On CPAC, Social Conservatives, And GOProud
On the eve of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, another shot has been fired by those boycotting the meeting due to the presence of a gay conservative group.
On the eve of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the rift on the right over the presence of gay conservative group GOProud at the conference, along with the general issue of gay rights itself, continues to split the conservative movement with the latest salvo being fired by the groups that are boycotting CPAC this year:
Deepening a rift ahead of the largest annual gathering of conservative activists in Washington this week, some of the movement’s top leaders have circulated a private memo urging that conservatism’s founding principles be recast to exclude gay rights groups from the Reagan coalition of economic, defense and social conservatives.
The memo, obtained by The Washington Times, was signed by about two dozen leaders, and was released just as the Conservative Political Action Conference is set to begin its most contentious session in years, riven with divisions over a gay rights Republican group that is helping sponsor the conference and the social conservatives who are trying to keep it out.
The fight, which amounts to a battle for primacy among the three major legs of the movement, threatens to rend the conservative coalition at what should otherwise be a heady time. Riding the wave of tea party enthusiasm, conservatives saw big gains for their champions and for the broader GOP in last year’s elections.
But the memo, written under the moniker Conservatives for Unity, argued that there can be no common ground between gay rights conservative activists and social-issues conservatives, and said it’s time to settle the issue.
“It is not necessary for each group within a political movement to embrace the full agenda of others. But it is necessary for each group within any coherent movement not to stand in diametrical opposition to one or more of its core principles. It is our conviction that the institution of marriage and the family qualify as such principles,” said the conservatives.
Even Sarah Palin is coming under fire from the boycotters for somewhat ambiguous remarks the other day which most have interpreted as being supportive of GOProud:
Her remarks did not sit well with American Principles Project president Frank Cannon. His group was one of the first to call on supporters to boycott this year’s CPAC conference, one of the largest annual gatherings of conservatives in the country, over GOProud’s involvement.
“The concern of conservatives is over the participation of a group whose stated goals run at odds with that of core conservative principles, not over debate over those issues,” said Cannon said in a statement on Monday. “Governor Palin should clarify her comments by letting us know whether in her definition, traditional marriage is a core component of conservatism.”
“Certainly Governor Palin would not be in favor of allowing a socialist group to be a participating organization (i.e. co-sponsor of CPAC) in the name of healthy debate,” he added.
Notice that bit of legerdemain. A group that is generally conservative on economic and national security issues, but which supports equal treatment under the law for gays and lesbians is equivalent to socialists in being incompatible with the conservative movement. Under that logic, Dick Cheney would be panned from CPAC if Cannon and others had their way given his support for gay marriage.
Over at RedState, which has hosted its own debate on the whole issue, Erick Erickson joins in with those questioning the conservative bona fides of GOProud and, essentially, anyone who doesn’t accept wholeheartedly the social conservative agenda:
In any event, your mileage can vary on where you stand on whether they should be or should not be at CPAC (I’d rather GOProud than the Muslim Brotherhood), but on the issue of GOProud and Tim Pawlenty, your mileage can’t really vary if we’re going to uphold one standard and some basic reciprocity.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty has endorsed the long standing and conservative position of Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell — a position long advocated at CPAC no less. In response, Chris Barron of GOProud is attacking Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty, by the way, is not “boycotting” CPAC because of GOProud’s presence. He’ll be there.
I understand that Pawlenty is trying hard to get people to pay attention to his campaign. Its certainly a challenge for someone with such little stature in the conservative movement to compete with high profile conservative leaders like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, etc. Unfortunately for Pawlenty, comments like this simply show how totally out-of-touch he is with the issues that rank and file conservatives care about. If he wants to show he is a committed social conservative he would be much better served talking about the need to defund Planned Parenthood, end federal funding for abortion, reign in an out of control judiciary and support for a parents rigths amendment to protect home-schoolers.
