"Defend CPAC from phony conservatives": I.E., Libertarians. Or, Grover Go Home—And Take Gramsci & GOProud With You!


The Washington Times, the paper that only a few years ago made the great leap forward to not using scare quotes around the term gay marriage, is running a CPAC-opening day opinion piece by Veterans in Defense of Liberty chief Scott Magill. Here's a chunk of it:

The American Conservative Union's (ACU) board of directors, led by Grover NorquistSuhail Khan and until he stepped down yesterday, David Keene, seems to have forgotten the constitutional grounding of American society. The board continues to espouse the ACU's founding conservative ideals of economic growth through smaller government, reduced taxation and lower government spending but has disconnected them from the fundamental issues of liberty and the personal responsibility upon which that liberty rests. It likewise ignores the ACU's original principles of traditional religious values and national security based on peace through strength. In truth, without the traditional social foundation, the economic principles from which it is derived cannot survive….

Mr. Norquist serves on the GOProud advisory board and also has advocated legalization of drugs, open borders and amnesty for illegals; supported closing the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay; opposed aspects of the USA Patriot Act; and supports the construction of the Ground Zero Mosque. He is actively promoting the Obama administration's "engagement plan" with Islam, which has the Muslim Brotherhood's seal of approval. He certainly has a right to hold those views, but it is false advertising to call them conservative.

The homosexual agenda of GOProud parallels that of other homosexual ideology, militantly demanding social approval and that homosexual principles assume the same moral high ground as heterosexual ideals. GOProud members use the Saul Alinsky-like strategy of seeking to subvert traditional morals: marginalization of their enemy and destruction of the traditional family. They favor repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment and seek to brainwash America's youth through the school system by inserting favorable references to homosexuality in the curriculum as early as kindergarten. Religiously based moral objections to this approach are swept aside in the name of "separation of church and state."

Whole thing here.

Magill goes on to accuse GOProud and Norquist of pursuing a Gramscian "long march through the institutions," all to the greater gloryhole of that dastardly "homosexual agenda" that in this iteration at least requires nothing more of government than it treat all citizens equally. That is, let them marry and serve in the military. Yikes. I give Magill and his group credit for showing up CPAC and trying to keep some control over the conservative label that means so much to him. That's far more respectable than the shrinking violets in the con movement who are afraid of catching cooties from using the same bathrooms as homosexuals.

As a libertarian, I'm in no way tied to CPAC (did speak there a couple of years ago and have attended from time to time), but it's fascinating to me that the conservative movement can't recognize some elemental facts. First and foremost that the world they're trying to create, especially when it comes to intolerance of alternative lifestyles, is never going to happen. And that by insisting, as Sen. James DeMint and Rep. Jim Jordan have, that you can't be a fiscal conservative without being a social conservative, you're alienating all those independents who just might give the GOP a second chance at running the federal budget. And you're in open denial of reality: A person's choice of sexual partner in no way means he or she can't be in favor of less spending on farm subsidies. There's a stunning knot of bull-dinkey at the heart of the argument that tolerance equals uncritical embrace. Do conservatives, of all people, think that the state allowing all religions to practice means official endorsement?

There's been a lot of talk recently about conservatism as a "three-legged stool," a popular Reagan-era analogy positing that the small-government movement includes fiscal cons, social cons, and defense cons. If these legs aren't the same length, runs the implication, you get a wobbly seat. Here's Melissa Clouthier at Red State asking the question, "Should Libertarians Be Banned From CPAC?":

Since Libertarians occupy the fiscal conservatism circle, they're getting more attention and validation than they've had in years. Being that many of them are so annoying on other issues, it can be grating to have them be center stage when they aren't conservative in any other meaningful way. Still, that doesn't mean that some ideas that had been out in libertarian land aren't now mainstream conservative ideas—auditing the Fed comes to mind, cutting whole government departments comes to mind. Ideas that were once unthinkable are now at least being considered. How do we put these fiscally conservative ideas into practice?

