This week a number of my favorite liberal bloggers are tweeting and blogging from Netroots Nation, the annual conference for wired liberal activists. And as far as I can tell, there are no libertarians at the event. Certainly there don’t appear to be any on the agenda. And this isn’t due to a shortage of panels where libertarians could contribute. My colleague Dan Griswold would have been a great addition to this panel on immigration reform. My friend Julian Sanchez would have been a great pick for this panel on domestic surveillance issues. Cato chairman Bob Levy would have been an inspired choice for this panel on gay equality. And there’s this panel on drug reform, which mentions libertarians in the description, but doesn’t have any representatives of libertarian organizations among the panelists. It would be a natural place for my colleagues Tim Lynch or Radley Balko to speak. Yet I can’t find a single representative of a libertarian organization on any of the panels.
Compare that to the agenda for CPAC 10, which is probably the conservative counterpart to NN. I count at least eight speakers from explicitly libertarian groups like Cato, Reason, CEI, FFF, and the Institute for Justice, as well as many more from libertarian-friendly organizations like Freedom Works and Americans for Tax Reform.
My friend Adam Thierer says this is because “the Net Roots crowd is not interested in liberty.” I’ve already made clear what I think about that sentiment in general, but I think it’s particularly ironic coming from Adam. Adam is one of the libertarian movement’s leading First Amendment advocates. He has done a great job of building bridges with left-of-center groups like the Center for Democracy and Technology on free speech. If he gave a talk on First Amendment issues I bet he’d get a better reception from the NN crowd than the CPAC crowd.
So I don’t really get the hostility. It’s true, of course, that libertarians wouldn’t agree with everything they heard at NN. But the same is true of CPAC. Somehow, libertarian scholars and activists manage to promote liberty at CPAC despite the presence of the numerous theocrats, immigrant-bashers, warmongers, race-baiters, and the like. We could sit through a panel of statists talking about health care.
It’s this kind of grassroots disengagement, not the failure to craft a perfect liberaltarian manifesto, that makes a left-libertarian alliance seem far-fetched. And libertarians deserve a lot of the blame. Maybe if libertarian organizations regularly sent representatives to events like Netroots Nation, their organizers would be more likely to invite them to speak on their panels. Indeed, if libertarians were more involved in organizing events like Netroots Nation (as they are events like CPAC) they could nudge the agenda in a more libertarian direction, including more stuff on free speech or drug reform and suggesting more libertarian speakers.
Still, liberals could do more as well. Even if they think we’re troglodytes in general, it’s still useful to broaden the political coalition on specific issues where we agree. So in case any organizers of NN11 wind up reading this, a special note to them: email me! I know a lots of libertarians. Name a “social issue”—free speech, gay marriage, domestic surveillance, executive power, immigration, criminal justice, drug reform, foreign policy, feminism—and I can put you in touch with libertarians who can give crowd-pleasing talks on those subjects.