Did propagandists hurt the Libertarian movement?
Michael Badnarik's campaign was excellent, I have to say that. I was rather proud to have voted for him. However, the decline in our voter turnout was stark - despite our best efforts, even Ralph Nader outpolled us by some 25,000 votes. The media blackout is the most obvious cause for the greater part of our voter turnout loss... however, it's not enough to fully explain the 2004 political environment.
Wartime almost always creates a charged political environment, but unlike what we were used to before 9/11, the extremist Left/Rightist propaganda matrices have kicked into full gear. From the left we saw a plethora of books and movies bashing the perceived conspiracies of the Bush administration. This includes the belief that our government was complicit in 9/11, and that it had alterior political motives for the Iraq War (besides the general stated idiocy of pre-emptive attack against potential hostiles). Conversely, the Rightist neoconservatives and compassionate apologists devised ominous warnings and images to spook us into voting Bush, highlighting the mega-socialism of the Democrats and Kerry. Both political wings gave us more reasons to vote against their opponents than to vote for them.
To Libertarians, each form of propaganda had it's own special appeal. We ardently criticized Bush and naturally distrust big government Republicans, so when others told us that there was something fishy going on we were quick to believe it - many of us simply far too quick to believe it all. To this day many avowed Libertarians believe every word from this "alternative" news media, particularly the rantings and ravings against the growing police state, by the way of such propagandists as Alex Jones. Even the socialist Michael Moore strongly influenced Libertarian sentiment this year, despite being amongst the most flagrant to have an agenda of his own. The greater question to ask, sooner than getting into any of these particular debates, is this: how many Libertarians voted for Kerry due to this increased sense of urgency in dethroning the seemingly corrupt Bush administration?
Of course, the propaganda matrix works both ways. "Better the devil you know, than the devil you don't"... Kerry was vilified as the socialist devil you simply didn't know, with rumors of the $2.2 trillion in new spending, could you sit back and allow him to come to power? On top of this was the constant reminder of the ongoing War on Terror. While Libertarians lean against the War on Terror, Libertarians do not want to see terrorists like Osama stay free. For as ineffective as Bush has been, he can still claim - in this single regard - to be more effective than Kerry's backwards international goals of appeasement. So we ask another important question: how many people, fearing the vast negatives of having Kerry in office, were spooked enough to move away from Badnarik and vote for Bush?
If LP membership has in fact climbed, we can hardly say that our campaigning was to fault. The Badnarik campaign did a good job of effectively using campaign dollars, so that is hardly the issue either. Despite the LP's claims on their front page, it does not seem that we've gotten more votes than the last election (Browne's 384,000 vs. Badnarik's 377,000). Somewhere along the line, we lost not only new Libertarians, but a few thousand old ones. Given the excellent campaign, this must mean one thing: some self-avowed, professed Libertarians voted for Bush or Kerry this year instead of Badnarik. The main mentality behind such a decision? The polarizing propaganda we've been faced with, which has become an all-too effective strategy.
The effect that the recent propaganda has had is entirely partisan - that is why little of it, on either side, ultimately holds up to critical evaluation. Along with the shadow issues, like the draft (ones which seem to be merely brought up to make the election more partisan), the effect of polarizing the vote has indeed been successful this year, just take a look at the overall low third party support. The intention of all these agendas seems to be to make this election seem too "important" to not vote for the major parties. This is in spite of the starkest similarities between the two candidates.
The problem is evident - what if these fears and political superstitions become the norm for all future elections? What if the spin-zones ensure we always feel it's "too important" to vote Libertarian? That's exactly why such propaganda exists and is so widely adopted... few affected by it will see the utility in not supporting some existing Democrat/Republican institution. Where these conspiracy theories and fear tactics are in fact a coordinated effort, or merely radical interpretations of passable truths, is besides the point. There doesn't need to be coordination between these various theories for them to have this same effect of polarizing the vote, and thus, damaging Libertarianism (as well as all third parties), as evidenced by this latest election. Even our opponents, the Greens, were rife with problems resulting from their incapacity to combat the preconceived notions of the propaganda war. When Michael Moore and Bill Maher, both ardent supporters of Green party ideas, get on their knees on live television to beg former Green leader Ralph Nader not to run in the election... there is something clearly partisan working against the third party ideologies.
Just as this created obvious problems for the Greens, in the end splitting their party, it is what I believe drove off many Libertarians to vote for major parties. Despite this, we showed a greater resolve than the rival parties, however, it simply illustrates that we should not trifle with political diversions. Each honest Libertarian, if they looked at the issues, would've seen the futility in supporting the major parties and voted for Badnarik. Kerry the Socialist Ghost, as absurd his wishing-well campaign promises can be, versus Fuhrer Bush, King of Israel? These mentalities detract from the real issues. I believe, ignoring the votes we lost due to the propagandists, we would've taken Nader's #3 spot, and it was a spot even the quickest to jump ship on Badnarik should admit that Mr. Badnarik deserved. If you are a Libertarian who thought it was "too important", or a Libertarian who made our party's major discussion about these forms of extremist propaganda, planting the seed in others to jump ship - all I have to say is, shame on you.