CPAC as a Leading Indicator

The annual gathering showed us what the Republican Party would become years ago.

Former President Donald Trump’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s annual convention yesterday drew attention to how much of a cesspool that event has become. But it was by no means an overnight event.

The topic came up in the discussion of Steven Taylor’s post “A Return to the (Lack of) Evidence of Significant Fraud.” OTB veteran Doug Mataconis observed that he noted significant changes between the first two CPACs he attended “in the early 2010s” and Steven replied, “CPAC is, on one level, clearly a bit of a clown show. It feels like, from afar (I have never attended) a sort of Star Trek convention for a particular kind of conservative.”

Yesterday afternoon, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted, “A social scientist who compared news coverage of CPAC and Netroots Nation (a roughly similar gathering…) would have an entertaining tale to tell. The study would have to go back to 2007 and come forward to the present.”

To which I responded, “I went to quite a few CPACs starting in 2004. It was already going off the rails by 2007-definitely a leading indicator.” [It turns out my memory was off; 2005 was my first.]

Even the first couple I attended, all as an invited media member from the days when garnering coverage from the blogosphere was The Cool New Thing, were somewhat odd. I’ve never been to a comic book or Star Trek convention but imagine that there’s some similarity. Basically, various DC area conservative and libertarian organizations show up to peddle their books and ideas to the paid attendees, which are disproportionately college students and recent graduates from outside looking to meet political and media celebrities or become part of the movement.

Granting that my politics and viewpoint changed over the years that I attended (I was in my 30s and single at my first one) they went from a bit silly national political convention-level red meat to pretty nasty. Largely, I think, it simply tracked the broader changes that were happening in the conservative (and political) media space, where so many voices were competing for attention that the volume had to be dialed up to 11 to get noticed.

In a piece for The Bulwark, though, Mickey Edwards argues that the trend was noticeable—if only in hindsight—much, much earlier.

If someone had told me 40 years ago that CPAC attendees would raucously cheer a United States senator bragging about his effort to overturn a presidential election or brazenly worship a literal golden idol in the shape of a failed presidential candidate, I never would’ve believed them.

But maybe I should have seen it coming.

[…]

I had been active in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, directing a number of wide-ranging policy task forces chaired by sitting members of the House and Senate. After he was elected, I invited Reagan to keynote CPAC in 1981, as I was not only a member of Congress but also the national chairman of the American Conservative Union and chairman of CPAC. The primary was a difficult one. I had called Reagan at his home to offer my help after he lost the Iowa caucuses to George H. W. Bush and was with him in his hotel room in New Hampshire when he defeated Bush in that state’s primary. Now that the election was over and he was vice president, however, he was part of the team; I thought Bush, too, should speak at CPAC.

I was not expecting the resistance with which this suggestion was met. While the ACU is the lead organization in CPAC, other conservative organizations share in the governance and they absolutely refused to hear from Bush. In order to bring him to the event, I had to invite him as my personal guest and arrange my own breakfast meeting where he could speak the morning after Reagan’s keynote—an event to which Bush had not been invited.

[…]

About the same time, direct mail entrepreneur Richard Viguerie convened a meeting of leading conservatives at his home in D.C.’s Virginia suburbs. Included in the meeting were representatives of religious groups and the meeting focused on how to get regular churchgoers, thought to be generally conservative, at least in the Protestant denominations, to stop voting for Democrats. The attendees were from a variety of backgrounds: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Greek Orthodox. Out of that meeting arose the Moral Majority. But before long the ecumenicism was gone and the Moral Majority was largely displaced by the Christian Coalition. Again, new and narrower forces were coming to the fore. I still didn’t see the larger displacement of traditional conservatism that was gaining steam.

As chairman of the American Conservative Union, I signed, and signed off on, ACU’s fundraising materials. During my tenure as chairman I found myself forced to rewrite every letter drafted by our outside public relations consultants. The ACU, and conservatives generally, had long been focused on a few things—keeping taxes low, keeping regulation in bounds, adequately funding national defense, and, more generally (this was how conservatism was defined in political terms), prudence and skepticism in the face of proposals for sweeping overhauls.

However, what I found in the fundraising letters I was being sent to sign were harangues centered on social issues. Waging the culture war was a more effective way of raising money. I edited those parts out but failed to see, as I do now, that these rants were early signs that the ideals of conservatism were being abandoned by those who claimed to be its greatest champions. But I couldn’t see that at the time; I simply deleted the social/cultural warfare lines, rewrote each piece in more traditional conservative terms, and moved on. These fights began to creep into Congress as well, the usual partisan squabbles over tax policy, defense spending, foreign policy, assistance programs, and budget levels joined by bitter and continuous partisan fights over social issues: abortion, gay rights, women’s empowerment, etc.

After five years as ACU’s, and CPAC’s, chairman, I resigned. I resigned as ACU’s chairman, I resigned as a board member, and I resigned as a member. As the push for this new brand of conservatism—a populist and retrograde pseudo-conservatism—grew stronger, I wanted no part of it. But it still had not transformed the Republican Party, or even conservatism generally, into the ugly and malignant force it has become.

There’s a whole lot more there but you get the idea.

Some will take issue with the last sentence of the excerpt. Certainly, the forces that were transforming CPAC were indeed transforming the GOP. But it happened slowly, indeed.

Yes, many conservatives thought George H.W. Bush was not one of them. But he emerged from a crowded field of conservative candidates, including Jack Kemp and Pat Robertson, as the 1988 Republican nominee and of course went on to win the election. Going back on his “no new taxes” pledge hurt him significantly and he had to fight off a primary challenge from Pat Buchanan in 1992 but, again, he emerged easily as the nominee in 1992.

