Seen from the air, Orlando looks like a candidate for utopia: lush and expansive, with lakefront views for all. But down at street level, it’s mostly sprawling, congested, and full of the same suburbanite ideas repeated over and over again. And sure, there’s a metaphor there for Libertarian politics, but I’ll try not to run it too far into the ground.
I’m in Orlando to report on the 2016 Libertarian Party National Convention. Why Orlando? It’s a fair question. Four years ago, it was in America’s playground, Las Vegas. Four years before that, Denver, not so much a playground but still a beautiful place with things to do and see. Orlando has little on offer, just those lakes and the boggy expanses between them, some of which are occupied by mega-parks and highly-strung families.
Most people’s first experience of the city will be Orlando International Airport, with all those families are coming and going at all hours of the day. It is not for the faint of heart; however straightforward the flight may be, when you arrive you’ll step off the terminal shuttle into a space that J.G. Ballard might have envisioned on a particularly grumpy day, a combination TSA staging area and hotel atrium, with guests free to surveil all the goings-on from their concrete escarpments. Just like Dealey Plaza in Dallas, everything in MCO looms; add in the chaos of several hundred planeloads of children (not to mention the guarantees of choice product placement), and it likewise would make a great site for an historic assassination.
When you arrive, you’ll step off the terminal shuttle into a space that J.G. Ballard might have envisioned on a particularly grumpy day.
Furthermore, thanks to the sprawl, getting to the convention site is harder than you might think. It’s about 13 miles, give or take, from MCO to the convention-center corridor known as International Drive. Without traffic—which will never happen—that’s at least a $45 cab fare. In many cities, Uber and its clones help even out such costs; Orlando cab drivers, however, with the enthusiastic support of Mayor Buddy Dyer and the city transit board, have managed to keep UberX and other official, above-board providers away from the MCO pickup line. (Uber’s upscale service, Uber BLACK, cut a compromise: in exchange for agreeing to all the extra taxes, licenses, background checks, lane fees, etc., they can now serve the airport. Unsurprisingly, their prices are little better than the taxi cartels’.)
Readers of Liberty, or anyone with any economic sense whatsoever, will not be surprised to learn that there a vigorous black-market has developed over Craigslist and similar sites, where drivers sell services directly to riders, without the transparency or oversight that Uber, Lyft, et al. provide. One enterprising Libertarian ran a “civil disobedience” shuttle, ferrying over any convention attendee willing to donate $40 to the Party—a good deal for a round trip. For my own part, I chose the last available option: the public bus. I can only imagine how ludicrously oversubsidized and inefficient it must be, because for $2, I was taken from the airport right past the convention center, and it only took an extra half an hour. I’d recommend it to anyone willing to capitalize on the city’s civic largesse.
The Rosen Centre itself, host of this year’s convention, is surprisingly not terrible, though it’s also not Orlando’s main convention center—that would be across the street, and host this week to MegaCon, a pop-culture and comics convention. So while libertarians are a pretty diverse group in terms of personal style and accoutrements, they were put to shame by the costuming and pageantry on display from the MegaCon attendees—will be interesting to see if anyone from the LP raises their game to compensate. (Looking your way, Starchild.)
Today was mostly for meeting old friends, renewing acquaintances, and squabbles over credentials and delegate seating. The latter had wrapped up by the time I was able to join the fun, so I headed instead for an event hosted by our friends at FreedomFest, nearby the convention. As future presidents go, the crowd was pretty strongly against Gary Johnson, and for Austin Petersen—which made sense, as he was the only candidate who bothered to make the short walk over. Petersen is an engaging enough figure, and I’ll hope to bring you more about him the next couple days, but the short stump speech he gave here was little different than any of the others he has up on social media.
Better soundbites awaited me at the convention’s opening reception, where they had arranged for speakers to alternately harangue or sing at the crowd. One of the speakers, Jim Rogers, went on at some length about the government’s “war on cash,” stipulating in particular that they would start soon by seizing everyone’s 401(k)s, and only later move to nationalize all bank accounts; an extrapolation, it seemed from recent Greek experiences. Shakier, perhaps, was his assertion that “California is more Communist than China”; I was tempted to ask just which particular sort of communism he had in mind, but the LPNC didn’t seem the ideal place for discussions of the finer points of neo-Marxist and Maoist theory.
One enterprising Libertarian ran a “civil disobedience” airport shuttle, ferrying over any convention attendee willing to donate $40 to the Party.
At some point, improbable presidential candidate John McAfee appeared at a table by poolside, his manifestation completed by a TV crew from Spike filming footage for some sort of upcoming show. While the candidate talked with hoi polloi, I heard interesting if necessarily vague anecdotes from McAfee’s bodyguard about his (the bodyguard’s) past in bodyguarding, starting with work for private Italian family concerns in Chicago, as well as his (again the bodyguard’s) theories about what actually happened that day in Belize where McAfee’s neighbor got shot in the head.
Gary Johnson, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen, and would not be until a later unofficial debate with McAfee, anarchist candidate Daryl W. Perry, and campaign-reform candidate Marc Allan Feldman—see the videos here posted by Petersen, who filmed but did not participate. Johnson’s aloofness added to the vibe I picked up earlier, a perception that he’s already taking the nomination as fait accompli, or as a formality to be dealt with before moving on to the general. And in fairness, that’s probably true—but that sort of aerial view can miss a lot of what’s happening far below. Over the next two days, we’ll see what surprises, if any, this convention has in store.