Saturday, February 27, 2010

Survey Says? Bloggers Shape Opinion

The second of two (so far) annual surveys by the Society for New Communications Research has found that professional journalists have a stronger, more positive opinion about social media that both leads those journalists to use social media as a tool to disseminate information and also to rely on social media -- including Facebook and Twitter, for example, but also blogs -- as sources of information.

The survey was conducted by Jen McClure, the founder and president of the Society for New Communications Research (also CMO and director of community development for Redwood Collaborative Media), and Don Middleberg, CEO of Middleberg Communications. The survey included 341 journalists from around the world, with 54 percent from the United States. Among the survey's findings:

* Nearly 70 percent of journalists are using social networking sites, a 28% increase since the [previous] 2008 study

* 48 percent are using Twitter or other microblogging sites and tools, a 25% increase since 2008

* 66 percent are using blogs

* 48 percent are using online video

* 25 percent are using podcasts

* More than 90 percent of journalists agree that new media and communications tools and technologies are enhancing journalism to some extent
The most intriguing finding (to me, at least) was this:
Nearly 80 percent of respondents agreed that new media and communications technologies allow them to report with greater accuracy, and 80 percent of journalists believe that bloggers have become important opinion shapers in the 21st century and many are increasingly incorporating citizen-generated media into their reporting.
Paolina Milana, executive vice president for Marketing/Editorial Operations/Media Relations at Marketwire, a corporate sponsor of the study, said:
Social media is immediate, it is accessible, and it has irrevocably changed the relationship between makers, reporters and consumers of news. The more that all journalistic participants understand each other's needs, how they use various media channels at their disposal, and how they want to work with PR professionals, the better the entire communication process will be.

H/T Joe Ciarallo

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Arlington's Signature Theatre Announces New Season

The Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre in Arlington has announced an ambitious set of new plays and revivals for its 2010-2011 season. Here's an excerpt from the season announcement news release:

Signature’s four musicals in the 2010-2011 season are headlined by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning musical Sunset Boulevard about the fading silent screen star Nora Desmond, performed December 7, 2010 through February 13, 2011. Eric Schaeffer directs the regional premiere featuring Florence Lacey, star of Broadway’s Evita and Signature’s Follies. Signature will also produce the region’s first major production of Chess (Aug. 10 – Sept. 26, 2010), the cult musical of Cold War competition in love and chess by Tim Rice, the lyricist of Evita and The Lion King, and Mamma Mia! composers Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. Signature continues its innovative American Musical Voices Project with its third world premiere: Wheatley’s Folly (March 15 – April 10, 2011), Joseph Thalken’s manic backstage take on the 1866 creation of the first musical comedy. The season ends with Signature’s “signature,” Sondheim – a brand new production of the great revue Side by Side by Sondheim (April 26 - June 12, 2011). All four musicals will take place in Signature’s 276-seat MAX Theatre.

On the dramatic comedy front, the company will produce two world premieres and a Tony Award-winning comedy in the 2010-2011 season. Internationally acclaimed playwright Ken Ludwig, creator of Crazy for You and Lend Me a Tenor, will premiere his latest romp A Fox on the Fairway (Oct. 12 – Nov. 14, 2010) in The MAX, about the antics of the golf-crazed denizens of two competing country clubs, directed by John Rando, the Tony-winning director of Broadway’s Urinetown. In the 110-seat ARK Theatre, New York-based director, playwright, and Signature Artistic Associate Joe Calarco will introduce his new comedy of the culture wars Walter Cronkite Is Dead. (Oct. 26 – Dec. 19, 2010). The 1998 Tony Award-winning comedy Art (March 29 – May 22, 2011), the international hit play by Yasmina Reza who also wrote the 2009 Tony winner God of Carnage, will also be performed in the intimacy of The ARK.

One of the most popular cabaret venues in the Washington area, Signature also has five outstanding cabaret weeks planned, from Julia Nixon and Katie Thompson (the red-headed Vashti in last year’s Giant) to the Lost Songs of Broadway, Broadway Duets, and the annual Holiday Cabaret.
Signature always challenges its audiences. The 2010-11 season will make no exception.

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Craig Shirley Recalls Reagan's 1980 Presidential Campaign

craig shirley ronald reagan cpacDuring last weekend's annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the Intercollegiate Studies Institute sponsored a colloquy between Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, and Craig Shirley, author of the books Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America (2009), about the 1980 presidential campaign, and Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All (2005), which is about the 1976 campaign.  Shirley is president and CEO of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs and a longtime political operative who has worked on a number of high-profile campaigns.

The forum, which took place in a smaller conference room while the bulk of CPAC attendees were in the main ballroom at the Wardman Park Marriott were listening to a speech by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and a panel discussion on freedom of speech on college campuses moderated by Ron Robinson of the Young America's Foundation (which, perhaps ironically, now owns the Reagan Ranch).

Perhaps 100 or 125 people were lucky enough to hear Shirley's presentation and Barnes' perspicacious questions, which stimulated an entertaining and informative conversation punctuated with funny anecdotes and the retelling of famous Reagan quips (such as his reply to a questioner who asked how a meeting with South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu went:  "Tutu? So-so").

I posted a small snippet of Shirley's recollections of Ronald Reagan a couple of days ago.  That was just an appetizer.  Here is the main course.

Part I includes an introduction about ISI (founded in 1953) and of the speakers:

Part II covers Reagan's self-deprecating sense of humor:

Part III includes the discussion about Reagan's libertarianism and the Briggs Initiative:

In Part IV, Fred Barnes asks about the Carter briefing books that were stolen and provided to the Reagan campaign before the most-watched presidential debate in American history:

In Part V, Barnes asks, what is it that Reagan had that Republican candidates running for president now don't seem to have? Answer - "He was genuine":

In Part VI, Barnes reminds us about the top figures of the Republican Party -- Howard Baker, John Connally, Phil Crane, George H.W. Bush -- who were seeking the 1980 nomination, and asks how Reagan was able to get them to "eat his dust":

In Part VII, you can hear me ask a question about the effect of the debate with John Anderson, the one Carter refused to participate in. (At 2'20", this is the shortest of the nine segments posted to YouTube.)

