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Posted at 1:14 PM ET, 01/12/2011

A response to the CPAC boycotters

By Jennifer Rubin

Reaction that I have received to the Conservative Political Action Conference boycott (staged by a segment of social conservatives) from a variety of conservative and libertarian pundits and activists has been quite negative. A thoughtful reaction comes from David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute. He is careful not to characterize himself as a "conservative," but his views are representative of a segment of the feedback I have received.

David e-mails:

Since the Reagan years, mainstream conservatism has been built around three general concerns: limited government, traditional values, and a strong national defense. Different conservatives emphasized different parts of that agenda, and there's been plenty of room for debate within those broad principles. And sometimes ideas evolve. Take traditional values, for instance: In pre-Reagan years even National Review thought that segregation was a traditional value. That opinion is long gone, and banished from mainstream conservatism. Or take the role of women in society: A generation ago (maybe a long generation) conservatives said that mothers should be home with their children. By 2008 conservatives enthusiastically said that a mother of five, one of them a pregnant teenager and another a special-needs infant, could perfectly well serve as vice president. Conservative ideas on gay rights have also evolved and will continue to evolve. Conservatives defended the sodomy laws until the Supreme Court struck them down (the Montana and Texas Republican parties still do). But most have moved on to opposing gay marriage and gay adoption, and some have even accepted civil unions for gay partners. Twenty years from now, conservatives will deny they were ever anti-gay, just as they now have no memory of ever supporting discrimination against African-Americans or women.

But now some conservatives are trying to split the conservative coalition over the mere acknowledgment that gay people exist, especially gay conservatives. They refuse to participate in the 38-year-old annual meeting of the conservative movement, because one of the 100 or so participating organizations is an organization of conservative gay Republicans. It's not too surprising to see the official social-conservative and religious-right organizations taking this stand. But I'm surprised to see mainstream conservative groups joining them. And I'm glad to see the leadership of CPAC -- and especially younger conservatives -- rejecting this prejudiced and "splittist" move.

However, even those who agree with the social conservative agenda have been dismayed by the tactics of the boycotters. One of the most eloquent social conservatives, Pete Wehner, has written on the subject. He argues:

[T]he boycotting organizations come across as defensive and insecure, as if they fear that their arguments cannot win the day on the merits. Perhaps they can or perhaps they cannot; but for organizations to pick up their marbles and leave -- and in the process to accuse CPAC of engaging in a "moral sell-out" and of committing an act of "moral surrender" -- strikes me as small-minded and unwise.

Part of this, I suppose, is subjective. There are certainly some hate groups that would be inappropriate to have as a sponsoring organization. But a gay-rights advocacy group like GOProud certainly doesn't qualify. It shouldn't be denied the chance to make its case. Groups that believe they have a strong moral and intellectual case should welcome a public debate on the merits. To do so is consistent with the American tradition. To fail to do so is contrary to it.

The debate is going to continue and I welcome others, on both sides, to weigh in.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 12, 2011; 1:14 PM ET
Categories:  Conservative movement  
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Comments

You are correct. Nix the boycott.
This is no time for a lack of unity....the stakes are too important!
Let's concentrate on the 95% that we agree upon, not the 5%.
Freud warned about the danger of the "narcissism of small differences".

Posted by: MartinChuzzlewit | January 12, 2011 1:32 PM | Report abuse

clown convention...

Posted by: danw1 | January 12, 2011 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer,

Thank you for your article and notation that social conservatives do not speak with one voice.

Being socially conservative and supporting the American principle of equal treatment under the law is not incongruent. If fact, many social conservatives support same-sex marriage for this reason.

The term socially conservative has no absolute definition--only an assumption of what that entails. Many social conservatives truly understand the issue of sexuality as a matter of God given differences in the complex nature of the human condition.

For those who would like to define socially conservative as opposing equality, good luck. Individuals can make their own decisions on each issue and do not have to buy one bag of socially conservative goods.

Posted by: nolamen | January 12, 2011 2:42 PM | Report abuse

appreciate all these comments- very representative of emails from GOP operatives, pundits, etc.

Posted by: Jennifer Rubin | January 12, 2011 3:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry - Mr. Boaz compares those who support marriage to racists and misogynists - and you classify that as being "thoughtful"? The problem is, and always has been, a CPAC management that puts personal profit before principle.

Posted by: FamilyMac | January 12, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry - Mr. Boaz compares those who support marriage to racists and misogynists - and you classify that as being "thoughtful"? The problem is, and always has been for close to a decade, a CPAC management that puts personal profit before principle.