I'm sure you see where I'm going with this…

The answer to the question about whether Libertarians should be at CPAC..is well, yes, they should be there. And so should GOProud. They have every right to try and convince people of their ideas. The Conservative world is not the Borg. It is not some monolithic hive-mind like the Left enjoys. There are debates and the circles expand and constrict.

Clouthier is right that libertarians and conservatives are not the same thing and the event is called CPAC, not LPAC. She's wrong about much else, such as the idea that the left is monolithic (does anyone seriously believe that?). But her at-least-grudging admission of gays and libtards to the circle of life is heartening and at least suggests a passing acquaintanceship with reality, political and empirical. Which is more that you say for folks and groups like Mike Huckabee, Brent Bozell and the Media Research Center, the Heritage Foundation, and Scott Magill.

Over at The American Conservative, occasional Reason contributor and (occasional critic of yours truly) Daniel McCarthy takes note of the creeping libertarian drift of CPAC, quoting Fox News host and perennial big-government conservative presidential candidate Mike Huckabee ragging, "CPAC has become increasingly libertarian and less Republican over the last years, one of the reasons I didn't go this year." And the America Family Association's Bryan Fischer moaning, "We believe in truth in advertising. They should call themselves the Libertarian Political Action Committee." Zing! Goddammit, they took our jobs!

Maybe, baby, just maybe. Conservatives should recognize a few things. First, as Clouthier suggests, the fiscal con wing was exposed as just that, a total con job. Under Bush and a supposedly conservative Congress, federal outlays jacked up about 60 percent in real terms. Second, defense cons blew it. They had two wars to show themselves as effective, and they screwed the pooch, wagged the dog, shat the bed, whatever. After a good, long ride at the top, they did nothing well. They didn't create a coherent foreign policy that suggests when the U.S. might intervene and when it shouldn't (the Global War on Terrorism is not simply vague, it provides no stopping point for Wilsonian interventionism, which is decidedly not conservative). And third, social cons have lost, period. Gays are not going back in the closet and demands for equal standing under the law are logically coherent from a conservative POV. Gays didn't destroy marriage or the family (neither of which is in ruins, by the way, but that's another issue). The same goes for drug legalization, which has been touted by such raging liberals as William F. Buckley. In terms of abortion, like it or not, the country has settled into a semi-easy truce that abortion earlier in a pregnancy is OK and the closer the mother comes to term, the less comfortable people feel with it. In any case, advances in contraception and reproductive technologies will almost certainly render such decisions moot as people have gain ever-vaster control of their bodies.

In a historical way, libertarianism predates post-war conservatism. Libertarianism, with its emphasis on individual freedom, conscience, and responsibility, is the direct descendant of the classical liberalism that grew out of the English Civil War of the mid-17th century and worked its way through the Scottish Enlightenment, the Austrian economists, and others. It seeks to shrink to sphere of the state to that of an impartial judge protecting the equal rights of citizens and it valorizes, as Reason's motto puts it, "Free Minds and Free Markets." Sociologically, however, libertarianism has long been seen as a lesser brother to postwar conservatism, "chirping sectaries" in Russell Kirk's dismissive phrase, with about as much potential for leadership as Fredo Corleone.

That's no longer the case, dear conservatives. I'm no triumphalist but everything in the past 40 years suggests that the old-style left-wing command and control models have been thoroughly vanquished in theory if not practice (even old Europe has sold off virtually all of its state monopolies!). And the conservative desire for control of individuals' desire and lifestyles has similary come a cropper; your actual champions in the highest positions in the world have tried your ideas and been found wanting (who can disagree that George W. Bush was a "big-government disaster"?). In a world of increasing decentralization of power and corresponding growth in individual autonomy, libertarianism is looking better and better, both as a description of what's happening in those parts of our lives not completely under the thumb of government and as a guide to minimizing the reach of the state where it still is too grabby.

More on the CPAC flap.