The fiercest feuds are often not between those on opposite sides of the political spectrum but between those whose views are close — but not quite close enough.
That’s why Leon Trotsky was killed with an ice axe in Mexico in 1940, on orders from fellow communist Joseph Stalin.
And why Malcolm X died from 21 gunshot wounds inflicted by three fellow Islamists in a New York City auditorium in 1965.
Libertarians, who theoretically eschew aggression, haven’t yet sunk to such levels of violence but listening to them feud you wonder if it might not come to that sometime.
The other day radio talker Peter Boyles of KNUS interviewed Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president (audio embedded below the story).
Boyles, who grew up working-class in Pittsburgh, shares many libertarian beliefs with Johnson. They both vigorously favor the Second Amendment and oppose higher taxes, bigger government and, especially, meddling in the Middle East, where the U.S. uses the military unsuccessfully to effect “regime change.” Democrat Hillary Clinton, they agreed, would support all three.
But then the issue became Donald Trump and, inevitably, immigration. Johnson suggested the Republican’s plan to deport 11 million “undocumented workers” was wrong and unworkable, and Trump’s proposed border fence to be paid for by Mexico was “crazy.”
The phrase “undocumented workers” triggered a strong reaction from Boyles, who considers it weaselly and born of political correctness. “Why can’t you use the word illegal instead of undocumented?” he asked.
Johnson explained that the term is offensive even to Hispanics who are U.S. citizens and “if you use offensive terms people don’t listen to you.” He was a two-term governor of New Mexico, where 48 percent of the population is Hispanic, and he needs Hispanic votes.
An argument ensued that produced seven seconds of dead air, which isn’t murder but considered almost as fatal in radio. Both parties were ready to end the interview early but the need for a station break allowed them to cool down. The interview resumed and ended civilly.
Libertarians are hardly monolithic and immigration may be the issue that divides them most. Some believe borders should be open and populations allowed to flow in any direction; others are more like Boyles, believing in strong borders and limited legal immigration.
Johnson favors borders but thinks a guest worker program is needed for those who can find jobs in the U.S. Most are not rapists and criminals as Trump has suggested and just want to find work or be with their families.
Incidentally, immigration is not a one-way street. The Pew Research Center recently published a report claiming that between 2009 and 2014 the number of Mexicans leaving the U.S. exceeded the number of those coming in by 140,000.
Trump, when not threatening to build a wall and shut down illegal immigration, is condemning the Ford Motor Co.’s plan to build small cars in Mexico. He advocates a 35 percent tariff on vehicles imported from there.
Ford, the only American automaker that didn’t ask for a government bailout during the 2008-2009 recession, rejects Trump’s criticism and notes it still builds more vehicles and employs more people here than its rivals. It claims no American jobs will be lost.
Incidentally, if Trump fears the U.S. is being overrun by Mexican immigrants, he should rejoice that manufacturing plants are being built there by somebody. They can only attract workers, perhaps many from the U.S. You can’t logically condemn Mexican immigration and American investment in Mexico at the same time.
It’s not just immigration that splits libertarians. Tactics do too. Radioman and columnist Mike Rosen is well versed in economics and is sympathetic to most libertarian viewpoints. But he can’t abide capital L Libertarians running for office because they have no chance of winning and in the past have stolen votes mostly from Republicans. He has railed against Libertarian legislative candidates so fiercely you might have thought they were, well, liberals.
The presidential race is tough for him this year because he doesn’t like Trump’s personality, demeanor and lack of substance. But he’ll vote for him because Hillary Clinton is “a liar, smug, insincere, self-serving, unethical, contrived and pandering.”
Then there are the libertarians who don’t think think Johnson is sufficiently libertarian. KNUS weekend host Chuck Bonniwell contemptuously called him “squishy.” Maybe he is. These libertarians think, correctly, that running mate William Weld is even squishier.
But while waiting eternally for the perfect, libertarians may have to settle for the good. Or take after each other with ice axes.
Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes once a week for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com.