In Part VIII, an audience member asks for more Reagan jokes, and Fred Barnes answers that there is "an inexhaustible supply":

Finally, in Part IX, an audience member asks about the contentious relationship between future President Reagan and future President Bush and how they patched up their animosity. Shirley notes that ill-will between the two of them dated at least to 1978, when Reagan endorsed George W. Bush's opponent in a Texas congressional race, irritating George H.W. Bush:

My short, introductory comments before each video segment are meant only to give the flavor of the conversation. There is a lot more substance to be found in listening to the whole hour.

More video from CPAC 2010 can be seen here and here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Obsessed with Sex

It's doubtful that I am alone in bringing up this question, but why, in debates about public policy or the place of gay men and lesbians in society (or in the conservative movement), are anti-gay conservatives always the first to bring up sex -- usually in a graphic and salacious manner?

I distinguish here between "anti-gay conservatives" and the bulk of conservative activists and normal Americans who believe that a person's private life is private and should not be talked about in public settings unless (or even if) he or she brings it up initially.

The dust-up involving Ryan Sorba, whose embarrassing tirade (his word) at last weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) led him to be booed off the stage, is only the latest example of this strange phenomenon of "conservatives" talking about their obsession with other people's sexual behavior.  The Sorba incident, including his off-stage encounter with my friend, Alex Knepper, brought the phenomenon into focus for me.

Sorba has written a "book" (for which he has been unable to find a publisher) called "The Born Gay Hoax." In its 95 pages, he uses the word "sodomy" 214 times.  He uses the word "sex" (sometimes in compounds like "same-sex") 153 times.  In contrast, the word "love" appears only 28 times and the word "affection" just once.  (He also uses "pederast" nine times and "pedophile" or "pedophilia" six times, for those keeping score.)

When gay men and lesbians speak in public about social or political issues that impinge on their lives, it is almost always in terms of "love," "affection," "marriage," "commitment," and "responsibility."

When anti-gay conservatives talk about those same issues, it is almost always about sex, genitalia, sodomy, fellatio, or other similar, graphic terms -- often with the clear intention to shock and chagrin their audiences.

For instance, a search of Peter LaBarbera's "Americans for Truth about Homosexuality" turns up 232 hits for "anal sex," 76 hits for "oral sex," 54 hits for "fellatio," and 16,179 (that is not a misprint) hits for "penis."

Just out of curiosity, I did a similar search on the web site of the liberal gay-rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and got only 15 hits for "penis" (two of which were quotations from the Bible), two for "fellatio" (both links to the same document about state legislation), 183 hits for "oral sex" (many also linking to articles about legislation), and 25 hits for "anal sex" (again, most links were to "Law Briefs" on topics like Lawrence v. Texas).

Who is most obsessed with male sex organs?.  The answer is not "gay rights groups."  It's Peter LaBarbera.

Coincident with Ryan Sorba's rant at CPAC, conservative journalist Cliff Kincaid wrote two pieces last week on gay issues, one in which he says he approves of the Ugandan bill that mandates the death penalty for homosexuals, and one in which he asserts that the gay conservative group, "GOProud's commitment to constitutionally protected homosexual sodomy (i.e., anal intercourse) is not a position that appears on the agenda of any conservative groups."

I had my own bizarre encounter with Cliff Kincaid, whom I knew casually from conservative circles in the 1980s.  We were on friendly terms and I know that he had quoted me in articles he wrote about defense and foreign policy issues on several occasions.

In December 1990, I was running for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 49th District (the seat now held by openly-gay Democrat Adam Ebbin), in a special election to be held on January 8, 1991.

Kincaid invited me to appear by telephone on his local radio talk show. He had seen an article about my candidacy in the Washington Post and wanted to talk about it.

I was thrilled to get the media exposure in an obscure, off-cycle election that most voters did not even know was taking place.

Kincaid began the interview, which was scheduled to last 30 minutes, politely. But then he began to emphasize the fact that I was running as an openly gay candidate and got off the track I expected -- namely, the libertarian issues that motivated me to run, like reducing business regulation and taxes -- and began to ask graphic questions about my sex life.

Seriously, he asked me, on live radio, whether I put my penis in another man's anus or mouth, or if I let another man put his penis in my mouth or anus. I was flabbergasted and refused to answer.

He repeated the question, and again I refused to answer. He was persistent and snarled, "Well, if that's not what you want to talk about, why do you think you're on this show?"

As sweetly as I could, I responded, "Cliff, I thought you wanted me here to talk about cutting taxes and spending in Richmond."

Shortly after that, the interview was cut short and I sat at my desk, stunned that a grown man could ask such personal questions in such a public fashion.

The best thing about that interview is that it has given me a great story with which to entertain my friends at dinner parties for the past two decades.

Getting back to my point about gay people being more concerned with love and affection than about genitalia, I've concluded that anti-gay conservatives (not the nice, rational conservatives) are largely clueless about what it means to be gay.  That's the only explanation for Ryan Sorba saying to Alex Knepper "you mean you think you're gay" in a timid attempt to cast doubt on the veracity of Alex's claim to be gay.

These people don't understand that when a high-school freshman realizes he's gay and that he has a crush on his best friend, the first thing to come to his mind is not "I want to have anal sex with him."  The first thing he thinks is, "I want to kiss him."

The fact that anti-gay conservatives can't make the distinction between affection and lust says more about them than about the people whose rights (and, in Sorba's case, whose existence) they seek to deny.

Perhaps some anti-gay conservative -- the sort who booed Alexander McCobin of Young Americans for Liberty and cheered Ryan Sorba -- can answer my question:  Why are you always the first to bring up sex in a conversation about gay rights?  Is it a personal obsession, a mask for your true feelings, or is it in some convoluted way connected with rational thought?

