Over the weekend, San Francisco hosted Reboot 2014, a conference that united Silicon Valley techies with libertarians like Reason.com editor Nick Gillespie and US Senator Rand Paul. To hear some outlets tell it, this marked a historic meeting of technology’s brightest minds and Washington’s most influential advocates for small government.
But from all reports, the libertarians in attendance were far more high-profile than the techies. An article from a local Bay Area CBS affiliate was titled, “Strange Bedfellows: Silicon Valley Techies ‘Like’ Conservative Senator Rand Paul,” and from the look of the headline, it sounds like the Reboot conference was one big party chock full of Valley power players, where the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt may have held Paul’s legs while he did a keg stand.
A more accurate headline, however, might have been, “Two Valley entrepreneurs nobody really cares about like Rand Paul.”
In the tradition of the New York Times Style section, the CBS affiliate’s definition of a “trend” is finding more than one person that believes something. In this case the big names are Garrett Johnson, who helped organize the conference and co-founded a nice enough mobile business phone service, and Evan Baehr who is most famous for co-founding Outbox, that now-defunct startup that (according to the USPS) “steals” your mail and e-mails it to you.
One of the big selling points of what I guess we’re calling “conservatarianism” is that the libertarian establishment can leverage Silicon Valley’s often-tense relationship with the federal government to indoctrinate a new generation of GOP voters. Indeed, many powerful Silicon Valley types consider themselves libertarians, from Pierre Omidyar to Peter Thiel to Travis Kalanick. But these guys weren’t anywhere near Reboot, and I can see why.
As Mark Ames wrote last week, one of the keynote speakers at the conference was “homophobic hick” Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Congresswoman representing Washington state*. McMorris Rodgers’ achievements as a public servant include co-authoring a bill banning same-sex marriages, and blocking a bill in Washington state to replace the offensive and outdated “Orientals” with “Asians” in state documents. There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with libertarianism, but when the political establishment you’re aligning yourself with includes racists and homophobes (not to mention climate change deniers) perhaps you should rethink your friends.
Silicon Valley may be full of people who, in their hearts of hearts, are libertarians. But even Travis “John Galt” Kalanick is starting to realize that sometimes you need to work with governments, not against them, to truly make a difference. But that doesn’t make for quite as clickable of a headline.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]
*An earlier version of this post suggested that McMoris Rodgers represented the state of Oregon