CPAC and Unnecessary Turmoil

By Frank Hagan | Related entries in Conservatism

The Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, certainly had its moments. In what appears to be an impromptu statement, Ryan Sorba, head of the Young Americans for Freedom’s California chapter, stood up to condemn CPAC’s invitation to GOProud, a group that supports gay Republicans:



Mr. Sorba was booed by some in the conservative audience. He has a right to his opinion, and certainly to his personal beliefs. Without vilifying Mr. Sorba, I would like to examine why his concerns are misplaced.

Conservatives and libertarians are concerned about the scope and reach of government. The phrase “limited government” is used to convey this thought. But it is a complex subject. Conservatives generally recognize the need for laws governing human actions that harm or endanger others. Social conservatives tend to marry this idea with another: that individual actions can endanger entire communities, cultures and nations. Sometimes, they want to enact laws, or continue supporting standards to protect society. I submit that is not within the purview of a limited government, as only an expansive, intrusive and overbearing government can hope to “preserve” a culture (think: France).

Finding the right balance between maximum freedom, smallest government, and social order is difficult. But if the choice is between limiting the reach of government into our daily lives and limiting access to political activism by gay people, it might be instructive to take this simple three question test:

Choose one answer in each question:
Within the last 500 years, which one of the following groups has wrongly imprisoned, tortured, and executed people in violation of natural law:
A. Governments
B. Gay people

Within the last 500 years, which one of the following has extracted onerous taxes from people, often without giving them the right to be represented:
A. Governments
B. Gay people

Within the last 500 years, which one of the following has restricted various liberties, including property rights, religious liberty and freedom of speech:
A. Governments
B. Gay people

As the audience members at CPAC booed, they reminded me of the decision by Ronald Reagan as he considered a run for the Presidency. He was asked to oppose the 1978 Briggs Initiative, a measure put to the voters that prohibited gay and lesbian teachers, with jail terms specified for encouraging homosexual behavior. It enjoyed about two thirds support prior to Reagan weighing in, as the Log Cabin Republicans note in their history:

Many prominent politicians in the Republican and Democratic parties were hesitant about standing up to the bigotry of Briggs and his allies. That’s when gay conservatives turned to former governor Ronald Reagan. At the time he was preparing to mount a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980. His advisors all thought he was committing political suicide when he decided to be an outspoken foe of the Briggs Initiative. Reagan declared that the initiative “is not needed to protect our children – we have the legal protection now.”

Reagan went further, detailing the dangers of passing such a measure. “It has the potential for real mischief,” the former governor explained. “What if an overwrought youngster, disappointed by bad grades, imagined it was the teacher’s fault and struck out by accusing the teacher of advocating homosexuality? Innocent lives could be ruined.”

Reagan’s forceful opposition helped defeat the Briggs Initiative. In November 1978, voters rejected the Briggs Initiative by more than a million votes. Even in conservative Orange County, Briggs’ home base, the initiative lost. Long-time Democratic gay activist David Mixner met with Reagan in 1978 to personally lobby him on the Briggs initiative, recalling, “Never have I been treated more graciously by a human being. He turned opinion around and saved that election for us,” Mixner said. “We would have been in deep trouble. He just thought it was wrong and came out against it.”

While social conservatives have a home in the greater conservative movement, it would be instructive for them to remember the greatest threat to freedom comes from government. A government expansive enough to limit the freedom of gays is one expansive enough to limit the freedom of conservatives.

Cross posted to FrankHagan.com


This entry was posted on Monday, February 22nd, 2010 and is filed under Conservatism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

28 Responses to “CPAC and Unnecessary Turmoil”

  1. frankhagan.com » CPAC and Unnecessary Turmoil Says:

    [...] Cross posted to Donklephant [...]

  2. Chris Says:

    Sorba comes across as the type of republican that you doesn’t want you to peer into his closet – the one he’s hiding in. He’s not worth wasting breath on, or typing.

  3. Frank Hagan Says:

    Alex Knepper had much the same reaction at Frum Forum, but I’m less interested in insults than I am in working toward rational consistency.