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Gary Johnson Speaks at CPAC 2010

Although he did not share the stage in the main ballroom with such conservative heavyweights as Glenn Beck, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Ann Coulter, or Ryan Sorba, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson did take his turn at a microphone provided by the Campaign for Liberty, a youth-oriented outgrowth of Representative Ron Paul's bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

Widely rumored to be considering his own run for the White House in 2012, the two-term GOP governor from a Democratic-leaning state spoke for about 20 minutes on a range of topics including the need to decriminalize marijuana and other drugs, the net economic gain for New Mexico due to immigrants (even undocumented immigrants), and the necessity for fixing our broken political system in Washington.

In fact, those were his first words when he took to the podium, in front of a crowd of 175-200 CPAC attendees and other interested political activists:

Our politics have failed us in America.  Our leaders on both sides of the aisle are making things worse for us every year, not better.  And the proof is all around us.  Take a look at our America today, take a look at the brink of economic collapse that our government has led us to, and tell me that we're busy living the dream.  We're not.  We're busy getting deeper into debt.  We're busy losing the freedom that so many have given their lives to achieve.

Thomas Jefferson said that it was our patriotic duty to stage a revolution every generation just to kick out the riff-raff.  He was right.  He understood politicians and politics perfectly.  We do need a revolution in America in this generation, an armed rebellion.  Let's arm ourselves with common sense.  Let's stop spending money we don't have.  Let's live within our means.  This is our America.  How can we justify borrowing money for our retirement and health care and hand the bill to future generations?

Our country is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Let every Member of Congress and the President of the United States take an oath to take on these difficult spending issues that we face and vow that they're not going to be re-elected:  understand that they won't be re-elected.
Here's the video of part one:
About nine minutes after he began his remarks, Johnson stated:
Leadership on both sides of the aisle have to cut Medicare.

Look, we've made commitments to individuals who are on Social Security. I think it would be wrong to back away from those commitments, so ... this has to be a commitment that we keep.

But these entitlement programs for the rest of us, they have to be reviewed. Cuts need to be made because the very viability of this country is at stake.
Here is the video for part two of Johnson's speech:
Not backing away from one of his more controversial positions, about 18 minutes into his speech, Johnson said straightforwardly:
Let's deal from reality. I think marijuana should be legalized.

It's never, never going to be legal to smoke pot, become impaired, and get behind the wheel of a car. It's never going to be legal to smoke pot and do harm to others. It's never going to be legal to get kids to smoke pot.
Here is part three of Governor Johnson's speech, which ends with a question by Alex Knepper, who has been making a name for himself since CPAC. The recording ends abruptly because my camera's battery died at that point.
Gary Johnson is honorary chairman of the OUR America Initiative. More information can be found on that organization's web site.

Trivia tidbit:  If Gary Johnson is elected President, he will be the first person to do so and also to have climbed Mount Everest.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ronald Reagan, the Libertarian

Craig Shirley Rendezvous with Destiny Ronald ReaganPerhaps the most fascinating and informative program I attended at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was an event sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).  ISI Books recently published a new book about the 1980 presidential campaign by Craig Shirley, a longtime associate of the late Ronald Reagan.  Shirley's book is called Rendezvous with Destiny:  Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I was the recipient of a Richard M. Weaver Fellowship from the ISI for the 1986-87 academic year.)

The hosts recruited journalist Fred Barnes, who covered Reagan during the 1980 campaign and later in the White House, to lead a discussion with Shirley, who for just over an hour regaled the small (but fortunate) audience with anecdotes and analysis of how Reagan became president after being written off by the punditocracy when he lost the 1976 GOP presidential nomination by fewer than 100 delegate votes.

While I hope to edit and post the full video from the Barnes-Shirley colloquy within the next few days, there was one snippet that stood out and deserves special attention.

Asked by Barnes why he refers in the book to Reagan as the "sometime leader of the conservative movement," Shirley replied that the independent-minded Reagan often broke with the mainstream of the movement on certain issues.

He gave the example of the 1978 initiative in California, Proposition 6 (better known as the "Briggs Amendment," named for its principal sponsor, state Senator John Briggs, which aimed to prohibit gay people from serving as teachers or staff members in government schools.  Reagan opposed the measure, and Briggs gave Reagan full credit or, from Briggs' point of view, blame for the proposition's defeat at the polls.  (Shirley says the defeat was overwhelming, 57 percent to 43 percent.)  Reagan was an ally of iconic gay politician Harvey Milk in opposing the Briggs Amendment.  Reagan's role in defeating the Briggs Amendment is mentioned in the award-winning biopic, Milk.

Shirley also referred in his remarks to the 1975 Reason magazine interview in which Reagan argued that libertarianism is the core of conservatism.  By coincidence, I cited that interview just a few days ago in my post about the Mount Vernon Statement (and how it is inferior to the 50-year-old Sharon Statement).

Here is one minute and thirty seconds of Craig Shirley talking about Ronald Reagan, the libertarian:

For more video from CPAC 2010, visit my previous blog entry.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Blogging from CPAC

The world already knows the big news about the annual straw poll at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference:  U.S. Representative Ron Paul  (R-Texas) was the winner among attendees as the most favored presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 2012, followed distantly by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  Paul's victory was met with boos from the audience, though as one person put it on Twitter, since only about a quarter of attendees voted in the straw poll, the majority were "booing themselves."

Now Glenn Beck is talking about how the Republican Party has lost its soul and needs redemption.  He's repeating his trope about being a recovering alcoholic blah blah blah.

Rather than watching Beck -- who despite his criticism of "clown shows" is an exemplar of clownishness -- I have been uploading to YouTube a number of short videos that I took over the past two days.

The first one garnered over 120 hits within the first hour it was on the Web:  Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud ( standing up to the National Organization "for" Marriage and asking, "Who is the pansy at CPAC?"  (GOProud is a group of gay and lesbian conservatives.)

