poll consisted of most of the usual suspects; Charles Peralo, James Weeks, and Bill Weld all made the list. However, the list also included some people who have referred to themselves as “Libertarian” at some point in the past but have either disassociated with the Party or who most Libertarians wouldn’t consider as one of their own. Examples from this group included Augustus Invictus, Chris Cantwell, and Jared Howe.
The poll was shared by a self-proclaimed “left-leaning libertarian” who was quite dismayed that Charles Peralo was leading the poll by a comfortable margin when there were “actual Nazis” such as Invictus, Cantwell, and Howe on the list. The comments in this thread should have been an indicator that the poll was not shared to have any actual discussion of the results, but rather to be an echo-chamber for anyone who believed that Nazis and the Alt-Right had secretly taken over the Libertarian Party. Nonetheless, I ventured into the discussion to argue that most libertarians I knew did not consider those affiliated with hate (such as Invictus, Cantwell, and Howe) as libertarians at all. That, in fact, not one of these three even considered themselves libertarians anymore. I closed my comment out by saying that, for what it was worth, I’d choose Weld, as he was actually headlining a GOP fundraiser right around the same time the poll was posted.
As you can see from the screengrab below, this did not go over well. I was blocked so fast my immediate response wasn’t even able to be posted.
For context, I had been Facebook friends with this person for over a year. This person was a fan of a Facebook Page I managed for the Johnson/Weld campaign last year and has consistently liked and/or shared the memes I’ve made for that page and others ever since. Not that we knew each other personally outside of Facebook or anything, but this guy certainly knew enough about me to know that, while I could be called a lot of things, a “freaking nazi pig” really isn’t one of them. So, I starting thinking about why this person, someone who really should have known better, would react this way.
Which brings us back to George W. Bush.
I remember being floored watching people throwing things at the limos in his inaugural parade and, despite a brief easing immediately after 9/11, the level of hatred lobbed his way only intensified. As mentioned above, it wasn’t long before “Bush is a Nazi” became THE rallying cry of a significant portion of the left. Only it didn’t stop there. Eventually, calling someone a Nazi became a knee-jerk reaction for those on the left anytime they encountered someone who disagreed with their own political dogma. Want restrictions on abortion? You’re a Nazi. Oppose same-sex marriage? Nazi. Against the redistribution of wealth? You’re practically Hitler.
This sort of political gaslighting was deployed successfully in 2008 against John McCain and again in 2012 against Mitt Romney, two men who ironically enough join Bush as Republicans many on the left now claim to admire. Unfortunately for the GOP, they were also as ill-equipped as Bush was at fighting back against this narrative. Sure, Republicans tried to push back by saying Obama was a socialist and/or a Muslim, but they clearly weren’t very good at it.
So, they went out and found someone who was.
Enter Donald J. Trump.
No wonder they like Bush so much now. “Sorry, my liberal friends, but this one’s all on you.”
There is a cautionary tale here for libertarians, particularly those who wish to see the Libertarian Party become a legitimate political force against both Republicans and Democrats. The Internet exchange I cited earlier is hardly a one-time occurrence; no doubt most people reading this have seen or experienced something similar in the year since the Presidential election. There is a very real division between “right and left” in the Libertarian party, but it is mostly a division driven by the extremes on both sides. We are seeing plenty of effort on all sides of the libertarian political spectrum to drive out any and all elements of the alt-right, hence the departure of Invictus and much of his ilk over the past year. But as long as libertarians continue to be slandered as “Nazis” by those among their own ranks from the extreme left for something as simple (and very libertarian) as, say, not liking Bill Weld, we are in danger of following the same destructive path of escalation between the ideological extremists vying to be the voice of this party and those who dare to disagree with them.