    As the crowd reaction shows, Sorba’s brand of social conservatism seems to be waning; only 2% of the attendees to CPAC listed “gay marriage” as an issue in the straw poll, and even then it was the #2 issue for those respondents. So, even though 9% indicated “family values” were the most important part of conservatism for them, opposition to gay rights issues was not the animating factor. (The straw poll results are linked from the Frum Forum article cited above).

    Its doubtful that calling social conservatives closet homosexuals or bigots will lead them to re-examine their views. It will probably harden their position and reinforce their belief that there’s more at stake in a war of competing cultures. Showing why they are betraying their own values by focusing on the wrong target is probably more effective.

  4. Frank Hagan Says:

    My first response was eaten by Chrome when I entered the captcha; I hope this doesn’t show up twice.

    Anyway, I’m less interested in insulting people than I am in understanding their positions and then seeing if it is internally consistent. Alex Knepper has made the closet homosexual charge already in Frum Forum. I always find it internally inconsistent: if you support gay people, how can you insult someone by calling them gay? There’s a “soft bigotry” problem with that approach.

    The reaction of the crowd seems to indicate that the modern conservative position and the historic position of the conservative movement are converging again. Reagan represents the libertarian conservative position; we don’t need more laws, we need less, and we don’t need less activism by conservatives, we need more even if they are gay.

    The Frum Forum article includes a link to the straw poll results from CPAC that show while 9% of the respondents list “family values” as their #1 issue, opposition to gay marriage ranks down at 2% as the second most important issue. It doesn’t rank as the most important issue for even 1% of the respondents.

    Social conservatives may see gay people as detrimental to society, but the greater threat to liberty for all conservatives is obviously government. Calling them closet homosexuals will probably not cause them to re-examine their views, but will reinforce their belief that a culture war is at work in society trying to undermine our culture.

  5. kranky kritter Says:

    Opinions not founded on reason are not accessible to reason, Frank.

    People who experience a visceral sense of distaste and/or fear of homosexuality cannot be persuaded. And you can’t change the minds of those with authoritarian personalities who have placed absolute faith in a set of principles which includes a declaration that homosexuality is utterly wrong in the eyes of God.

    It doesn’t matter to such folks if any of the precepts of Christ run counter to their utter rejection of homosexuals. And it also doesn’t matter that by denying homosexuals completely equal civil privileges they fail to live up to the ideals of freedom and liberty that they claim to hold in honor.

    Republicans as a party relentlessly seek to honor and coddle and pacify such folks even though they clearly fail a big part of the test of really valuing freedom and liberty. They undertake this coddling as a purely political consideration, despite its dissonance with principle. Without this cohort of queer haters, GOP viability comes into question.

    It’s a big part of the reason why I remain proudly independent. I can’t make common cause with a bunch of backwards haters. It is a quiet joy to me to see such folks being slowly swept into the dustbin of history, as more and more people lean towards the new testament Christian message of love and away from the old testament messages of fear, hatred, and suspicion.

    For years I have worked with a variety of gay colleagues, many of whom I have been honored to consider valued friends. There’s no question in my mind that hatred and fear directed at them is a complete and total waste of time and energy. Life is simply too short.

    Just as it’s a waste of time and energy to avoid vilifying folks like Mr Sorba in hopes of persuading them.

  6. gerryf Says:

    I just don’t know what to say here….

    First, a good post. I have been critical of some of your previous posts, so it is only fair that I praise them when they deserve praise (I know you’re not writing to garner praise or criticism from me, but if you’re getting the latter you deserve the former).

    When it comes to social conservativism, I hope you are correct and they are able to separate their own beliefs from what they wish to impose on others.

    I only differ with your comment–particularly your second comment.

    I’m not sure Reagan’s motivation in opposing Briggs sprang from any desire for a big tent GOP–hopefully, he just saw it as plain wrong. As for government being a threat to liberty, well, yes, it can be, but to make such a blanket statement seems overly paranoid.

    Government can be a force for positive change. So can corporations. So can groups. So can individuals.

    We ought not to rail against anything simply because it is–rail against the bad behavior.