Even as the party was slowly being taken over at the local and House level by the Christian Coalition types, more moderate candidates continued to win the Presidential nomination.

Bob Dole easily fended off Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes, Bob Dornan, and other conservative challengers in 1996.

George W. Bush held off not only John McCain but also Buchanan, Keyes, Gary Baeur, and Herman Cain in 2000 and ran essentially unopposed as the incumbent Presidnet in 2004.

McCain won in 2008 over Mitt Romney and a bevy of conservative opponents: Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter, and Keyes.

Romney beat Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and others in 2012.

But, of course, the chickens came home to roost in 2016 with Donald Trump, who still has the party firmly in his grasp today. By this point, something other than conservative ideology or even “family values” had clearly come to the forefront. CPAC and the GOP had merged.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    Even as the party was slowly being taken over at the local and House level by the Christian Coalition types, more moderate candidates continued to win the Presidential nomination.

    […]

    George W. Bush held off not only John McCain but also Buchanan, Keyes, Gary Baeur, and Herman Cain in 2000.

    While W. was more moderate than much of the field, he was also one of the most outwardly “Christian” candidates in that race. Compassionate Conservatism, which got derailed by 9/11, was presented as a bridge to Christian Voters. And probably the most modern “Christian” Republican Presidential candidate until the Religious Right’s embrace of Trump. GWB’s status as being “Born Again” in 1985 was an important part of his personal bio.

    6
  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Oh c’mon, how could anyone have possibly foreseen a former POTUS standing on a Nazi symbol and proclaiming himself the winner of an election he lost by 7,000,000 votes?
    That shit is so far out there no one could have seen it coming.

    24
  3. Modulo Myself says:

    @mattbernius:

    I hate saying this, but Bush was a moderate in the sense that somebody, somewhere, might have wished to emulate his example of being saved from drinking by Jesus. That biographical fact appealed to people who weren’t Christians. Conservative Christians sunk themselves when they went all-in on gay marriage, which has led to their even more crazy attack on trans rights. You don’t have to attack having a drinking problem, because the problem is self-evident.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius:

    GWB’s status as being “Born Again” in 1985 was an important part of his personal bio.

    Sure. But, hell, that was true of Jimmy Carter in 1976. But he wasn’t the Movement Conservative that Keyes or Bauer were.

    4
  5. Teve says:
  6. James Joyner says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Conservative Christians sunk themselves when they went all-in on gay marriage, which has led to their even more crazy attack on trans rights.

    Gallup polled on these issues for 35 years. It was not until 20 years ago that a majority of Americans thought “gay and lesbian relations between consenting adults” should be legal. Not marriage. Relations. We didn’t get a majority on recognizing same-sex marriages until 2011. They didn’t even start polling on trans issues until 2019.

    6
  7. Modulo Myself says:

    @James Joyner:

    Maybe my point wasn’t clear. Opinion on drinking is based on experience with drinking. Public opinion about gay people was built around ignorance and bigotry. It wasn’t based on experience. Very few gay people line up willingly for salvation from their gayness. Whereas millions of people line up to be saved from booze.

    Right-wing Christians sunk themselves on gay rights because that everybody was as crippled by homophobia as they were.

    2
  8. Modulo Myself says:

    @James Joyner:

    I mean, look at how steady the increase in support for gay rights is. It’s not like gay people in 1996 are fundamentally different than gay people in 2021. ‘Normal’ Americans were not onto some cosmic truth about human relationships that had to be reformulated to allow gay people into this realm. They were just bigoted, homophobic idiots, and that was clear in 1996.

    3
  9. Joe says:

    I am sure someone here knows, but how many paid attendees were there at this year’s CPAC and is that number trending up or down? From some prior commenter here I got the impression that this year’s CPAC was far from heavily attended. It makes me wonder whether we look at CPAC participants like the right looks at Antifa – some huge movement actually pursued by a thousand or so people.

    1
  10. MarkedMan says:

    @Joe: Fair point, but on the other hand, the leader of the Republican Party, who is far and away the front runner for the 2024 nomination, chose to make his first post-presidency public appearance there.

    3
  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    Conservatism was always bullshit. It was never what its advocates pretended it was. We’ve seen just how many microseconds it took ‘conservatives’ to abandon character, small government, balanced budgets, the constitution itself, in favor or racism, misogyny, nativism and the biggest liar in American political history.

    The sudden ‘shift’ was easy, because, again, conservatism was always bullshit. It was always about race and gender and privilege, and never about character, the constitution, or any of the other shibboleths. Since at least 1968, conservatism’s only true aim was to maintain white and male dominance, and keep boots firmly planted on minority necks.

    Conservative intellectuals naturally missed this, because intellectuals think life is about seminars and position papers. It’s not and never has been. Politics is about power. So-called conservatives would say, do or believe anything that resulted in white power and patriarchy. You know who did understand this? Every liberal on earth. Conservative intellectuals are surprised to discover that they’ve been members of a white supremacist, fascist party, but liberals are rather less surprised.

    It’s a Marx to Lenin to Stalin progression. Marx was used by Lenin to gain power, Lenin was used by Stalin to gain power, and Stalin (like Trump) never gave much of a damn about theory, but was a nasty thug who really enjoyed power and being able to impose his lunatic world view on everyone.

    Does this mean conservative intellectuals will admit that they were dupes and that liberals were right all along? Sure. Right after the last few Marxists admit they were full of shit.

    14
  12. Jon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Conservatism was always bullshit. It was never what its advocates pretended it was.

    Indeed.

    Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:

    There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

    5
  13. charon says:

    @mattbernius:

    Compassionate Conservatism, which got derailed by 9/11, was presented as a bridge to Christian Voters.

    There was a fellow named Marvin Olasky who was a close associate of Dubya Bush.

    Here is the title of his best known book:

    Compassionate Conservatism: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Can Transform America

    I found this in a book review, my emphasis:

    “”Compassionate conservatism”” is a phrase used by Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, but he didn’t originate it. Credit for that goes to his advisor Olasky, who, in his 1992 book The Tragedy of American Compassion, proposed that the needs of the poor and uneducated could be better met through the efforts of local, faith-based organizations than through a big, bureaucratic social-welfare machine.

    From the beginning I saw the term as a dogwhistle to people who would have been familiar with Olasky’s books.

    6
  14. charon says:

    @charon:

    So the Christians were brought in on the premise of being compassionate and moderate, but they turned out to be more interested in other things – culture wars etc.

    3
  15. charon says:

    Getting back to the topic of this post, which this whole thread seems to have wandered away from:

    https://thetriad.thebulwark.com/p/cpac-was-the-real-republican-party

    The heading:

    CPAC Was the Real Republican Party All Along

    It turns out that the conservative Star Wars bar was actually representative of the Republican base.

    4
  16. Gustopher says:

    @Joe:

    this year’s CPAC was far from heavily attended.

    I think there are two reasons for this:

    – You may not be aware of this, as it happened only recently, but somehow after only a month into the job, President Biden has created a massive pandemic. It’s just not safe, because of Joe Biden.

    – A lot of people who would be going to this weren’t buying the bullshit that Covid is nothing to begin with — that’s for the plebes. Your grandma should sacrifice herself for the economy, but a middle-aged man who thinks of himself as one of the movers and shakers has other priorities.

    I wouldn’t compare pandemic attendance numbers to non-pandemic attendance numbers. I’m sure that next year they will be crowing about a 5 fold increase though, as they mourn the 750,000 dead from Biden’s pandemic.

    8
  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    Compassionate conservatism was supposed to be outreach to Christian conservatives? Come on. That’s got to be a joke. Christian conservatives are just about the least compassionate people in this country.

    No, compassionate conservatism was an effort to trick moderates.

    22
  18. Teve says:

    Interesting bit I found on Wikipedia:

    A study of nationwide data from January 1999 to December 2015 revealed that the establishment of same-sex marriage is associated with a significant reduction in the rate of attempted suicide among teens, with the effect being concentrated among teens of a minority sexual orientation, resulting in approximately 134,000 fewer teens attempting suicide each year in the United States.

    14
  19. Gustopher says:

    @charon: The Cantina scene in Star Wars shows a vibrant, multicultural and multiracial community coming together to bond over drinks. That’s not CPAC at all.

    The closest element to CPAC is when the bartender says they can’t bring in the droids — and that’s because CPAC didn’t allow guns despite “FREEDOM!”. I don’t know if there was a metal detector at the door of CPAC, but there certainly was one at the bar.

    Sure, in the course of a few moments one guy gets his arm cut off and another gets shot, but this is a resilient crowd — they quickly get over it and keep to themselves. They aren’t complainers, and they aren’t victims. Again, nothing like CPAC.

    I think it speaks poorly of the Bullwark folks to make the comparison — they are treating multi-ethnic crowds of people living their lives like a freak show.

    The better example would be Jabba’s palace, where it was a freak show, designed as a freak show, for the entertainment of the bloated plutocrat. There is even a large slug throwing people to the wild animals, not unlike Donald Trump naming his enemies.

    Plus, I think that the musical number in Jabba’s palace (in recent edits) is a pretty good analogue for the National Anthem at CPAC. Better singing at Jabba’s, but still a cringeworthy event.

    6
  20. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Serious question…how does this end…if not in a Civil war between the ignorati and the rest of us?

    3
  21. Gustopher says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: We either learn to live together, or we don’t, and all the options for don’t are bad.

    It’s why I have very little patience for a certain commenter riding in on his purity pony to chastise our hosts and various commenters for not being up to his lofty ideals, for merely being 70-95% of the way there. If we can’t make common ground with someone who is mostly on our side, we are doomed.

    It’s why I think Michael Reynold’s rants about religion are so off the mark — most people are religious, to some extent, and the attacks are so broad that he is effectively taking the role of the far-left purity police.

    Here’s the thing about the guy I don’t want to call out because he is tedious and the guy I will call out because he’s not tedious — they aren’t necessarily wrong, but it’s unhelpful. The erudite git is correct that our hosts turned a blind eye to the freaks in their party for far too long, but it doesn’t get us anywhere. Michael is right that people turn off their brains too often (there I would counter that most of us have our brains turned off most of the time, and rely upon rules from on high — for various definitions of “on high” — to keep us on track, because thought is so slow), but again, he doesn’t propose anything useful.

    I’m hoping that when Trump dies, and he will, that the authoritarian hero worship will recede to a point where common ground is findable with a majority of the population — there will always be the fringe, but they won’t have captured the soul of an entire party. And we will have to overlook a lot of revolting things.

    Or FEMA Re-education Camps (and hoping we are running them rather than in them).

    9
  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    I think the most likely outcome is that we have a semi-permanent but diminishing 30% or so who will go on wallowing in lunacy. As late as the 60’s you still had conservatives bitching that FDR was a communist. The rest of the country will move on.

    3
  23. Mister Bluster says:

    @Gustopher:…The better example would be Jabba’s palace,..

