If you want to become a star in the Republican Party these days, and make a lot of money serving red meat to the GOP base, you need to show that you can use your platform to “own the libs.” As Derek Robertson explains at Politico, there is a long history of conservatives trying to infuriate liberals with their rhetoric. The list of American “lib owners” includes Irving Kristol, William F. Buckley, and Rush Limbaugh.
Here is a taste:
For a political party whose membership skews older, it might be surprising that the spirit that most animates Republican politics today is best described with a phrase from the world of video games: “Owning the libs.”
Gamers borrowed the term from the nascent world of 1990s computer hacking, using it to describe their conquered opponents: “owned.” To “own the libs” does not require victory so much as a commitment to infuriating, flummoxing or otherwise distressing liberals with one’s awesomely uncompromising conservatism. And its pop-cultural roots and clipped snarkiness are perfectly aligned with a party that sees pouring fuel on the culture wars’ fire as its best shot at surviving an era of Democratic control.
In just the past month, Sen. Ted Cruz self-consciously joked at the Conservative Political Action Conference about his ill-timed jaunt to Cancun, decried mask-wearing as pro-statist virtue signaling, and closed his speech by screaming “Freedom,” a la William Wallace; House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted a video of himself reading a Dr. Seuss book in protest of the supposed censorship of the children’s author (whose estate decided to stop publishing six titles on account of stereotypes in their illustrations); Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene erected a sign outside her congressional office in Washington declaring “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE” across the hallway from the office of Democratic Rep. Marie Newman, whose daughter is transgender; even Rush Limbaugh, the late talk radio giant and progenitor of liberal “ownage,” got in one last braggadocious slap from beyond the grave: the occupation listed on his death certificate is “greatest radio host of all time.”
In one sense, this is the natural outgrowth of the Trump era. Inasmuch as there was a coherent belief that explained his agenda, it was lib-owning — whether that meant hobbling NATO, declining to disavow the QAnon conspiracy theory, floating the prospect of a fifth head on Mt. Rushmore (his, naturally), or using federal resources to combat the New York Times’ “1619 Project.”
But in a post-Trump America, to “own the libs” is less an identifiable act or set of policy goals than an ethos, a way of life, even a civic religion.
“‘Owning the libs’ is a way of asserting dignity,” says Helen Andrews, senior editor of The American Conservative. “‘The libs,’ as currently constituted, spend a lot of time denigrating and devaluing the dignity of Middle America and conservatives, so fighting back against that is healthy self-assertion; any self-respecting human being would… Stunts, TikTok videos, they energize people, that’s what they’re intended to do.”
Read the rest here.