  7. DK Says:

    IMO, the conservative movement is facing an internal crisis between truly small-government types, who just want lower taxes and less government debt/spending, and religious social conservatives, who want to roll back the cultural influence of the sexual revolution. These groups do not have much in common except a dislike of taxes. The controversy over Ron Paul’s victory in the CPAC straw poll and the turmoil at CPAC over how to approach the subject of gays shows this divide.

  8. Frank Hagan Says:

    gerryf, all small government conservatives agree with the likes of Jefferson regarding the dangers of a large, centralized government. It is a core belief, and while we can be convinced otherwise, we cease being a small government conservative and become something else, like George W. Bush, George Bush, or Richard Nixon at that point. So in that respect, it is an absolute.

  9. gerryf Says:

    I understand that, Frank.

    I think you will find the anti-gay portion of the party to be equally absolute in their beliefs.

  10. JimS Says:

    gerryf,

    You must understand that we must never, ever change from the 18th century. The fact that the world has done so is no excuse for our government doing so.

  11. WHQ Says:

    Alex Knepper has made the closet homosexual charge already in Frum Forum. I always find it internally inconsistent: if you support gay people, how can you insult someone by calling them gay? There’s a “soft bigotry” problem with that approach.

    This is an interesting point for me. I think it’s true sometimes that it’s internally inconsistent, but not always.

    I can see how someone who is supportive of homosexuals can make the closet “charge” solely on the basis that the subject of the charge will take it as an insult. So it’s not so much “look, he’s a homosexual” as it is “look, he’s a hypocrite” or “look, he’s a self-loather.” (If true, it would also mean that the closeted condemner of homosexuality was speaking to a group that would condemn the speaker, himself, rendering the power of his condemnation largely diminished.)

    That aside, it may be baseless and thereby wrong to publicly state that someone is a homosexual (or a heterosexual, for that matter), but I don’t know that it’s necessarily wrong on the basis that it implies there’s something wrong with being a homosexual.

  12. wj Says:

    Actually, kk, “People who experience a visceral sense of distaste . . . of homosexuality…” can be persuaded to look past that. I know I personally have that reaction — the mere thought of gay sex makes my skin crawl. But I am also aware that my reaction says a lot more about the culture that I was raised in than it does about homosexuality. Which is why I have no problem at all in supporting (in fact, strongly supporting) gay marriage and repealing DADT.

    Granted, it isn’t trivially easy to get past one’s visceral reactions. But it isn’t all that difficult, if you are willing to make the effort. Which makes me less sympathetic than some toward those who (apparently) revel in their bigotry, at the expense of their proclaimed conservative principles. At least, I have yet to see a believable rationalization for supporting small government while simultaneously demanding government intrusion into every detail of individual behavior.

  13. WHQ Says:

    I agree with wj. I really don’t like seeing two men making out, let alone going further. (Two women is another story entirely.) There’s not much I can do about that.

    But it’s not a question of mind crimes (or gut crimes) so much as actions. I’m not out to hurt homosexuals and I don’t mind their company in the least, given the lack of making out that is generally the norm. I don’t think homosexuality or gay sex is wrong or immoral, despite my physical response to man-on-man action.

    Yay, gay marriage. Boo, DADT. Yuck, seeing male gay sex. They’re all coexisting just fine in me.

  14. michael mcEachran Says:

    wj – Good point. I have a viscerally negative reaction to thought of my parents having sex – but I have gotten over it for the sake of harmonious holiday get togethers.

  15. Frank Hagan Says:

    michael – I think you get the prize for the most thought provoking post! Our personal revulsion about behavior should have little to do with the concept of god-granted liberty.

    kranky – most of the social conservatives I know are open to reason, but the argument has to be made in a “language” they understand. Its of little use to speak Japanese to a person who only speaks Russian.

    WHQ – I understand the point, but it is still an insult, isn’t it? And its one that runs the risk of insulting not only the object of scorn, but an entire class of citizens. While it sounds better than calling him a poo-poo head, I’m not sure its any more effective. And it just reinforces the polarized world view that the “culture war” is more important than rights and liberty.

    gerryf – there are many social conservatives who have changed their views on homosexuality, including me. And it wasn’t because of insults; in fact, the insults delayed the evolution in my thoughts. Ted Olsen, the former Bush Admin solicitor general volunteered to represent the plaintiffs challenging Prop. 8 in California, Dick Cheney and many others have evolved in this area. Young conservatives are especially untroubled by the gay rights issues, even if they list family values as very important to them.