Posted by: FamilyMac | January 12, 2011 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Conservatism, by definition, is the aversion to change [which a study in Science links to a fearful personality]. This explains the historical conservative opposition to the "new" rights of women, African Americans, and now gay men and women. Change isn't necessarily good, but it is as inevitable as the passage of time. One way to lead in light of change is by setting as the top priority a limitation on the intrusiveness of government into personal lives. Social conservatives are directly opposed to this principle. Thus the conservative "alliance" is illogical and can't last much longer, as shown by the CPAC schism.

Posted by: marcluxjd | January 12, 2011 4:04 PM | Report abuse

These guys boycotting are the same that want to legislate morality to the nth degree. The ultimate sign of morality is to avoid force...in all our relationships. By granting government the right to license (permission giving)marriage as it does hunting and driver's licenses, one ultimately gives government the same power to take those licenses away. Anything government gives it can take away. It's time the GOP support the Government-Free Marriage movement and solve the many problems associated with government's encroachment into private individuals' lives.. Government-Free Marriage, an idea that will save the GOP on this issue...if they listen. http://www.governmentfreemarriage.com

Posted by: joshfarmer76 | January 12, 2011 5:24 PM | Report abuse

"For those who would like to define socially conservative as opposing equality, good luck."

People define it that way because the political organizations powered by social conservatives spend all their time, energy, and money trying to enforce their own social views on others, and those views consist mostly of discriminating as much as is legally possible against the heathens, the darkies, and the sodomizers.

Posted by: goodepicwashpost | January 13, 2011 2:19 AM | Report abuse

There are two big problems with this analysis.

1) Too many people are gullibly accepting at face value the announced motivations of this kerfuffle. CPAC has had problems and there is a tussle going on inside the conservative wing of the GOP (oh dear, the arch-conservative wing is more like it). The "family values" folks are purposely saying that this is a line in the sand. GOProud is willing to go along because, hey, it makes them look significant. Something else is really going on and no one wants to bother investigating.

2) The GOP, like the rest of America, was on a gay-rights trajectory up until the mid-70s. Gay Lib was on the move, with even leading GOP politicians helping the movement (somewhat half-heartedly, but still). Reagan pushed to stop the Briggs amendment. Goldwater famously said it didn't matter if soldiers were straight as long as they could shoot straight.

Then something happened. GOP strategists saw the power of anti-gay rhetoric unleashed by big-haired Anita Bryant. People forget that Florida -- yes, FLORIDA! -- had gay-rights laws before Bryant came along and took them away. It was like manna from heaven. Risk-free demagoguery. And it paid off in spades.

America went from the world leader in gay rights -- the birthplace of the new movement -- to a gay-rights backwater by 2010.

Posted by: rmnelson | January 13, 2011 2:58 PM | Report abuse

As a poster above suggests, there is a powerful constituency within the modern movement which thrives through exclusionary beliefs and rhetoric. It is a binary framing (us/not us) that avoids complexity and nuance and which seeks to make a complex world and complex moral questions appear simple and resolvable through "common sense".

Whether one thinks of this as a form of tribalism or fundamentalism, is has features which are undeniably similar to such cultures, worldviews or faith communities which we normally consider barbaric or backward.

Posted by: bernielatham | January 13, 2011 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Why not state the obvious? The groups opposing GOProud are making huge amounts of money by doing so. The leaders of these groups rely on a handful of very rich donors- the Knights of Columbus, the people who own Blackwater, the Mormon Church- to provide their 6-figure-salaries. If GOProud makes inroads into the conservative cause, the donations will drop and people like Maggie Gallagher and Tony Perkins will have to find real jobs to support themselves.

Posted by: homer4 | January 13, 2011 6:15 PM | Report abuse

FamilyMac: "'m sorry - Mr. Boaz compares those who support marriage to racists and misogynists - and you classify that as being "thoughtful"?"

Racists are people who hate people of a different race. Misogynists are people who hate women. The boycotters are people who hate gays, which makes them homophobes. They don't just oppose gay marriage, they oppose any and all gay rights.

Being pro gay marriage is only one aspect of GOProud -- they also support full inclusion of gays in society as anyone else is. THAT is what the boycotters hate.

They simply can't be in the same room as gays? Goodbye and good riddance. They will end up on the ash heap of history.

Posted by: Rand503 | January 13, 2011 11:57 PM | Report abuse

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