I also was able to get a few comments from Jacob Hornberger, introducing his organization, the Future of Freedom Foundation (
I made a special effort to get some short interviews from authors about their books.

For instance, here is young Jonathan Krohn talking about his book, Defining Conservatism:
I also spoke to Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, about his book, Leave Us Alone, which makes the case for the "leave-us-alone coalition" of people who believe in limited government:
I also had a nice colloquy with the Wall Street Journal's John Fund, who was signing copies of a revised and updated edition of his book, Stealing Elections:
Two constitutional scholars, Bob Levy of the Cato Institute and Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation, spoke on a panel about judicial overreach. They each signed copies of their books in the CPAC exhibit area: Spalding's is called We Still Hold These Truths and Levy's is an examination of Supreme Court cases called The Dirty Dozen.

Last year there was a big Tea Party-related march on Washington on September 12, turning "9/12" into a new catchphrase. Colin Hanna, president of an organization called Let Freedom Ring, gathered together photos and text about th 9/12 March in a volume called Grandma's Not Shovel-Ready!

I caught U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) in a corridor of the Wardman Park Marriott surrounded by a gaggle of fans, just as she was asked whether she is supporting Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty for President in 2012. Here's her response:
I had a nice chat with Frank Enten, who for more than 50 years has been in the business of producing and selling campaign buttons. (I bought two Goldwater buttons from the 1964 campaign and one unique Nixon button from either 1968 or 1972, which I may photograph and blog about later.) Enten is known as "the Button Man" and he's had quite a career:
Finally -- at least for now, as I have more video to edit and upload -- Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner offered a few words about CPAC and its participants:
Glenn Beck is still droning on, this time about bottoms (there are titters in the bloggers' room). I will have more videos and photos from CPAC 2010 later this weekend. Be sure to visit again to see what other surprises I have in store.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Measuring Partisanship

We hear a lot of complaints that legislators -- whether Members of Congress or representatives in state houses from Juneau to Tallahassee -- are more partisan today than in the past, that politics is more polarized than it has ever been before.

Those who complain point to the lack of action in Congress on big-ticket issues like health care or climate change legislation ("cap and trade").  Liberal Democrats accuse conservative Republicans of obstructionism today, just as Harry Truman did in 1948 when he criticized the "Do-Nothing" Congress of blocking his plans for nationalizing the health care system.  (Plus ça change...)

Personally, I think these back-and-forth accusations about renewed or worsened partisanship are off the mark.  For one thing, policy differences between the major political parties go back to the Federalists and Anti-Federalists.  Why else would Americans split up into two parties?  (Or more, of course:  there are as many differences between the Libertarians and the Greens as there are between Libertarians and Republicans, or Libertarians and Democrats, or Greens and Republicans, ad permutatium.)

So much of the cloud of partisanship is based on heated rhetoric (more heat, less light, in most cases) that it is difficult to discern how accurate and justified the grousing about it actually is.

Now some movement toward a more-or-less objective measurement of partisanship has emerged on the excellently useful web site, Richmond Sunlight, which tracks legislation in the Virginia General Assembly.  (It does much more than that, but legislative tracking is its major service.)

Richmond Sunlight's founder and designer, Waldo Jaquith, has devised a tool that shows how partisan Virginia Delegates and Senators are, based upon the co-sponsors ("co-patrons" in Virginia legislative parlance) of the bills they introduce and/or co-patron.

While the measurement isn't on a conservative-to-liberal scale, and while it has its own constraints, it offers a picture of which legislators reach across the aisle to seek cooperation in arguing for bills they care about, and which ones stick mostly to their own party.  It asks the question, Do Republican and Democratic birds of a feather flock together?  The answer, while necessarily incomplete, comes pretty close to being ... yes and no.

You can see Waldo's tool here:  Click the box for "partisanship" and you'll see blue-to-purple-to-red graphs that indicate how "Republican" or "Democrat" each Delegate or Senator is.  Click on the word "Partisanship" at the top of the column and the graphs will rearrange themselves into blue-to-red order.

The data used to produce these graphs goes back to 2006 (the launch of Richmond Sunlight), so newly elected legislators have their partisanship judged on a much smaller database than the veterans.

You'll discover some interesting and unexpected results.

For instance, the newest Democrat (Kaye Kory) and one of the newest Republicans (John Cox) are the most partisan members of the House of Delegates.

You'll also notice that Bob Marshall is closer to the "center" than Speaker of the House Bill Howell or Ben Cline or Rob Bell.

It may be no surprise that two veteran legislators from Arlington, Delegate Adam Ebbin and Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, are the most partisan Democrats in their respective chambers (besides the aforementioned freshman, Kaye Kory).

Here's the real kicker (especially for all you Fifth District Tea Partiers):  The most partisan Republican in the state Senate is Robert Hurt.

Waldo, one of Virginia's most experienced political bloggers, deserves commendation for compiling this data and creating a graphic presentation that is easily comprehensible.  This will be a useful tool for years to come.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Is There a Place for Gay Conservatives ... Anywhere?

The Cato Institute today hosted an intriguing forum on the topic, "Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?," which almost turned into a discussion of "Who is a conservative?" and, more specifically, whether one of the panelists had the right to call himself a conservative.

The opening remarks were given by Nick Herbert, MP, the British Conservative Party's Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, who was, he pointed out toward the end of the discussion, once identified in the caption of a newspaper photography as a "gay Eurosceptic."

Responses were provided by Andrew Sullivan, author of Virtually Normal and other books, who blogs for The Atlantic and whose conservative credentials were questioned more than once by both the moderator and members of the audience, and Maggie Gallagher, known best for her strident campaign against the rights of gay men and lesbians to marry and form families as president of a group with the Orwellian name, "National Organization for Marriage" (Orwellian because the group works actively against, not for, marriage).