    Or maybe Richard Pryor’s Star Wars Bar.
    I saw this when it aired for the first (and only?) time. I remember where I was living so it had to be 1977 0r ’78. It was on a Saturday or Sunday Night prime time. I watched it on the local NBC affiliate out of Paducah KY. They did not cut anything. This was the same local NBC station that tape delayed Saturday Night Live for one hour when it debuted in 1975 because Bible Thumpers or something.

    link

    1
  24. charon says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m hoping that when Trump dies, and he will, that the authoritarian hero worship will recede to a point where common ground is findable with a majority of the population —

    That’s possible, neither of us has a crystal ball – but I think Trumpism is who they are, simply, – Trump is like a mascot but disposable – perhaps replaceable or maybe they just get by fine without a cult leader.

    6
  25. James Joyner says:

    @Joe:

    I got the impression that this year’s CPAC was far from heavily attended.

    I don’t think we can draw any meaningful conclusions from a COVID-year event. Not only is travel much harder but the event moved from the DC area to Florida.

    It makes me wonder whether we look at CPAC participants like the right looks at Antifa – some huge movement actually pursued by a thousand or so people.

    As noted in the title, I think CPAC is a leading indicator of where the movement is going. It’s attended by lots of media celebrities and presidential wannabes and, indeed, often by Presidents and Vice Presidents themselves. But, yes, it’s a relatively tiny gathering unrepresentative of American politics, even Republican voters, in all manner of ways.

  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    It’s why I have very little patience for a certain commenter riding in on his purity pony to chastise our hosts and various commenters for not being up to his lofty ideals, for merely being 70-95% of the way there. If we can’t make common ground with someone who is mostly on our side, we are doomed.

    It’s why I think Michael Reynold’s rants about religion are so off the mark — most people are religious, to some extent, and the attacks are so broad that he is effectively taking the role of the far-left purity police.

    As usual, you don’t understand me or what I’m saying.

    1) I have no ‘lofty ideals’ aside from the truth. If anything I’m saying is untrue, I’d welcome correction. I am happy to make common cause with our gracious hosts, but I’m not willing to pretend that in earlier life they did not contribute to the problems at hand. I also insist on my own culpability – voting for Nixon, flirting with libertarianism, being politically disengaged because I was busy fucking up my own life. Because all that is true.

    2) I also, incidentally, insist that the Left has made its own contributions to the mess. Did the Left’s purity police help to motivate the far right? Yes. True.

    3) I place the core blame not on systems or even on leaders, but at the level of the individual, because people have agency. People are responsible for what they believe, say and do. People who choose to ignore evidence and reality in one area, are primed to ignore it in other areas. Believe in God without evidence? Why not believe in Q without evidence? Why not believe in Leprechauns? Why not? Because: truth. Truth matters.

    4) Yes, most people are religious to some extent. And? Therefore we should pretend they aren’t talking nonsense? Most people are racist to some extent. Should we coddle them? Or should we insist on the truth?

    I don’t lie, Gustopher, and I don’t accept other people’s lies, either. That’s my lofty ideal. Perhaps you have a higher ideal?

    4
  27. James Joyner says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    They were just bigoted, homophobic idiots, and that was clear in 1996.

    But that’s not really helpful. While there is some generational replacement at work, most of those people changed from thinking gay sex should be illegal to thinking gay marriage should be legal in a matter of a decade. They became less ignorant, and therefore less bigoted, through exposure to what actual gay people were like.

    Coming up in the Deep South (and not a major city like Atlanta) I had no idea what gays were like. This meant my image was overly shaped by stereotypical media portrayals and the fact that the handful of out gays in the 1980s and even the early 1990s were flamboyant outcasts. Television and the movies started portraying gay characters who were just people who happened to have different orientations. Eventually, that led to celebrities and normal gays coming out, too, and people had to deal with new information.

    4
  28. James Joyner says:

    @charon:

    From the beginning I saw the term as a dogwhistle to people who would have been familiar with Olasky’s books.

    I think you overestimate people’s ability to decode hidden messages. I was a political science professor and Bush voter and was only vaguely familiar with Olasky. I certainly hadn’t read his books.

    Beyond that, the message was a perfectly reasonable one and an important shift. The compassionate part was that society really, really ought to help poor people. The conservative part was through civil society rather than the central government.

    2
  29. charon says:

    @Gustopher:

    The Cantina scene in Star Wars shows a vibrant, multicultural and multiracial community coming together to bond over drinks. That’s not CPAC at all.

    The closest element to CPAC is when the bartender says they can’t bring in the droids — and that’s because CPAC didn’t allow guns despite “FREEDOM!”. I don’t know if there was a metal detector at the door of CPAC, but there certainly was one at the bar.

    So maybe more apropos to compare to the scene at the end of Cabaret – “The Future Belongs to Me.”

    2
  30. charon says:

    @James Joyner:

    I was a political science professor and Bush voter and had never heard of Olasky.

    Did you frequently shop in Christian bookstores? The point of dogwhistles is that they are only heard by the target audience such as a subculture.

    Beyond that, the message was a perfectly reasonable one and an important shift.

    It is a horrible message, it is the claim we can cut back on the public funded safety net because good hearted people will pick up the slack.

    Been there, done that – it does not work. Private charity was augmented by a public safety net for a reason.

    8
  31. Jen says:

    RE: Compassionate conservatism, speaking as someone who was working in politics when this term started to be bandied about, was a progression from the “thousand points of light” speech of H.W. Bush. @Charon is correct–it’s wrapped up in the notion that government is less efficient in delivering help than say a church or charity. This makes the religious folk proud, yay us, we’re better than the government at help, see?

