Thursday, February 24, 2005

Disheartening Report from CPAC

If Ryan Sager's report from CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) is an accurate reflection of its proceedings last weekend, the news is quite disheartening to liberty-loving Republicans (and non-GOP libertarians, as well).

Sager, a member of the editorial board of the New York Post and a blogger (at Miscellaneous Objections), suggests that libertarians were all but shunned by the conservative activists at CPAC. Talk about history repeating itself -- his description echoes those of the 1969 YAF convention, in which Young Americans for Freedom split along a libertarian-conservative faultline (see John L. Kelley, Bringing the Market Back In: The Political Revitalization of Market Liberalism, pp. 100-104).

The libertarian-traditionalist split indeed predates that watershed year and has continued in creative tension up to the present. Take this passage from John A. Andrew's study of YAF's early years, The Other Side of the Sixties: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of Conservative Politics:

The debate was often complicated, but two divisions characterized much of it. First, traditionalists, libertarians, and fusionists continued to argue about the nature of conservatism and the proper definition of human nature. The problem was to find a balance between the objective order and individual freedom. In making a "conservative case for freedom," Stanton Evans questioned "whether the imperatives of individual freedom can be reconciled with the Christian conception of the individual as flawed in mind and will, with its demand for individual subordination to an objective, nonsecular order." This argument had bedeviled the new conservatism since its inception, and was not about to be resolved now. The second division, articulated by libertarian Murray Rothbard, was over priorities. Rothbard attacked YAF because it focused on political concerns. "To my knowledge," he wrote, "not one political action drive of YAF has been directed to an increase of individual liberty or of the free market." The right-wing resurgence, Rothbard complained, had largely ignored libertarian ideas because it was too committed to a "hysterical anticommunism." Groups like YAF shifted from antistatism to anticommunism, and in so doing they "failed to see that both the 'external' and 'internal' threats of statism to liberty were essentially domestic."

Replace "anticommunism" with "antiterrorism" and you see the rough equivalence of the '60s to today.

Compare this to Sager's comments on this year's CPAC:
In fact, if there was anything particularly striking about this year's CPAC, it is to just what extent Republicans have given up being the party of small government and individual liberty.

Make absolutely no mistake about it: This party, among its most hard-core supporters, is not about freedom anymore. It is about foisting its members' version of morality and economic intervention on the country. It is, in other words, the mirror image of its hated enemy.

Sager complains:
Needless to say, triumphalism permeated the proceedings. The Republicans, having just held the presidency and consolidated power in Congress, are perhaps entitled to some gloating. But out-and-out arrogance was the order of the conference, as well, and that is what threatens to undo Republican gains in the long term.

Arrogance toward Democrats isn't the problem -- though that was everywhere...

No, the arrogance that will prove problematic, ultimately, was that directed at the libertarian-leaning conservatives by the social conservatives. The message in that regard was clear: We Christians can do this alone, y'all who ain't down with J.C. best be running along.

He concludes:
...precious little libertarianism came from the stage, and what little did was seldom well received.

Now, perhaps CPAC just isn't any place for libertarians. But that, in itself, is a problem. The conservative movement should be reaching out to people who, well, just aren't as bothered by "Will & Grace" as some other people are.

Conservatism can't survive by religious extremism and tax cuts alone.

My question is: Whatever happened to the party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan?

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