The audience looked to be made up of mostly libertarians -- it was a Cato Institute event, after all -- and gay people.  I saw so many people I knew that, during the lunch that followed, I remarked to my friend Nigel Ashford of the Institute for Humane Studies that it "looked like one of [his] parties," which bring together libertarians and conservatives of all stripes.  The demographics of the audience became clear in their reactions to Maggie Gallagher, who pleaded over and over again that her anti-marriage activities were not meant to be an attack on gay people, a plea met with much skepticism.  (It's hard to judge whether the audience was more skeptical than she is naively self-deluded, or the other way around.)

Cato's executive vice president, David Boaz, opened the discussion by noting that "for the past 70 years or so, conservatives have opposed demands for equal rights from Jews, blacks, and gay people," only later -- once those folks eventually achieved equal treatment under the law --  to deny that they were ever against them in the first place, and then to "wonder why they don't get votes from those people."

Since blacks and Jews are no longer unwelcome by conservatives, Boaz pondered, will conservative attitudes "change once gay people have civil rights?"

In this question, he continued, British conservatives are ahead of us, and evidence of that included today's guest speaker, Nick Herbert, who was elected as an openly-gay Tory Member of Parliament in 2005 after he had led a successful campaign to keep Britain out of the Euro zone.  (A decision, Boaz wryly remarked, that must be looking better and better today.)

I will try not to repeat here much of what Herbert said in his formal remarks, since they are available in full on the Conservative Party web site (here for the news story, and here for the text of the speech).  Let me just excerpt his closing sentences and then go on to Sullivan's and Gallagher's responses:
So let us be clear about the kind of society we want to build.

One where a child can go to school without being bullied because of his or her sexuality.

Where people can be honest with their friends and families and employers, and not live a lie.

Where the terraces at football games do not ring with homophobic abuse.

Where a public declaration of lifelong commitment to another person can be made by anyone.

Where communities are safe and no-one is fearful because of who they are.

Where anyone can serve their country without being asked who it is they love.

Where no-one is held back and opportunity is available to all.

And where the Prime Minister of the UK or the President of the United States could just as easily be gay as black.
Andrew Sullivan began his remarks -- he spoke without notes, in a heartfelt and emotional manner -- by saying:
My breath is still taken away by Nick's speech. It feels like water in the desert. It feels like the truth.
The struggle for gay equality in this country has been difficult and emotional, Sullivan said, noting that the United States was ahead of the United Kingdom 20 years ago, though at that time gay conservatives were attacked by the gay left. "We were called 'homocons,'" he said, and "we were smeared."

Sullivan offered some distinctions between himself and Nick Herbert, placing himself "slightly to the right" and describing himself as a more of a Thatcherite than a "One Nation Tory." He noted, for example, that he is "an implacable foe of hate crime laws" because they are a threat to freedom of expression and freedom of thought.

He agreed, however, that there is no necessary connection between being gay and any particular set of political viewpoints. (This was a consensus among all three panelists.) Specifically, he said, "I see no connection between sexual orientation and a belief in limited government or a belief in a socialist state," adding that "I became a conservative because I grew up in a socialist country" and that he defined himself as a "Tory, not a Republican; an Oakeshottian, not a Straussian."

Sullivan went on to criticize the Republican party for accelerating its "campaign of fear" against gay people and said the GOP "is no longer a political party; it is a religious party [whose members] owe absolute obedience to the President." The Republican Party's "soul has been corrupted," Sullivan said solemnly.

Glancing over at Maggie Gallagher, Sullivan said that his arguments in favor of gay marriage -- which date to at least 1989, before the issue was on virtually anyone's radar screen -- "were never meant as an attack on the family." He spoke of the "psychic wound" that results from gay children growing up knowing that they would never be able to have the same kind of bonds as their parents or their brothers and sisters. This wound, he said, "distorts the psyche and warps the soul."

Sullivan did speak fondly and proudly of the way his own family -- his birth family and his in-laws -- participated in his and his husband's marriage ceremony, and how both of them have been accepted into each other's familial ambit, and how the joining of two families is an important social bond.

Summing up, Sullivan said, "We have struggled against the gay left and now the far Republican right, which is now the Republican party."

Introducing the next speaker, David Boaz quipped: "And now for something completely different," and that is indeed what we got in Maggie Gallagher's remarks.

She began by making the incredible, preposterous, and unsubstantiated claim that "there are openly gay people who work for my organization," the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. She said she did not want to name them, however, and later -- when challenged by Sullivan -- she refused to name a single openly gay person who opposed equal marriage rights for gay men and lesbians. "You can't out an openly gay person," Sullivan said with exasperation during their later exchange.

Referring to Nick Herbert's opening description of how the political and legal landscape for gay people has changed in the United Kingdom, Gallagher said:
I don't know of many American conservatives who look at Great Britain and say "that is what we should look like."
In an acknowledgment of reality, Gallagher stated that "there have always been gay people in the conservative movement," and she noted that "a political movement is not a church, and there are no purity tests."

Yet, the question must be asked, she added: "How do we reconcile gay rights with large chunks of social conservatives" within the larger movement?

As she went on, Gallagher made an interesting distinction that, were she not so transparently unaware of what she was actually saying, would have been to her credit.

She said that "if gay rights are understood as liberty interests, they are compatible" with conservative values and the conservative movement. If they are understood as "equality interests," however, requiring aggressive government intervention to assure equality of results, they are not compatible.

What Gallagher misses, of course, is the fact that gay people should have the freedom to marry not just as a matter of equality, but as part of the liberty of association, the liberty of contract, the liberty to be left alone ... I could go on. Freedom to marry does not impinge on anyone else's rights -- no more than my right to watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy does not affect someone else's right to watch Project Runway.

But I digress.

Gallagher added that "people are waking up to hear their core moral principles are the moral equivalent of racism" and, as a result, "people are scared."