    In reality, what it did was tap into a lot of people’s erroneous perception that “the welfare state” was a much larger part of the budget than it is, and that this was a way to both get help to those who need it and…cut taxes. “A hand up, not a hand-out” was an oft-used phrase.

    It was and is a communications tactic, designed to get votes by making people feel better when they pull the lever for a candidate who won’t really lift a finger to help the poor.

    5
  32. Jax says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Pretty sure it was a different commenter on the purity pony he was referring to, not you, if that helps. We’re afraid to say his name lest we conjure him. 😉

    3
  33. charon says:

    @James Joyner:

    The compassionate part was that society really, really ought to help poor people.

    Your proposed mechanism for causing such a result would be what?

    It seems to me if you want collective action, the government is a fine mechanism.

    4
  34. charon says:

    @Jen:

    This makes the religious folk proud, yay us, we’re better than the government at help, see?

    And perhaps facilitating a meetup with St. Peter at the pearly gates.

    4
  35. Mu Yixiao says:
  36. Grewgills says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    Yet this giving in concert with government programs in the US doesn’t protect as much of our population as social safety nets in other Western democracies protect their populations.
    Also, a plurality of the US giving is specifically religious and so is diverted to purposes other than acting as a social safety net.

    15
  37. Mikey says:

    @Grewgills:

    Also, a plurality of the US giving is specifically religious and so is diverted to purposes other than acting as a social safety net.

    One need only look at the #1 state and city on the list of giving as a % of AGI to see this.

    (Spoiler alert: it’s Utah and Salt Lake City, Utah.)

    7
  38. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Compassionate conservatism was supposed to be outreach to Christian conservatives? Come on. That’s got to be a joke. Christian conservatives are just about the least compassionate people in this country.

    I’ll let @charon: speak for herself, but I think the point is that it’s a dogwhistle. Yes, many Christian conservatives are not compassionate. On the other hand many engage in significant charity. But they all got Olasky’s meaning that “compassionate” meant the government doing little. And the leadership hoped church charities could pull in some tax dollars. Part of HW’s Thousand Points of Light. Meanwhile, like all good dogwhistles, the general public heard that W intended to be compassionate. I don’t recall that he actually did anything compassionate.

    1
  39. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    No, compassionate conservatism was an effort to trick moderates.

    I understand that you think all Republicans before Trump were just smoother talking versions of Trump but both Bushes were indeed rather moderate in key ways. Dubya made some key mistakes but he was the impetus behind including prescription drug coverage in Medicare, a huge expansion of the welfare state. And Millennium Challenge and President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) were massive and largely successful investments in humanitarian relief in the developing world, particularly Africa. Like his father (“kinder, gentler nation” and “thousand points of light”) I think he actually meant what he said, even if he didn’t fully live up to the promises.

    7
  40. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner: It’s kind of amazing, really, that a President who blundered so horribly into Iraq, creating a military and humanitarian disaster we’re still suffering the effects of, could also create a program like PEPFAR, which is estimated to have saved nearly 18 million lives.

    3
  41. Matt says:

    @James Joyner:

    he was the impetus behind including prescription drug coverage in Medicare, a huge expansion of the welfare state

    A huge expansion intentionally designed to enrich specific groups in the private sector while limiting any real cost control capability….AKA a terribly designed expansion that we (liberals) are still trying to fix today.. It was almost as bad as the NCLB aka the no lobbyist left behind plan…

    Millennium Challenge

    I actually thought you were talking about the corrupted military exercise that almost provided an effective lesson for the US navy and the US military in general. I didn’t even realize that the MCC was a thing.

    1
  42. Kathy says:

    It seems to me the GOP’s problem, and also now the world’s, isn’t so much that the inmates are running the asylum, but that the GOP establishment is mostly ok with it.

    A few lost patience after four long years, but the rest just keep going along.

    2
  43. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Compassionate conservatism was supposed to be outreach to Christian conservatives? Come on. That’s got to be a joke. Christian conservatives are just about the least compassionate people in this country.

    No, you’re missing the subtlety here. “Compassionate conservatism” said that, instead of taxing rich comfortable people (like you) to pay for social welfare programs and other public goods, those things should be provided by the faith-based groups supported by the offerings and tithes and charitable donations you are already doing. No changes required; no guilt needed. Even if you, yourself, don’t really give very much.

    5
  44. gVOR08 says:

    At the time I had a real, “WTF, where did that come from?” reaction to W fighting AIDS in Africa. Until someone pointed out that Pharma was W’s biggest donor industry. So yes, he did a good thing. But is it evidence of “compassion”?

    2
  45. Grewgills says:

    @DrDaveT:
    It has the added bonus of forcing those who would receive help being forced to take an evangelical message with it, so you receive a serving of god along with your non-government cheese and if you refuse the side helping of god then no cheese for you.

    5
  46. Grewgills says:

    @gVOR08:
    There was also the requirement that any sex ed that went along with HIV help be abstinence only, so it pushed the culture war issue to another continent.
    This was the subject of my very first exchange with James in the comments section so many years ago.

    3
  47. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy:

    It seems to me the GOP’s problem, and also now the world’s, isn’t so much that the inmates are running the asylum, but that the GOP establishment is mostly ok with it.

    That. It’s wrong for people to look at the base voters and think that’s the Republican Party. You have to every now and again look behind the green curtain. Koch, the Mercers, Adelson (Miriam), the Uihleins, and so on and so on run the Party. And they can still get tax cuts, regulatory relief, pro-corporate Federalist Society judges, and most of all inaction on AGW, from GOP pols, whatever the base wants. As they got what they wanted from McCOnnell while Trump was off ranting about immigrants and walls or whatever. They always knew they were running a con. What’s changed from their point of view? For them, what’s to not like about the current state of the Party?