  16. WHQ Says:

    WHQ – I understand the point, but it is still an insult, isn’t it? And its one that runs the risk of insulting not only the object of scorn, but an entire class of citizens.

    Yes, but that’s a separate argument from the one about internal consistency. My point wasn’t that the closet charge was good or without risk.

  17. Jacob Says:

    Frank:

    Very seriously: Can you give us a lesson in “How to speak Russian to a Russian”?

  18. kranky kritter Says:

    Actually, kk, “People who experience a visceral sense of distaste . . . of homosexuality…” can be persuaded to look past that.

    It’s encouraging to me to think that, and more encouraging to see 2 or 3 people whose opinions I respect disagree with me about it. If a may persist however, a few points and questions:

    • my first instinct was that this is the exception and not the rule. Thoughts anyone?

    • When writing my last entry, I thought about incorporating the idea that visceral negative reactions can be overcome by regular exposure that shows that the visceral response is incorrect or unnecessary

    • On thinking about that some more, I think it’s worth noting, and I think that this may be what you guys may have experienced and why you’ve objected to what I said

    •still, I do feel confident that the majority of folks who fear and hate homosexuality are unpersuadable. They aren’t open to revising their reactions based on additional data. Some folks hold views as hypotheses and are open to adjusting their hypotheses to fit available data. Folks who hold views as a matter of faith are less likely (I’d say unable) to do so.

    •Despite that last paean to reason, perhaps the most important insight is that it may well be just as important to feel your way to an adjusted perspective as it is to reason your way there. For most or many people, anyway. The model of gay friend or colleague who is a fundamentally decent person of wholly acceptable character and virtues goes as far as any contemplation can, I think. Not to mention the revelation that a son or daughter is in fact gay, even though as we know even this may not soften the hardest of hearts.

    That gay folks have been forced to live lives of secrecy has fostered distrust, fear, and hatred of them, sadly. But it seems to me that as they come to participate openly, fully, and without shame in civil life, their fundamentally equal worth becomes manifest to all with open hearts and minds.

    As to the question of persuasion, I am left still thinking that the close-minded and hard-hearted cannot be persuaded per se, if by persuaded we mean accessed via reason. Something must open their hearts or force their minds to recalculate, and IMO it’s seldom reason that makes that happen.

    captcha: issue grendel. Nice one.

  19. gerryf Says:

    Frank, would that be young conservatives like Ryan Sorba, head of the Young Americans for Freedom, California chapter?

    I don’t doubt that there are “conservatives” who can get past their visceral reaction to homosexuality, but just like your core belief that government=bad there are an awful lot of “conservatives” who are running around out there who belief homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says it is and there is no point in discussing it any further.

    My point is that when ever you are dealing with absolutes, reasoning is out the window.

    And for the record, I’m kind of creeped out by the idea of Michael’s parents having sex, too.

  20. WHQ Says:

    And for the record, I’m kind of creeped out by the idea of Michael’s parents having sex, too.

    Since I’ve never met his parents, I choose to picture his mom as being really hot and his dad as being pretty much invisible. Try it out. It’s not so bad. (Sorry, michael, I couldn’t resist. And, hey, you brought it up, not me.)

  21. WHQ Says:

    The model of gay friend or colleague who is a fundamentally decent person of wholly acceptable character and virtues goes as far as any contemplation can, I think.

    No argument there. But I think that’s not at all inconsistent with the idea that people can be persuaded despite their negative visceral reactions. Your simply proposing a particularly good means of persuasion, IMO.

  22. wj Says:

    kk, you are clearly correct that some people cannot be persuaded, no matter what. But then, there are still some people out there who believe that the earth is flat. (Honest! I met one once.) As you say, evidence simply bounces off of some closed minds.