She ended with a reiteration of her suggestion that "gay rights should be about liberty," and then Boaz opened up the floor for questions, first exercising his prerogative as moderator to pose one of his own.

Explaining that he had received "dozens" of emails making essentially the same point, Boaz asked Sullivan: "Can you be either a conservative or a classical liberal and still support President Obama's vast expansion of government?"

Miffed, Sullivan said "I refuse to answer that question as irrelevant to this topic... It's preposterous."

Since the full program may soon be available as a podcast, and is likely as well to be broadcast on C-SPAN, I will breeze through some of the next few exchanges.

There were questions about gay adoption and hate crime laws, then Jamie Kirchick of The New Republic asked, based on polling data that at least one-third of self-identified gay voters cast their ballots for McCain-Palin in 2008, should they fight for a place in the movement?

Sullivan replied: "I do not believe the conservative movement today has a place for a conservative like me."

The next question was posed by Jason Kuznicki, who has blogged about it himself earlier today:
There’s a built-in liberalness to gay politics, if not necessarily to gay people. Even conservative gay politics, in this sense, is liberal. Because all we have is the future. It’s the future, or nothing.

That “nothing” was on full display this afternoon, when I got to ask Maggie Gallagher the question I’ve always wanted to ask her: What do you think that am I supposed to do with my life?

Suppose I found myself in agreement with her. Suppose I concluded that same-sex marriage was corrosive to society. Do I leave my husband? Do I send my adopted daughter back to the state? Enter ex-gay therapy, which isn’t likely to work? Tell my whole family that I’m single now, and that Scott shouldn’t be welcome at family events? Live my whole life alone, and loveless? Hide? Where is the life I’m supposed to live?

I probably wasn’t so articulate at the Cato event, but I do recall Gallagher’s very simple answer: “I don’t know.”
The final question was about whether there is room for transgendered people in the conservative movement -- the "T" in "LGBT" or "GLBT" -- to which Gallagher replied, yes, as long as they are against gay marriage, and to which Sullivan replied, no, because conservatives think of transgendered individuals as engaging in "self-mutilation."

Nick Herbert was given the chance to offer a few closing words, replying to the last question by saying, "yes, the same principles apply" to transgendered people as to gay and lesbian people.

Herbert said "I look forward to the day when we're not having this debate but rather [having one] about the larger issues forced on Andrew" (I think he means issues like the definition of conservative, the proper role of government, the proper size and scope of government, etc.).  The issues before the panel today, he said, "should be beyond debate," adding that what people say about ourselves as political parties and as politicians, and the manner in which we can push people way casually is important.  What is most important, however, is that "we need to mount an appeal that is generous and optimistic and inclusive."

(I will be adding photographs from the event later tonight; I'm not at my own computer and this one lacks a port for my camera's memory card.)

Update:  Photos from above and left to right:  (1) Andrew Sullivan, David Boaz, Nick Herbert; (2) David Boaz, Andrew Sullivan, Nick Herbert; (3) Maggie Gallagher; and (4) Nick Herbert, MP.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mt. Vernon Is No Sharon

The Interwebs are abuzz with chatter about a conservative manifesto, to be released tomorrow (Wednesday) and called "the Mount Vernon Statement" because it will be ceremonially signed near George Washington's plantation in Northern Virginia.  CBS News, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Politico, Human Events, Fox News, RadioVice Online, LifeNews, Free Republic, People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch, Logistics Monster, and The American Spectator are just a few of the news outlets and blogs that have reported and commented, prospectively, on the declaration.

Drafters and organizers of the Mount Vernon Statement are keeping a tight lid on it and have embargoed its unveiling until after the ceremony.  A few lines have leaked out, but these are not enough to determine the full scope of the statement, which is scheduled to coincide with the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, opening on Thursday.

Chris Good reported the names of some of the signatories in Marc Armbinder's "Politics" blog on The Atlantic's web site last week:
Some key conservative luminaries will be in attendance at the Collingwood Library and Museum in Alexandria, VA (an original part of George Washington's Mount Vernon properties): Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, David Keene of the American Conservative Union, former Reagan policy adviser Kenneth T. Cribb, Kenneth Blackwell of Coalition for a Conservative Majority, and Federalist Society co-founder David McIntosh.
The Mount Vernon Statement's own web site expands on this list in what looks like a news release:
The proceedings will be led by former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, senior statesman of the conservative movement. He will be joined by more than 80 national grassroots conservative leaders representing tens of millions of conservative activists including: Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Becky Norton Dunlop, president of the Council for National Policy; Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center; Alfred Regnery, publisher of the American Spectator; David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union; Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America; David McIntosh, co-founder of the Federalist Society; T. Kenneth Cribb, former domestic policy adviser to President Reagan; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; William Wilson, President, Americans for Limited Government; Elaine Donnelly, Center for Military Readiness; Richard Viguerie, Chairman,, Kenneth Blackwell, Coalition for a Conservative Majority; Colin Hanna, President, Let Freedom Ring and Kathryn J. Lopez, National Review and many others.
Ben Smith notes in Politico that
[Former Reagan administration attorney general Edwin] Meese said the statement is intended to "restate" and "update" the Sharon Statement, a 1960 manifesto of the group Young Americans for Freedom on the limits of government and evil of Communism published in William F. Buckley's National Review, which many view as a founding document of modern conservatism.
Indeed, the Mount Vernon Statement press release (referenced above) makes this claim explicitly:
The Sharon Statement, signed at the home of William F. Buckley, Jr., in Sharon, Connecticut in September 1960, helped launch and define the conservative movement that led to the recruitment, development and election of numerous conservative leaders who have held positions in public office and public trust at all stations from town councils to President of the United States. The Sharon Statement can be viewed here.
Even having not seen the new Mount Vernon Statement, I have to say that this preening comparison with the Sharon Statement claims both too much and too little.