    3
  48. charon says:

    An example of the type of cream that rises to the top in today’s GOP:

    https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/02/25/marjorie-taylor-greene-471481

    In some respects, she’s supercharged: Trump, after all, had half a century of built-up fame to propel his improbable run; Greene, on the other hand, armed with anger, opinions and time, spun her policy-light bid out of little more than a deep need to be seen and heard, showing that Trump-style national political figures can be minted with an almost industrial speed. Greene, like Trump, willed herself into the role of a star in 21st-century American politics’ nonstop, social-media-shared, pick-a-side, ill-tempered spectacle. Greene declined to comment for this article, but Nick Dyer, her communications director, responded in a terse email: “You are a scumbag, Michael.”

    Thread:

    https://twitter.com/drvolts/status/1366095956530270210

    Today’s right — media, but also political offices — is filling up with people like this (Shapiro, Wohl, pick a name), people with a bottomless need for attention & affirmation. You don’t have to be smart to get attention & affirmation on the right, or kind, or accomplished …

    you just have to be willing to say horrible shit out loud. That’s literally the only reason MTG is in Congress — she’ll say all the horrible shit. It’s the lowest possible bar for a human to clear; it just involves suppressing any residual sense of shame.

    What happens when you have an entire political apparatus composed of desperate narcissists who were not smart, talented, or emotionally literate enough to get the attention they need anywhere else? Who are united only by shamelessness & addiction to affirmation?

    So maybe someone like Kristi Noem on the GOP 2024 national ticket? Sarah Palin was just ahead of her time.

    3
  49. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher:

    I hope you’re not referring to me. If you are, feel free to call me out. I know I’m tedious. But the times I’ve been unfair, I’ve apologized.

    😉

    1
  50. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jen: The other, and I my mind bigger, problem was that religious organizations simply aren’t better at delivering help than the government because they don’t have as much money available as the government does (my take on why is because Christians believe in tithing–can’t speak for other religions–but not strongly enough to actually DO it, and even if they did, the government might still outweigh them). Where religious organizations may have an advantage is in providing relief services where the government fails to or where the holes in the safety net are. But then, it’s the conservatives–and by extension evangelicals–who are tearing the holes in the net to begin with, so…

    Suffice it to say, I give to private relief organizations, but I don’t cheer about it. They need to exist because the society is broken and refuses to recognize it.

    2
  51. Kurtz says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Please don’t take this as rude or combative. Do you consider yourself an idealogue?

    I only ask, because having firm beliefs/strong priors is fine. All of us do. But it becomes a problem when it results in tunnel vision–you tend to take uncontextualized fragments of data or observation as support for your worldview.

    I recommend looking through the OECD publication Society at a Glance.

    If you poke around the OECD website, you will find all sorts of interesting tidbits.

    -Youth internet usage in the US is below average.

    -almost 60% of low income renters in the US spend more than 40% of their disposable income on housing.

    -US has highest concentration of wealth among the top 10% of households.

    -The OECD measure of relative poverty, one half of the median income, would include around 18% of Americans. Despite one of the highest median disposable incomes, that’s also one of the highest poverty rates. But at least we beat Mexico, Chile, and Turkey!

    Given those statsitics, private charity and tax breaks as an alternative to social spending via the State seems to be an abject failure.

    9
  52. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @charon: The solution to the problem of poverty in the nation is for employers paying a living wage for working ONE JOB, but in the absence of that happening, the government is probably the best chance we have for collective action.

  53. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    4) Yes, most people are religious to some extent. And? Therefore we should pretend they aren’t talking nonsense? Most people are racist to some extent. Should we coddle them? Or should we insist on the truth?

    If the goal is to feel lofty and superior and smug, then by all means, decide that their religion is bunk, and hold your head up high. Well done, sir.

    If the goal is to understand why people act like they do, and change behavior and attitudes, then you stop far too soon in trying to uncover truth.

    Why do people believe those stories? What purpose do the stories serve? How can we meet these needs (and given that the vast majority of people are religious, I think we can say that there are needs) in a way that either lessens the impact of the most hateful stories, or direct them to better stories?

    I’ve seen people turn their lives around and give up drugs and self-destructive behavior because they found Jesus. That’s a power that telling them “there is no god” doesn’t have, even if the latter is true. They live better, happier lives, even though they aren’t as much fun at parties.

    Throughout human history, there has been religion. Since 500 BCE or so it has taken on an element of teaching morality (before that, most practice was to appease the gods and/or win their favor so your crops do better, or the kid down the street with his loud music would just drop dead).

    If an idea has been around for 2500 years, in various forms and guises, and has been the underpinning of civilization for that long… maybe it serves a purpose, and maybe saying “Nope, the whole basis of your culture is bullshit” isn’t the right way to communicate.

    Is it some memetic brain parasite that exploits our psychological weaknesses to propagate? Probably. But you then have to ask which weaknesses, how it exploits, and how we can create a competing parasite. Because, someone is asking those questions, and someone is creating a particularly toxic form of Christianity that has nothing to do with Love Thy Neighbor, or anything other than smiting.

    I don’t give a damn whether the guy in Georgia believes in Jesus, Buddha or the Great Pumpkin. I do care if he is voting for someone who wants to take my rights away, or let the planet die due to global warming, or who doesn’t believe in vaccines because “God will provide.”

    And, telling someone that they are living a lie might give you that little bit of smugness, but it doesn’t really help your leave your kids a world where they will be safe and happy. (One hopes the Animorphs fortune will buffer them to a large degree, and give them options for escape, but there’s a lot of people who don’t have the Animorphs fortune).

