Who are libertarians and where are they in the political spectrum?
Just read an interesting piece on The Atlantic called Libertarians are not the Tea Party. The title in itself already makes for a very interesting discussion. Here's an infographic that summarizes their findings:
One thing the Ron Paul movement did is add libertarian ideas to mainstream discussion. There was a time when these ideas were so marginalized that they were rarely mentioned in media. Of course, anything you bring to the spotlight will always be more prone to scrutiny and misrepresentation.
The Nolan Chart above is a good description that libertarians tend to be both socially liberal and fiscally conservative. In spite of those general descriptions, libertarianism in itself already has several distinctions.
Philosophically, there's deontological, consequentialist, praxeological. Schools of thought include objectivist, minarchist, anarcho-capitalist, etc. In economics there's the Austrian school and there's Chicago school (see also Chicago School vs Austrian School). And there's so much more differences and personalities and influences. Not to mention that there are even those like Chomsky who claim the title and are very far left.
Also, the infographic above is based on the US context of political terminology. In Germany for instance (something I learned from attending several talks of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom), liberalism is more associated with libertarianism than left-leaning ideas unlike in the US because of classical liberalism (see also Liberal vs Conservative vs Libertarian).
You can already see how the semantics of simple words can easily help smear the concept of libertarianism and therefore make it easy for pundits to steer public opinion away from it; especially those in the public who don't do their own research and rely solely on what mainstream media reports.
This makes it easy for people to accept that libertarians are anti-poor or anti-education. It's easy for them to associate the ideas with what the Tea Party has become. In fact, not all libertarians like Ron Paul so what more his kid Rand or what more this Tea Party led by people like Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, etc.
You see, there are many different flavors of libertarianism and there's a wide range of differences from the philosophical like ethics and theology to the public-policy related like foreign policy, property rights, monetary policy, etc.
But then all these philosophical, historical, and political anecdotes are too much to explain in a news broadcast or too much to take in for the opinionated public.
I think learning more about libertarianism roots from some sort of personal revelation or personal enlightenment. I believe its understanding and the conversion of the majority cannot necessarily be triggered by dogmatic movements rather it is a series of experiences and learnings that an individual has to digest and reflect upon.
For instance, it would probably take something like an economic collapse or a blatant dictatorship before many would be able to accept the importance of liberty.