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A Rejoinder to Melissa Clouthier

Standing athwart history yelling, "Come on, guys, let's hug this out."

RedState is a collaborative blog, which means that it is produced through the individual and separate efforts of individuals. As with any group of intelligent and accomplished individuals such as the front page contributors to RedState, we frequently have differences of opinion and perspective on the news stories of the day, and it is a relatively regular occurrence that we will cover the same story from more than one angle, as seen through the lens of more than one contributor. However, in the six years I have been an editor at RedState, we have very seldom had posts on the front page that constituted an outright refutation of a previous front page post. Regrettably, this post yesterday from our newest front page contributor Melissa Clouthier requires just such a refutation. Melissa’s post proceeds from erroneous premises to a fuzzy and misguided conclusion about what conservatives have an obligation to do. I hasten to add, at the outset, that although I feel it is necessary to defend the accurate meaning of the term “conservative” stridently, that I hold no personal animus towards Melissa, and this post is intended to be a refutation of her post, not of her personally.

The basic conclusion of Melissa’s post insofar as one is readily discernible, is that conservatives have an obligation to come to CPAC and defend conservatism to liberals, apparently even if they have better ways that they want to spend their vacation and travel budgets. One searches in vain for a reason why conservatives have such an obligation other than the bald assertion that they should. Predictably, this unsupported assertion has been met with widespread acclaim among libertarians and moderates who are inexplicably and inordinately concerned about the possibility that a private gathering (CPAC) will be less well attended than usual this year. Some seem to be under the impression that the post was an effective answer to those who, of their own free will, have chosen not to attend CPAC this year.

It was not.

In the first place, Melissa’s post studiously ignored one of the chief reasons that many conservatives have voluntarily chosen not to attend this year’s CPAC: namely, concern that David Keene is packing the ACU board with Grover Norquist acolytes who are undermining this country’s ability to fight militant Islamism. I can tell you that in the circles in which I travel, concern over Norquist is virtually always cited as the number one reason people are choosing not to associate with CPAC this year; however, virtually everyone attacking conservatives who don’t want to attend CPAC this year ignores this fact instead preferring to focus on GOProud because they are a more sympathetic crew in the eyes of libertarians.

But engaging Melissa’s post on the merits, her assertion is that conservatives ought to be willing to come to CPAC to, I guess, hug it out with libertarians. The implication, stated several times in her post, is that conservatives are essentially scared to defend their viewpoints:

For those irritated by the Gay Marriage idea being allowed in the tent, isn’t it time to do something at the event to convince the attendees of the value of Traditional Marriage? If a session such as that isn’t allowed on the agenda, isn’t that a big enough idea to rent a conference room and speak on it?

Still, we need to reach more minority voters and convince them of conservatism. How do we do that and not balkanize conservatism?

 

That’s a real discussion that must be had. And CPAC is just the place to have it.

Of course, conservatives have always been willing to wander into the arena of ideas and engage in spirited debate with liberals. Who can forget Buckley’s famous exchanges with Gore Vidal? It positively begs the question, however, to assert that CPAC is a place where this must occur and that conservatives must be willing to attend for this purpose or they are shirking their responsibility.

Many conservatives (including myself) live their lives surrounded by combative liberals, whether in the work place or in our social circles. We are constantly on the defense of our principles. The very reason we attend CPAC is that it is healthy once a year to be around like minded individuals and recharge our batteries for the fight in the upcoming year. It is not the Free Exchange of Ideas and Debate Club Conference. It is the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Of course, the post attempts somewhat to skirt this problem by asserting that conservatives can believe in all kinds of ideas. This assertion is based on a faulty taxonomy of conservatism that could well have been pulled from an essay written by a left-wing journalist assigned to cover conservatives like they were Gorillas in the Mist.

And then there are a whole new group of Republicans who are somewhat derisively labeled “Neocons”. These are hawkish foreign policy folks, often but not always Jewish, who were turned by the 9/11 attack. These folks can be quite liberal on spending and social issues.

