Conservative movement types are converging on the National Capital Area this weekend for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). This is the second year that CPACers won't have to have to wade into Washington's swamps. They'll be confabbing at the National Harbor complex on the banks of the Potomac, shielded behind the Beltway from all the urban ills that afflict the "District of Corruption."
But this libertarian is forgoing the pilgrimage to the right's annual Mecca this year.
Conservatives have a tendency to assume libertarians are a subset of the larger conservative movement—libertarians even won a "shout out" from a certified Republican mandarin, 2012 GOP Veep nominee Paul Ryan, as he ticked off the various conservative movement currents from the dais. But conservatives can regard libertarians as a subset that's self-indulgent, too enamored of liberal social values, and that too often strays from the Republican and conservative reservations.
When Robert Sarvis dared to run for governor in 2013 against Ken Cuccinelli, a Tea Party darling, with a distinctly broad libertarian vision of a Virginia that's both "open-minded and open for Business," as his slogan proclaimed, it caused a conservative uproar.
Reaction on the right to Sarvis' supposed "stealing" Cuccinelli's election was truly "tribal." He had his own Libertarian line, so they couldn't challenge him in the primaries to deny a GOP nomination. So, instead they flailed.
Some added up a list of issues and decided that, since libertarians should agree with Cuccinelli on most of those selected topics, they were merely being "tribal." Conservatives dismissed the notion that a balanced view of social tolerance and free markets may matter to libertarians.
On a conservative website, The Federalist, Ben Domenech dubbed Sarvis a "LINO" (Yep, you guessed it: "Libertarian In Name Only"), bashing him for suggesting in an interview with MSNBC's Chuck Todd some policies among a menu of options that might not satisfy an anarcho-capitalist but would work to decentralize and keep contained state transportation spending.
Domenech's bogus contention—that Sarvis advocated government-installed GPS trackers in Virginians' cars—became a meme repeated at National Review Online and Breitbart, even though the accusation was made by a figure whose credibility should have suffered from serious and highly public journalistic missteps over the years.
Another bizarre smear popped up on election eve. As Glenn Beck was bashing Sarvis as a GPS-installing LINO on his show,, his muckraking journalists at TheBlaze "revealed" that Sarvis was "bankrolled" by an "Obama bundler."
A quick Google search would have revealed that the donor in question is an Austin-based tech guy who gives to both Libertarians and Democrats. The fact that the tech community boasts of Democrats with a libertarian streak and that some donors give to both the LP and the GOP, too, wasn't even considered by the TheBlaze. Any colluding—or merely working with—with the "enemy" on the left is heresy, and the smear was repeated throughout the conservative media.
The "mainstream media" is inherently biased against conservatives, they believe, so the conservative movement has built its own parallel media, outlets that they trust can be relied on for accurate reporting.
But the "us" (conservative media) vs. "them" mainstream media culture of conservative movement media allows such smears to be trusted, but not verfied.
The separatist impulse of the conservative movement media can also be found in CPAC's choice of venue for its confab.
At last year's CPAC, the bombastic, occasionally booked TV talking head Wayne Allyn Root, fresh off renouncing his recent Libertarian heresy, offered this time-warped strategy for Republican revival: run against "Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore," "cities run by Democrats," a la Richard Nixon's "Silent Majority" scaremongering of 1972.
But as the District of Columbia, like other American cities, flourishes in an unprecedented urban renaissance of private investment, sprouting eateries frequented by an influx of young professionals making it in the marketplace, CPAC decides to decamp for an isolated government-subsidized complex, miles down the Potomac and only accessible by Beltway off-ramps.
Last year I did trek out to show support for the Competitive Enterprise Institute for throwing a panel designed to show it's "okay" to be gay and for small government at the same time. But it begs some questions: why does the culture of CPAC and the conservative movement continue to make it necessary to make that patently obvious point? And, is it worth it to rub elbows with folks whose social intolerance makes it harder to sell economic freedom in cities and suburbs where markets are expanding?
Like many libertarian-leaning Americans, I consider myself neither right, nor left. I don't feel my views are represented on either side of a bipolar liberal-conservative spectrum. And, like many libertarians, I don't feel I'm any more welcome in the Republican Party than among Democrats.
Instead, I am comfortable with a third position that values social tolerance as a necessary complement to a market economy.
While I can enthusiastically applaud the flowering skepticism toward NSA spying and military adventurism that the Pauls, Ron and Rand, have planted in the conservative grassroots, too many of those same activists can't seem to extend that "live and let live" ethos when it comes to two dudes getting hitched, or brown people who want to cross a border to get a job and become American.
And those positions, opposing gay marriage and relaxing immigration restrictions, are huge drains on the GOP brand in the polls.
So why should libertarians travel to CPAC, again, and subject ourselves to conservative gripes for, well, being libertarian?
Of course, conservatives are a necessary and crucial component of any libertarian-inspired "left-right" coalition to rein in NSA surveillance, hold back overly ambitious foreign military forays, pare down draconian criminal sentences, or rein-in the drug war.
But while libertarians will keep working with conservatives on those and economic issues, they should refuse to give up on connecting with prospering city-dwellers and suburbanites—wary of teachers unions and weary of bashing from a self-righteous "economic justice"-agitating fringe—just because they hold socially tolerant views that conservative movement activists insist on vilifying.
So, sorry, CPAC, I'll stay here in the belly of the beast with the gays, the immigrants, and the ringing cash registers.