The most glaring contrast between the two is this: The publicized signers of the Mount Vernon Statement are all leaders of the conservative Establishment. Most are more than 50 years old; some are in their late 60s and early 70s.  A number of them are old enough to have been at Sharon or, like Richard Viguerie, got their first job in politics shortly after, and as a result of, the Sharon Conference.

The organizers of the series of meetings that culminated in the gathering at the home of Buckley family in Connecticut in September 1960 were nearly all college-age (if not actually college students) and were Young Turks who were rebelling against the Establishment of their day (the Eisenhower-Nixon wing of the Republican party).

John L. Kelley summarizes in his 1997 book, Bringing the Market Back In: The Political Revitalization of Market Liberalism:
More than 100 young conservatives from over 44 colleges had assembled at Buckley's Sharon, Connecticut, home in September 1960 to draft the "Sharon Statement." The Statement characterized the times as one of "moral and political crisis" when liberty was threatened internally by an overweening central government exceeding its Constitutionally-sanctioned functions and threatened externally by the "forces of international Communism [which] are, at present, the greatest threat to these liberties."
For those who don't know, or don't remember, the Sharon Conference was the founding meeting of Young Americans for Freedom. The late Marvin Liebman offered some background on Sharon in his 1992 memoir, Coming Out Conservative: A Founder of the Modern Conservative Movement Speaks Out on Personal Freedom, Homophobia, and Hate Politics:
The precursor organization to the YAF began to take shape the day after the 1960 convention, when the executive committee of Youth for Goldwater and about six or seven other young conservative activists met in the Columbia Room of the Pick-Congress with [former New Jersey Governor Charles] Edison and me. The old man spoke. He wasn’t Goldwater, he wasn’t Buckley, but he was a hero to them. Edison urged them to keep in touch with each other through some sort of committee of correspondence, similar to that of our own Revolutionary War. He told them that, like the colonists in the l770s, they also had a chance to make a revolution. Edison gave the rallying cry!

In just a little over a month, working out of my New York office and using all the facilities I could provide—mimeograph machine, clerical help, postage meter, mailing house and, most important, money— [Douglas] Caddy, with the help of a few others, set about starting a new organization. They contacted students all over the country—even over the summer recess—and invited them to attend a conference over the weekend of September 9 to 11.

I suggested to Bill Buckley that we have the meeting at Great Elm, the Buckley family home in Sharon, Connecticut. After discussing the logistics with his mother and sisters (it is no small thing to have fifty or more college kids over for a weekend, even for a family with ten children and countless grandchildren), it was agreed, when I assured them that nothing would be damaged.

The Buckley name was a substantial lure. Coordinating the logistics with Bill and his sisters Priscilla, Aloise, and Jane, I organized the meeting. An Interim Committee for a National Conservative Youth Organization was set up in my office under the direction of Caddy.

About ninety activists representing forty-four colleges and universities from twenty-four states made their way to Sharon on chartered buses and on their own. The very first gathering was in the large central hall, the Patio, in Great Elm, with the entire Buckley family, the National Review editors, and all ninety students in attendance. Those of us present from the older generation -- Frank Meyer, Charles Edison, Brent Bozell, Bill Rusher, Buckley, and I -- resolved to give no advice -- unless it was asked for and to keep our mouths shut, which was extremelydifficult for such an articulate group.

The young activists had already started wheeling, dealing, and politicking M. Stanton Evans, one of the older “youths” (at twenty-six!) was busy drafting a statement of their aims and aspirations. This came to be known as the Sharon Statement. Bill Buckley made some editorial changes, and the statement was adopted by the conference as was the name Young Americans for Freedom. Bill Rusher recalled “I remember not liking the acronym (YAF) much—and liking it even less when Liebman . . . became the first to point out this made the rest of us ‘Old Americans for Freedom’ or ‘OAFs.”

Charles Edison was in his glory. This was everything he had ever hoped for. I took great personal satisfaction in this because I loved him and felt this was all a fitting gift and tribute to the work he had done.

While Bill Buckley was speaking at the first event, Edison and I were sitting on the balcony that surrounds the patio. Next to us was Bill’s sister Aloise Heath. Her beloved and elderly dog, Boykie, was given to fits of panting—as was Governor Edison. Edison was sitting on a low stool, panting away, and Aloise softly patted him on the head and said absent-mindedly, “Now be quiet.” Edison, chastised, did as he was bid and ceased panting.

Edison was quite deaf and used a hearing aid, a box he held and aimed at the person who was speaking. When one of the kids was speaking a mile-a-minute to Edison, the governor held out his hearing aid trying to get the words. “No thanks, governor,” said the young conferee, “I don’t smoke!” Edison turned off his machine, and just smiled blandly through the rest of the conversation.

In the ten months following the weekend conference at Sharon, Young Americans for Freedom, working out of my office at 79 Madison Avenue and with an advisory board I made up of every conservative VIP I could think of, became an overwhelming success. Over 180 young conservative clubs sprang up on the nation’s campuses. Widespread publicity in major newspapers and magazines focused on the formation of YAF chapters.

In March 1961, YAF began publishing its monthly magazine, The New Guard. The same month we staged the first YAF National Awards Rally in Manhattan Center, which seated 3,200 people inside; more than 5,000 were turned away from the doors. The main speaker of the evening was Barry Goldwater. Awards went to Bill Buckley, Ambassador George K. C. Yeh of the Republic of China (I was still looking after my old friends), and the columnist George Sokolsky. YAF even set up its own front organizations: the Committee for an Effective Peace Corps, and the Student Committee for a Free Cuba.

Bill Buckley and I were impressed by YAF’s rapid growth, early achievements, and dedication. “What is so striking in the students who met at Sharon,” Buckley wrote, “is their appetite for power. Ten years ago, the struggle seemed so long, so endless, even, that we did not dream of victory. . . . It is quixotic to say that they or their elders have seized the reins of history. But the difference in psychological attitude is tremendous.”

