An Evening with the Pittsburgh Libertarians

One night about a week ago I did something I had been meaning to do for quite some time: attend one of the regular meetings of my local (Pittsburgh, PA area) chapter of the Libertarian party. I’m largely frustrated with the Republican party’s inability to act on their stated principles, to the point that every time they mouth those principles, they border on hypocrisy.

Being a pesky “RIRO” — a “Republican in Registration Only,” as I like voting in Pennsylvania’s closed primaries (in PA, primaries are two major-party affairs only) — I was genuinely curious as to the makeup of the group and to see whether or not they were “serious.”

By “serious” I mean this: was it a group actually focused on affecting debate and discourse, or were they like the national Libertarian party who pops up every four years to run hopeless candidates in impossible races (president, state governor, etc.) without a broad local political base?

The best way I can sum up the gathering I attended is by grouping it into three areas.

The Good

At least for the people who were there, I’d say libertarians in Western Pennsylvania tend towards rejecting left-libertarianism, which is an absolute plus in my book. There was a healthy rejection of enviro-statism, and there wasn’t a mention of “social justice” concerns or the guaranteed income/negative income tax poison that seems to be generating some head-into-desk-worthy buzz in libertarian and “conservatarian” circles of late.

Perhaps what surprised me the most is the group seems to appreciate that their focus should be in building local support, including getting people to run for local or regional political office and not putting all efforts behind statewide or national races that are guaranteed losers without a voter base to draw upon. They didn’t state things in exactly those terms, but what I heard did make me think there was a glimmer of hope that at least some realize that moving us nationally towards anti-statism will require a generational shift that begins at the local level.

The Bad

Not counting myself, there were eleven attendees. All white and ten of eleven were males. Frankly, it didn’t surprise me that there weren’t any minorities present, as libertarian outreach to those groups is about as lacking and ineffective as that of the GOP. We’ve all got to do a better job of presenting the virtues of individual liberty and responsibility, especially to those who are kept economically in the debt of an ever-encroaching government.

Eleven people does not even a local movement make (I’m not counting myself, as I’m not a member) and there were at least two or three others who were also “first timers” who came out of curiosity — or perhaps wondering, as I did, if there was any hope to be found.

The other disturbing bit of the group dynamic was that my presence, as a 42-year-old, probably lowered the average age of the assembly. Apart for the two 21- or 22-year old college seniors present, gray hairs prevailed.

The Ugly

One of their agenda items was — get this — getting active on social media. Really? You’re just coming to that conclusion? Oh my. Yeah, that pretty much explains the makeup of the individuals who found their way there (see above) as well as the numbers. One of the college students mentioned someone they know from a student organization who “tweets all the time” and could help. That person? 186 followers. That person’s libertarian student organization? 17.

Work to do, people. The fact the local party’s website hasn’t been updated in almost two years? Yeah, epic fail there too.

Well, it took until the meeting was breaking up, but a little bit of libertarian paranoia did creep into the discussion. After a bit of “where have you gone, Ron Paul? Libertarians turn their lonely eyes to you” (to paraphrase Mr. Simon), a whole lot of true fringe followed.

The one real eyeroll producer was one gentleman’s comment that we should all get DNA profiled so we can each copyright our gene sequence before Monsanto starts involuntarily cloning people… or something. That was followed by worries from another attendee that genetically modified foods were somehow altering human DNA simply by ingesting them. Those probably aren’t the views you want to lead with to build broad support. Just saying.


It’d be great if the Libertarian party actually presented a legitimate alternative on a national basis to the majority right-statist Republican party, but it will take a lot of effort at local levels to get them there. Even at a local level, I expect they’re largely a novelty, if my visit to their meeting was typical. I suppose it might not be, but I fear it is.

I think I’ll continue with this little bit of due diligence and seek out a local Republican committee meeting and go to that — just to see what messes I find there. I have every expectation that the local battle to infuse the GOP with a generational shift to anti-statism would be almost as difficult as turning the Libertarian party into a legitimate alternative, save for the GOP already having a national infrastructure, albeit one looking generally in the wrong direction.

Will I go back to the Libertarians? Yeah, I probably will. One visit isn’t enough to determine a political pulse. Besides, they meet in a great old-style diner, which should be a selling point in of itself to get people there.