Of course, Erickson seems to ignore that both the vast majority of Americans and the majority of Republicans supported repealing DADT, and the politicians like Pawlenty talking about repealing it are just doing it to appeal to the tiny, homophobic, social conservative fringe who has some irrational fear about gay people serving in the military.
Interestingly, Erickson also seems to ignore the words of Ronald Reagan, who talked about the interconnected roots of conservatism and libertarianism more than 35 year ago:
REAGAN: If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals-if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.
Now, I can’t say that I will agree with all the things that the present group who call themselves Libertarians in the sense of a party say, because I think that like in any political movement there are shades, and there are libertarians who are almost over at the point of wanting no government at all or anarchy. I believe there are legitimate government functions. There is a legitimate need in an orderly society for some government to maintain freedom or we will have tyranny by individuals. The strongest man on the block will run the neighborhood. We have government to insure that we don’t each one of us have to carry a club to defend ourselves. But again, I stand on my statement that I think that libertarianism and conservatism are travelling the same path.
That’s not to say that conservatives and libertarians are the same thing. They most emphatically are not. Conservatives place value on tradition and the role of society, often at the expense of the individual, while libertarians tend to draw theirs from the same well that Founders like Jefferson did:
Libertarianism isn’t the Libertarian Party (of which I am a former member), and it’s not a gaggle of rabble-rousing college aged Ron Paul supporters (I did not and would not vote for Ron Paul), or a flock of misguided Ayn Rand devotees (she’s on my bookshelf, but so is Karl Marx).
Libertarianism is a political and moral philosophy that predates the United States itself, one could argue, going all the way back to the pre-Magna Carta days in England, or to the old days of the Roman Republic.
Its contemporary instantiations include the philosophies of Robert Nozick and Charles Murray, the same Murray whose seminal work Losing Ground (1984) laid out the moral case against the failed Great Society programs and continued dependence on the American welfare state during the Reagan presidency.
The differences become even more stark when you look at the platform of most social conservatives, which hasn’t changed much in the last two decades even though America has changed significantly:
Take a look at the key issues on the website of the Family Research Council, the chief social conservative group. It recently listed eight papers on abortion and stem cells, seven on gays and gay marriage, and one on divorce. Nothing much has changed since 1994, when I reviewed the Council’s publications index and found that the two categories with the most listings were “Homosexual” and “Homosexual in the Military” — a total of 34 items (plus four on AIDS). The organization did show some interest in parenthood — nine items on family structure, 13 on parenthood and six on teen pregnancy — but there were more items on homosexuality than on all of those issues combined. There was no listing for divorce. Since that time, the out-of-wedlock birthrate has risen from 32% to 40%.
Back then, conservatives still defended sodomy laws. These days, after the 2003 Supreme Court decision striking down such laws, most have moved on. Now they just campaign against gays in the military, gays adopting children and gays getting married.
Reducing the incidence of unwed motherhood, divorce, fatherlessness, welfare and crime would be a good thing. So why the focus on issues that would do nothing to solve the “breakdown of the basic family structure” and the resulting “high cost of a dysfunctional society”? Well, solving the problems of divorce and unwed motherhood is hard. And lots of Republican and conservative voters have been divorced. A constitutional amendment to ban divorce wouldn’t go over very well, even with the social conservatives. Far better to pick on a small group, a group not perceived to be part of the Republican constituency, and blame it for social breakdown and its associated costs.
That’s why social conservatives point to a real problem and then offer phony solutions.
But you won’t find your keys on the thoroughfare if you dropped them in the alley, and you won’t reduce the costs of social breakdown by keeping gays unmarried and preventing them from adopting orphans.
The irony of the social conservative rebellion against the growing, albeit slow, acceptance of gay equality on the right is that they are currently advocating a mutually contradictory agenda. At the same time that they decry the growth of government, they propose to use the power of the state to try to control behavior at the most intimate levels. As Lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand, and a political philosophy that advocates statism in one area cannot advocate freedom in another without eventually becoming all-slave or all-free. Moreover, after thirty years of failure one would think that social conservatives would realize that forcing people to act moral doesn’t work. Freedom does.