    Is that ideal lofty enough for you?

    Marx may have said that religion was the opium of the masses, but he did so at a time when opium was also regularly used medicinally.

    And, finally, on “everyone is a little bit racist” — yes. And we don’t embrace it, but we give people a chance to do better because otherwise they won’t. And it’s long and it’s painful, and it requires compassion when we really don’t want to be compassionate. And we should be a little grateful when people are compassionate and give us a chance to do better.

    How about that one? Is that ideal lofty enough for you?

    @Kurtz: No, no, not you. You’re cool. I thought “erudite git” was clear enough… I suspect they have a Google alert or something, and just don’t feel like dealing with them.

    8
  54. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Did the Left’s purity police help to motivate the far right? Yes. True.

    I would put the Virtue Signallers in a different camp than the Purity Police. The former mostly attack the right, while the latter attack the left. The right loves the Purity Police — Democrats In Disarray is one of their favorite things.

    But, it brings up a question — does Virtue Signaling inspire Vice Signalling, or were these people just going to be assholes either way?

    I think the outrage over Obama’s Tan Suit would suggest that these people were just going to be assholes, and that begs the question of how did the assholes come to lead the Republican Party?

    (Is “begs the question” shortened and modernized from “begat the question”? If not, how can we make everyone believe it is true?)

    2
  55. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher:

    Pedantry Trigger Warning:

    It should be “raises the question.” “Begging the question” is the name of a fallacy. BUT at this point, the colloquial usage is so common that the fight just isn’t worth having.

    “Begat the Question” sounds like the handle of a white rapper from Scottsdale.

    PS I was joking about that referring to me. But thanks for calling me cool.

    3
  56. MarkedMan says:

    @Mu Yixiao: Americans can be quite generous, but there are distortions here that render such comparisons meaningless. For example, in the chart accompanying that article, 2/5 of Americans’ charitable giving was to churches, and I suspect a not insignificant portion of that education giving was for religious schools. Basically, dues to a private club, not what any but the taxman would consider charity. The education slice is also highly problematic, as I believe I’ve seen that the vast majority that goes to non-religious schools goes to very wealthy, very selective schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. You can be darn sure that your average university is at best treading water. So 3/5ths of that total giving is not really charitable in the n0n-taxman sense.

    Most of the Arts giving is similar to the education in that it goes to the MOMA’s and that ilk and they are most certainly not meant for people who require charity. The cheapest tickets for MOMA would set a family of four back more than $50. (An exception to this trend is the wonderful Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, whose board decided a few years back would be open to all at no admission.) In the end, I would guess that only a quarter or less of that charitable giving goes to the needy.

    And of course, as is pointed out above, people like my Swedish friends know they pay very high taxes specifically to help people in need. They grumble, but they consider the US a disgrace in this respect. No Swede needs to be homeless or hungry, while Americans seem perfectly OK with that, as long as they can be driven from the suburbs and pushed into the city. The Swedes might not donate as much to needs based charities, but that’s because they have committed as a nation to meeting the needs of all.

    8
  57. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher:

    I sometimes wonder if early religion developed as a social mechanism to stop people from looking at the sky and thinking,

    What the hell? How did I end up here? Wait, where the hell am I? What exactly is this place? Hey, that cloud looks like a–

    And then getting eaten by a leopard. Mortality rates were probably quite high in bands of early humans, so figuring out how to avoid losing people to impractical questions was likely a priority.

    2
  58. Kurtz says:

    @MarkedMan:

    No Swede needs to be homeless or hungry, while Americans seem perfectly OK with that, as long as they can be driven from the suburbs and pushed into the city.

    You forgot the most important part. Drive the homeless to the cities. But you also then cite that as proof that metros are sewers with dope needles and feces everywhere.

    Don’t forget to remind everyone that Democrats want your quiet suburb to be just like that.

    3
  59. Kurtz says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Oh I forgot, did you get over your transphobia yet? I only ask because I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about me if they see me associating with the likes of you.

    😉

    3
  60. Jax says:

    @Kurtz: Hahahahaha…..white rapper from Scottsdale, I’m gonna be laughing at that all night! 😉

    Shhhhh…..you’re gonna conjure that other guy if you name MarkedMan.

    2
  61. GW says:

    Bobby Jindal referred to the GOP as “the Party of stupid.” George Will wrote that young people considered the GOP as the dumb party. The Washington Times asked if the GOP was the Party of Evil or The Party of Stupid. But nobody has called it “the Party of Lies” or even the American Fascist Party….yet. As far as the latter, it ticks all the boxes: anti-democratic (so far as to take part in a failed coup d’etat), anti-science, needing its own forum for “alternate facts” in place of “fake news,” and now it has its golden idol.

    2
  62. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    Jesus Christ. I understand why people believe lies. (Duh.) That doesn’t alter the fact that they are lies. We have a serious problem with people believing nonsense. They believe nonsense because they’ve been trained to believe nonsense. People trained to identify nonsense don’t believe nonsense. Who is trained to identify nonsense? Not evangelical Christians. Deliberately.

    So, does religion teach people to believe nonsense? Yes. Are believers the bulk of Trumpists? Yes. The same people who believe Q believe Jesus. Right? I mean, look at the polls. Draw a Venn diagram. I suspect you are one of those people who went for the God thing. So did I til I was 16. We were both sold a lot of nonsense. I don’t have a problem admitting it. Why do you?

