As much as libertarians like to squabble and disagree, there is one thing that probably 99% of us can agree on: we are all too often our own worst enemy.
This was the thought going through my mind as I browsed the comments in my Facebook news feed regarding President Trump reportedly telling a widow of a soldier killed in action that her husband “knew what he signed up for” when he called to offer his condolences. The reaction among many libertarians in my news feed ranged anywhere from “I agree with Trump and would say the same thing” all the way to “he got what he had coming.”
And we wonder why we don’t get out of single digits at the polls.
I mean, imagine you’re a young man or woman who is new to the ideals of liberty. You’ve never really been interested in politics, but you have a friend who calls himself a “libertarian” who says some pretty common-sense things you more often than not agree with. You want to investigate libertarianism a little further, so you join and/or follow a few libertarian Facebook groups and/or pages and start reading through the posts and comments.
Almost immediately, you are inundated with comments ranging from “public school teachers are thieves” to “soldiers are murderers”. You wonder if these are just a few fringe loons, so you look to party leadership to see what the LP is really about; then you realize half of the posts calling people you love “thieves” and “murderers” are originating from the Facebook feed of the Vice-Chairman of the Libertarian Party.
So you fly on over to the Republican Liberty Caucus or become a Bernie Bro, and just like that, we lose more than just a vote. We lose another potential ideological ally.
I don’t know a single libertarian who doesn’t want to see the Department of Education abolished tomorrow. I don’t know of a single libertarian who doesn’t want to see all foreign intervention ended tomorrow. While neither is a stopping point, they are both among good starting points, with others being eliminating income taxes and marijuana legalization. These are things many Americans can agree on, and great things to focus on whether you are attempting to grow a party or a movement.
However, in order to grow, you have to add people rather than run them off. Ideological pissing matches can be great fun, but when the pissing matches themselves come to define your movement more so than the ideology actually being debated, you’re doing it wrong. Five minutes on Facebook or Twitter can tell you that’s where libertarianism, and by extension, the Libertarian Party, find themselves right now.
But fear not, gentle reader, for we can reverse this trend almost immediately. It’s simple really. All we have to do?
Don’t be a dick.
Yes, we can speak out forcefully against the military-industrial complex and against those who set our disastrous foreign policy with as much fire as we can muster. But what do you accomplish calling every veteran and/or kid currently serving in the military (for reasons you truly know nothing about) a murderer? We can rail from sea to shining sea about the useless (and in fact harmful) Department of Education and list every reason why it should be abolished immediately. But we have to be able to stop short of calling decent people thieves because they choose to work or teach at a public school if we ever want anyone to listen. And yes, while I have about as much use for a Socialist Caucus in the Libertarian Party as most of you reading this do, we have to stop calling everyone to the left of ourselves “communists” and saying left-libertarians have no place in the movement.
In short, don’t be a dick.
Messaging at all levels is critically important to the growth of our party, but the tone certainly has to be set at the top. It’s disheartening to read some of the things that Arvin says, for example, because he’s a very intelligent fellow who can articulate the case for liberty as well as anyone in the movement. Instead, he chooses to make inflammatory comments and take stances that might play well to a portion of the base, but completely turn off the average person potentially looking at the party as a new political home. Or to put it another way, an otherwise good messenger for our movement and our party gets ignored because of a deliberately faulty message. Sadly, he is not the only example within our movement.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can educate without insulting. We can debate without demeaning. We can introduce more and more of our fellow Americans who are yearning for liberty to libertarianism, and we can do this without shoving our own personal views in their face and telling them they can’t be a part of the team if they don’t completely agree with us right here, right now.
We can accomplish so much more with just a slight change in our approach; one that most of us should have learned well enough by the time we were in grade school.
Help spread liberty. Don’t be a dick.
You can read more from Matthew McGowan on Think Liberty here.