In his question, Princeton politics professor Robert P. George hearkens back to the Ronald Reagan–era metaphor for the concept of the Right as an integrated whole of foreign-policy, economic, and social conservatism.
And it’s the question at the heart of a controversy surrounding this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, set to convene next week in Washington, D.C., as it has every year since 1974.
In typical professorial style, George asks the question even though he is confident about the answer. George is the founder of the American Principles Project (APP), which is leading a boycott of CPAC this year. George believes conservatism absolutely involves core tenets about economics, about foreign policy, and about the family. And when a conference calls itself conservative, that should mean “that core social conservative causes — life and marriage — should have the same standing as core economic and national security conservative causes,” George explains.
CPAC, at least at the moment, doesn’t seem to be as sure about the answer to George’s question. And George’s answer isn’t the position of GOProud, which is a participating organization in this year’s event. GOProud is signed up for two of the legs, being “committed to a traditional conservative agenda that emphasizes limited government, individual liberty, free markets and a confident foreign policy,” according to its website. The organization has just written “crazy social issues” out of what it means to be conservative.
That “crazy social issues” phrase comes from a comment made by its chairman, Christopher Barron, during an MSNBC appearance this fall — and it underscores the reasoning behind the boycott. At best, GOProud is indifferent to the issue of defending traditional marriage; it supports letting the states figure it out. But in practice, GOProud has proven itself to be opposed to the defense — and defenders — of marriage, argues Frank Cannon, chairman of APP.
“The issue is not that GOProud works on only four of the five traditional items on the conservative agenda — rather, it omits — because it actively opposes — one part of the core,” according to the official boycott letter that was sent to CPAC chairman David Keene in late November, signed by Cannon, Gary Bauer (president of American Values), Brian Brown (president of the National Organization of Marriage), and Mathew Staver (president of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University’s law school). “It is no more acceptable as a participant at CPAC than a group that said it embraced the ‘traditional conservative agenda’ but actively worked for higher taxes and greater governmental control of the economy,” the letter continues. Also: “A vibrant conservative coalition must rest upon the powerful and mutually trusting alliance of social and economic conservatives.”
The relationship between GOProud and social conservatives wouldn’t best be described as a “trusting alliance.” “Antagonistic” might be more accurate, at least in how it has played out in the media — and the spat didn’t start with the CPAC boycott.
GOProud presents itself as a victim. “The reason the boycotters applied a litmus test to us is because we were born gay,” its executive director, Jimmy LaSalvia, told the New York Times, where the controversy was featured this weekend. But GOProud has not simply disagreed with the rest of the conservative movement on marriage while highlighting other issues. It has become a go-to group for comments about family and sexuality — a gift to a media seeking to highlight divisions among the Right.