    But then you aren’t good at admitting error, are you? Al Franken? Speaking of smug? Speaking of virtue signaling? Notice how even Gillibrand is backing off going after Cuomo? Can you read the signs of a weakening social movement? Did I not tell you that a refusal to achieve some proportionality would inevitably weaken the movement? Did I not tell you that injustice would undermine the movement? The unfairness of the destruction of Franken is now actually protecting Cuomo. True? Not true? Or do you just want to be mad at me for being right?

    Now, look, I don’t know why you’re so hung up on me, but you obviously are. It’s not mutual. Maybe you should ask yourself why.

    1
  63. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    You are like the 900th guy who’s decided he was going to take me down a peg. So, I’m going to take pity and explain why that’s never going to happen.

    The only thing I care about when we debate issues is the Truth. Capital T. If I propose X and you prove Y, guess what I’ll say? I’ll say, huh, did not know that, thanks for showing me my error.

    Do you understand where that leaves you? You either fail to prove me wrong, or you succeed in proving me wrong, which I will thank you for. Which of those outcomes knocks me down a peg? That’s right: neither. Each time you fail to prove me wrong, advantage me, disadvantage you. Right? And when you prove me wrong (some day, hang in there) it’s still advantage me, because it’s a lesson I happily absorb.

    As long as I remain devoted to Truth I’m un-knockable. You either lose an argument and apparently feel upset, or you win an argument and serve my core interests.

  64. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I suspect you are one of those people who went for the God thing.

    Nope. Not sure if I ever set foot in a church before my brother’s wedding when I was 15, and have only been inside a few times since. I was raised Christmas Tree Christian — we had a Christmas Tree, but no religion. If there was a Bible in the house, I never saw it.

    I learned more about Christianity from “A Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” than from my parents.

    Never picked it up later, although I learned bits here and there about various religions, mostly for Art, History and Literature classes.

    The closest I’ve come to religion is mindfulness based stress reduction which has some overlap in meditation techniques as Buddhism, but no gods*, no reincarnation, no 8-fold path, no nothing… so, not really close at all. I just watch from the outside.

    So, you’re totally wrong about that.

    But then you aren’t good at admitting error, are you? Al Franken? Speaking of smug?

    Franken gave no explanation or defense as accusations piled up, left his caucus twisting in the wind and under pressure, apologized and resigned. He was then replaced by another Democrat. It’s good he’s gone.

    He had been very aware that he was under a spotlight running for office, he continued to behave that way (let’s assume jokingly) and put himself in a position where he could not adequately represent his constituents. It’s disappointing that he did that, but he’s just a means to an end.

    Cuomo will likely be gone inside of a month, two at the outside. Between the women coming out of the woodwork, and lying about covid deaths, lagging vaccinations because his administration has been too concerned with getting shots in the perfect arm, he’s got few friends on the left, and the right wants a head as much as the left. He’s certainly not going to run for re-election.

    We have a serious problem with people believing nonsense. They believe nonsense because they’ve been trained to believe nonsense. People trained to identify nonsense don’t believe nonsense. Who is trained to identify nonsense? Not evangelical Christians. Deliberately.

    There are a whole lot of scientists who are religious. These are people trained to identify nonsense. And yet, they believe nonsense.

    Why is that? Perhaps your argument holds no water.

    Or perhaps there are different kinds of nonsense, and believing in a religion and taking strength from that is different than believing a hate filled conspiracy theory.

    And why do we have a problem of people choosing to believe dangerous nonsense now, when religious identification is at its lowest in decades?**

    And how and why do people choose which nonsense to believe? Because there’s a world of difference between the Jesus of Love Thy Neighbor and the Jesus of Donald Trump Is Somehow A Religious Man Who Will Smite Our Enemies.

    I think you stopped asking questions too soon, having found an answer that satisfied you. And here’s the part you’re going to love — you stopped asking questions before getting to why this nonsense vs. that nonsense, because thinking is hard, and uncertainty is hard and people turn away from it almost any chance they get — Which is ultimately what you think the problem is.

    Now, look, I don’t know why you’re so hung up on me, but you obviously are.

    No, you’re just amusing, and vocally wrong. It’s the same urge I have to make fun of the right wing trolls, but they can’t form a thought, so it’s not fun.

    Or it’s your dashing good looks.

    Or I’m waiting for you to come up with the explanation of how shouting “god isn’t real, you morons!” is going to do anything positive.

    ——
    *: There’s some question as to whether Buddhism has gods, and whether rebirth is figurative or literal. The Dharma mentions gods in passing, but doesn’t really address any of the questions that gods tend to be the answer to. Other traditions have been grafted onto it, incorporating all sorts of gods, and elevating Buddha to a god even though he was very clear that he was just a man. So the question of Buddhism having gods ends up being a question of whether the Dharma is Buddhism, or whether Buddhism is the tradition with everything grafted onto it.

    **: I’m curious as to whether dangerous conspiracy theories are becoming more common in countries that have a stronger religious community. Religion might plug the gaps that lets the truly crazy shit get in.

    I suspect the answer is actually that declining standard of living is what makes people reach for the pure fucking crazy though. The people doing well who turn to dangerous nonsense seem to be batshit insane to begin with, and I’m pretty sure there’s not something that is causing chemical imbalances in a third of our population with a strong emphasis on rural areas.

    Now I want to try to track QAnon and opiod prescriptions per capita and see if there’s a correlation.

    4
  65. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You also seem to always forget one simple thing — historically, the atheists (you and I) are the freakish outliers. Even now, we are outliers, just not as freakishly so.

    Our personal life experiences are basically just noise running counter to society. It’s a mistake to look at your own life and extrapolate from there.

    (That’s pretty much always a mistake, but more so when you’re a freakish outlier)

    4