YAF was doing so well that even I began to lose interest. I loved to start organizations, but got bored when it came to running them. This one was already running under its own steam. And although I tried staying out of the limelight, my role in the organization was beginning to receive criticism. In his Rise of the Right, Bill Rusher gently chastised me by saying, “Liebman . . . had innocently fallen into the role of a sort of rich and adoring uncle who could deny these youngsters nothing, unwittingly spoiling a number of them badly.” That was the story of my life then: the rich and adoring uncle to all the bright young men.
Franklin & Marshall College history professor John A. Andrew III elaborates on this background in his 1997 book, The Other Side of the Sixties:  Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of Conservative Politics.  (Andrew cites Liebman's book in his footnotes.)
Members of the Youth for Goldwater effort in Chicago, along with a few Nixon supporters and others who had pushed Walter Judd’s name forward for vice president, moved quickly to maintain their momentum. The Judd for Vice President headquarters in the Pick Congress Hotel had adjoined that of Youth for Goldwater. Marvin Liebman, friend to William F. Buckley Jr. and public relations guru for many right-wing causes during the 1950s, had organized the Judd efforts. During the course of the convention both Liebman and Buckley (who was in Chicago to cover the convention for National Review) met Youth for Goldwater leaders. David Franke and Douglas Caddy particularly impressed them, and they took the two under their wing. Franke became an intern at National Review, while Caddy joined Liebman’s public relations firm. As the convention ended, Liebman and former New Jersey governor Charles Edison met with the executive committee of Youth for Goldwater and a few other conservative activists in the Columbia Room of the Pick Congress Hotel. They urged Caddy and his colleagues to unite conservative students in a formal organization, and Edison contributed $500 to further the cause.

Within days an Interim Comittee for a National Conservative Youth Organization sprang into existence. Members included James Abstine, Douglas Caddy, Robert Croll, David Franke, George Gaines, Robert Harley, James Kolbe, Richard Noble, Suzanne Regnery, Clendenin Ryan, Scott Stanley, John Weicher, and Brian Whelan. Although they met in Chicago, only Weicher, Whelan, and Regnery were from the immediate area. Caddy and Franke called New York City home; the rest of the Interim Committee came from Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, Arizona, California, New Jersey, and Kansas. On August 16 they issued a call for a meeting to be held at Great Elm, the Buckley family estate in Sharon, Connecticut, September 9—il. This invitation to an “initial organizing effort” went out to 120 “outstanding youth leaders across the Nation” who were known “to be active and influential Conservatives.” Franke and Caddy had found many of them during their loyalty oath efforts earlier in the year. Others had written letters to Human Events or the Young Republican National Federation. They formed the nucleus of the Sharon delegates.
Andrew quotes the call to the conference, sent out to potential participants, which is further evidence of the youth-orientation of Sharon (even more, perhaps, than Liebman's quip about "OAFs").
America stands at the crossroads today. Will our Nation continue to follow the path towards socialism or will we turn towards Conservatism and freedom? The final answer to this question lies with America’s youth. Will our youth be more conservative or more liberal in future years? You can help determine the answer to this question.

Now is the time for Conservative youth to take action to make their full force and influence felt. By action we mean political action! An inter-collegiate society for Conservative youth has been in operation for several years and has been most successful in bringing about a Conservative intellectual revival on the campus. Many feel that now is the time to organize a complementary nationwide youth movement which would be designed almost solely for political action—implementing and coordinating the aspirations of Conservative youth into a dynamic and effective political force.
The text of the Sharon Statement has a heavily libertarian core, something apparent from its first three substantive clauses:
That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual's use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force;

That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;

That the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice;
This libertarian core should come as no surprise. As Ronald Reagan, who benefited more from the success of Young Americans for Freedom than any other politician, once told Reason magazine:
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.
The Sharon Statement is a lean document. It smartly and successfully walked a narrow path so that all the various factions and wings of the conservative movement could assent to it. John Andrew quotes Stan Evans as later saying that the idea of the Sharon Statement "was to get a declaration which was broadly representative but internally coherent."

Of course, to find such a statement, one may have to look no farther than Barry Goldwater, whose leadership behind the scenes inspired Sharon in the first place. Goldwater said in the first few pages of Conscience of a Conservative:
I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is 'needed' before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents' interests, I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.
My fear about the as-yet-unseen Mt. Vernon Statement is that it will, unlike the Sharon Statement, incorporate as "principles" divisive views on social issues.  The presence of Tony Perkins, for instance, who is head of the anti-gay Family Research Council, and of Wendy Wright, president of the anti-gay Concerned Women for America, and Elaine Donnelly of the anti-gay Center for Military Readiness, among the list of signers suggests that this might be the case.

A good many of the signers of the Sharon Statement and its organizers were (and, those still alive, are) gay.  These include Marvin Liebman, Richard Cowan (former national director of NORML), and former Congressman Jim Kolbe.  Another prominent gay conservative, former Congressman Bob Bauman, although he was not at Sharon (his wife, Carol, was there), became the first president of Young Americans for Freedom.  One wonders whether the product of the Mount Vernon "movement" (if it can be called that) would be acceptable to these men and others, or if the Mount Vernon organizers would close the "big tent" to them.

We will find that out tomorrow.

To return to my original point, however, it is hubris for the Mount Vernon Statement organizers to hook their reputation to the star of the Sharon Statement.  That small conference 50 years ago launched a movement whose successes can hardly be measured.  (The only comparable meeting might be the first gathering of the Mont Pelerin Society about a dozen years earlier.)  Moreover, for conservative movement veterans -- many of them comfortably ensconced in leadership positions in well-established institutions with multimillion-dollar budgets -- to compare themselves the the hungry, motivated, and youthful organizers of Sharon simply boggles the mind (and I say this as someone who is closer in age to the Sharon generation than today's Young Republicans or College Libertarians).

The Mount Vernon Statement may turn out to be readable, something to argue about, maybe even inspiring to some people.  I hardly expect it will spark a revolution, however.

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