I mean, really? No AIPAC-controlling-the-levers-of-government conspiracy theories to go along with that? This is not analysis, it is blatant parroting of thinly-veiled leftist anti-Semitism and it is regretful that it ever appeared on the front page of RedState. The real truth about the word “neocon” is that it was invented by leftists back in the 60s to refer to people like Podhoretz and Kristol. It was at that time an insult primarily levels at Jews . After 9/11, the leftists began to use this word indiscriminately to refer to people like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle (who have worked in Republican administrations for over three decades) to refer to (a) conservative I don’t like (b) Jewish conservative (c) hawk or (d) Jew. I know and like Melissa and I know that she does not have an anti-Semitic bone in her body, which is why it is so confusing to see conservative taxonomy discussed in language of liberals (or divisive conservatives).  Nowhere in the entire discussion is there any mention of Burke, Locke, Hayek, Kirk, Buckley, Smith, or any other conservative thinker; only a recapitulation of divisive and convenient labels attached to people by those who don’t really understand conservatism.

The truth is that conservatism has a lengthy and storied history of thought based in history, tradition, and incremental change. Contrary to the assertion of certain people who wish to misappropriate the label of “conservative,” not everything that makes government smaller is “conservative.” Conservatism is (among other things) a belief as to the appropriate scope of government intervention in private life that is based on the teachings of history and experience, as they are rooted in Western culture. It so happens that the conservative view of the scope of government is much smaller than the size of our current government, and so frequently the conservative finds himself arguing that the government has intruded too far and that its size and scope ought to be reduced. That does not mean that everything that would reduce the size of government is conservative.

For example, the regulation of obscenity has for centuries been considered to be a proper function of government in both Western and American tradition – long has the Supreme Court been clear that the First Amendment offers no protection to obscenity. Ending government regulation of obscenity would make the government smaller, but this would not be conservative; in fact, it would be quintessentially liberal. You see, the liberals favor reducing the scope of government intervention in private life as well; the difference between the liberal and the conservative is that the liberal favors the erosion of traditional government functions in favor of functions that are new or novel; the conservative favors the erosion of the scope of government intervention in areas where the liberal has overreached his bounds. The libertarian favors the reduction in scope of government with respect to both.

It is of course the libertarian’s right to believe and think as he does, but it is important for conservatives to be honest with ourselves on this point: many areas in which the libertarian desires to reduce the size and scope of government are borne of fundamentally liberal instincts.

In no area is this more evident than in the libertarians’ embrace of the redefinition of marriage. Libertarians tend to believe one of two things about gay “marriage.” Either they believe that gay marriage ought to be recognized by the government, which paradoxically increases the size of the government, or they argue that the government “ought to get out of the marriage business altogether” – which is more consistent with their libertarian beliefs but on the whole is a much, much worse idea (for reasons that are beyond the purview of this post). In either case they are advocating for a fundamental reordering of society because of a blind and faithless belief in the all-curing power of egalitarianism, which is the most liberal action a person can possibly support.

In the face of this fact, it is asserted that:

For those irritated by the Gay Marriage idea being allowed in the tent, isn’t it time to do something at the event to convince the attendees of the value of Traditional Marriage?

Perhaps it is uncouth to ask this, but why should conservatives be required to evangelize liberals in order to attend a conference that is allegedly for conservatives? I mean, if that is what CPAC is going to be all about, but what if conservatives want to go to a conference for a few days where this sort of activity is not required in order for them to participate? Can they not decide that they would rather go somewhere else, such as the Values Voters Conference, without it being implied that they are cowards or bigots?

Of course, the entire premise of the post, including the title, is a straw man. No one – and I mean no one – is suggesting that libertarians (or even liberals, for that matter), should be “banned from CPAC.” Anyone is welcome to attend who pays the registration fee. The concern people have is that individuals and organizations that are not conservative are taking the reins of leadership and steering the conference in a direction such that they don’t want to attend anymore. No one that I am aware of is threatening anyone else not to go or organizing a boycott; merely, people and organizations are withdrawing as they are made more and more uncomfortable.

 

In doing so, they are exercising basic freedom of association principles and encouraging the free market for conference attendance to take notice of their actions. I would have assumed that these would indeed be principles upon which conservatives and libertarians could agree. Apparently, there are a few things that I don’t understand about libertarians as well.

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