    So perhaps the question before us is, what portion of those opposed on principle (or theology) might, under some circumstances, change their minds — at least to the extent of accepting the right of homosexuals to live in peace? And what methods of persuasion are most likely to be effective, and in what particular circumstances?

    We could also have an interesting, and perhaps related, discussion about what might impel someone to make opposition to homosexuality central to their life. After all, a couple verses over from where the Bible condemns homosexuality (actually, just male homosexuality, but…), it condemns wearing “mixed fibers” (e.g. cotton and wool, or cotton and polyester). Yet nobody gets hysterical over mixed fibers being available in stores everywhere — even to children! It’s enough to make one suspect that just maybe religion is a justification, rather than a reason, for the postition.

  23. gerryf Says:

    Are you mad, man?

    Cotton and polyester!?! Human sacrifice?!? Dogs and cats living together?!? Mass hysteria!

  24. Chris Says:

    You think WJ? lol. Of course religion is a justification, just like it is for every thing.

  25. michael mcEachran Says:

    Okay – you guys are really creeping me out. I’m starting a ballot messure in my state to prevent all parents from having sex ever.

  26. kranky kritter Says:

    a couple verses over from where the Bible condemns homosexuality (actually, just male homosexuality, but…), it condemns wearing “mixed fibers” (e.g. cotton and wool, or cotton and polyester). Yet nobody gets hysterical over mixed fibers being available in stores everywhere — even to children! It’s enough to make one suspect that just maybe religion is a justification, rather than a reason, for the postition.

    Right. And we know that when folks points out such inconsistency, it persuades no one who is anti-gay. The bible is quite often cited in support of a set of socially conservative principles. But the truth is that even social conservatives choose which parts of the bible are most important to follow, treating its dictates like a cafeteria. Now this is something that has evolved culturally, and quite possibly as part of the culture wars. There are no real opportunities for cultural skirmishes when it comes to things like diet and fabric choice, right?

    Battles on such grounds would be so preposterous that no one would fight them. But when it comes things like sex and public behavior(your choice of language, how revealing your clothes are, what gets shown on television) social conservatives still want to toe a fairly victorian line and they think others should do so as well. They believe that social value patterns are paramount.

    And here’s the thing…I think a lot of Americans are open to consideration of virtues like modesty and what constitutes good personal character. And if opposition to homosexuality were not part of the package, social conservatives might attract more adherents and less scorn.

  27. Frank Hagan Says:

    gerryf – young conservatives are, in general, more libertarian than Sorba, who comes from a social conservative background. The fact that Sorba is young doesn’t mean he is representative; he is part of the social conservative minority.

    The results of the straw poll at CPAC show the effect of this; stopping gay marriage didn’t register as a #1 concern in even 1% of the responses, and only as a #2 concern for 1% of the respondents. The age demographic of the 2,395 respondents proves my point; 54% of the respondents were in the 18 – 25 age group, and 19% in the 26 – 40 age group. That puts 73% of the respondents under 40.

    Jacob – I believe that to talk to social conservatives you have to understand their world-view. They believe there is a culture war afoot, with forces conspiring to degrade society and debase our youth. As an example, the opposition to evolution is rooted in the idea that by eliminating “special creation”, you eliminate God, thereby eliminating morals and values leading to moral enslavement. We all have a world view that shapes how we see issues; the social conservative has to first recognize his world view and how it doesn’t apply to an issue before he can consider alternatives.

  28. wj Says:

    kk, I would go even further, and suggest that those opposed to homosexuality (or just to gay marriage) would get further if they refrained from couching their opposition in stark religious terms. To say, “I think a homosexual couple is a bad example for children everywhere,” will get a much more sympathetic hearing than saying “The Bible says homosexuals are intrinsically evil!” — while ignoring all the other things that the Bible condemns in exactly the same terms.

    Not to say that such an approach will get all that much sympathy necessarily. But at least it wouldn’t totally shut out those who might be similarly uncomfortable with the subject. (Not to mention those of a different religion.) As it is, the rank inconsistency is likely to be very counterproductive. Assuming that your purpose is actually to persuade someone; if you just want to vent and feel put upon, of course, it’s a great approach.

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