For the second straight year, it looks as though neither the Log Cabin Republicans nor GOProud will participate in the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). There was a minor dustup when GOProud was asked to move along at last year’s conference after the group had served as a sponsor in the previous two years, and the story has been given fresh oxygen by progressive MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who said that he would accept an invitation to appear on a CPAC panel (opposite Ralph Reed) only if GOProud were welcomed back into the fold. Though I don’t agree with Hayes on much, he’s right on this one. Here are five reasons why.
small-g gay, small-c conservative
GOProud is consistently big-C “movement” conservative on the important issues — especially on fiscal policy and the size of government, but also on social issues such as abortion. After all, GOProud was founded by a couple of Log Cabin Republicans dissatisfied with that group’s Main-Street-partnership-style centrism. This alone is a pretty good reason for their inclusion at CPAC. But arguably more interesting, and more important for a powwow that’s ostensibly about making conservative advocacy more effective, is GOProud’s lower-case conservatism. Watch them operate and you realize that, unlike many social-issue activist groups on both the left and the right, GOProud understands that speed kills in the culture wars. A D.C. journo-acquaintance once complained to me, “What does GOProud actually do besides put out press releases?” Said journo is exaggerating, but it’s true that GOProud picks its spots. They’re playing the long game of acclimating gays to conservatism and conservatism to gays, and a large piece of that, frankly, is just sitting around quietly and behaving themselves. This is why GOProud leads with its full-spectrum conservative bona fides and why its position on gay marriage (officially agnostic and federalist, but with implied underlying support) is intentionally circumspect and backgrounded. It’s an approach that makes GOProud not only small-c conservative, but small-g gay, an illustration that one’s sexual preference does not require one to be wed to readymade big-g “Gay” identity politics.
gays should be gettable
According to post-election analyses, President Obama won the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) vote by about three to one, and LGBT voters constituted about 5 percent of the electorate. If you’re a conservative who thinks that’s not a chunk of the vote worth fighting for, consider that nationally Romney and Obama split the straight vote 49–49. Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are all top-ten states in terms of total gay population, and New Hampshire, Colorado, and New Mexico are all in the top ten in terms of the percentage of gay residents. These are all fabled “battleground” states that Mitt Romney failed to carry in 2012, and that Republicans will have to woo if the conservative movement is to have a national political vehicle. All the intra-conservative talk about reaching out to Latino voters via immigration reform has been subject to wet-blanket reminders that Latinos tend to be liberal voters for all sorts of other reasons, not least because they fall into other demographic buckets that tend to break liberal. The data on gay Americans are scattershot, but there is some indication that something similar is going on here: That is, self-identified homosexuals tend to be younger, less white, and less educated than self-identified heterosexuals. One could look at this as reason for conservatives to despair of winning their votes, or as an opportunity to kill a number of demographic challenges with one stone. One reason to be hopeful about the latter is that, while it’s difficult to be secretly Latino, it’s fairly common to be secretly gay. (Living in New York City, I know both conservatives who are closeted gays and gays who are closeted conservatives — indeed, would anyone be surprised if Romney carried the closet vote?) Bringing GOProud into the conservative fold is the sort of symbolic action that could contribute to breaking up this two-way shame. It’s also the type of action that could have real spillover effects with the political middle, broadly speaking, as polls continue to show that the center of the country is becoming more gay-friendly.
Those polls, by the way, show movement among conservatives as well. The 2012 Gallup poll showing majority support for gay marriage also showed 30 percent support among Republicans. More noteworthy still, a contemporaneous Washington Post/ABC poll showed that Republicans ages 18–44 were evenly split on the question, 46–46. The smart money is on that split tipping in favor of “marriage equality” in the next few years, and even that probably underrepresents the momentum, because most young Republicans today are driven first by fiscal issues and exhibit a prominent libertarian streak, meaning that in addition to those who support gay marriage outright, there is probably a sizeable segment of conservatives who regard it with benign indifference. While “conservatives” are not always and everywhere synonymous with “Republicans,” it’s still true that if CPAC wants to be oriented toward the future of the Right, and not its past, it should feature a mix of participants that reflects the evolving reality of where conservatives and Republicans stand on the gay question.
If there is significant internal disagreement among conservatives on any given issue, that disagreement ought to be represented at CPAC, which plays a unique role in the conservative movement. This is especially true in “wilderness” years such as this one. GOProud’s involvement in past CPACs caused a (relatively small) amount of controversy and disruption at the proceedings, and that may have been reason enough to ask them to stay home in 2012, a year in which conservative unity was especially important. But the election is over, and one of conservatism’s great intellectual strengths is that “conservatism” is a contested concept. If confabs such as CPAC aren’t going to reflect the robust and vital internal debate about the present and future of conservatism, what are they good for?
the intolerance cudgel
Last, let’s stipulate that it is the business of the American Conservative Union and CPAC’s organizers to determine who is and isn’t represented at CPAC. I wouldn’t advocate, and I don’t think GOProud’s exclusion warrants, a widespread boycott. But the move against GOProud does seem to be all downside. It lacks even the abstract nobility of “holding the line” or “standing athwart” leftward cultural drift, because GOProud was a CPAC sponsor for two years before it was kicked out. Meanwhile, the active, purposeful decision to leave it out in the cold gives the Left — see Chris Hayes — a cudgel with which to beat the Right for its implied intolerance. And unlike, say, the mythic “war on women,” they will kind of have a point. “Tolerance” has been more or less weaponized by cultural progressives, coming to connote a forced embrace of all the “good” kinds of heterodoxy and a rejection of all the “bad” kinds. But tolerance in its original, and best, sense requires merely a respectful coexistence governed by a principle of charity, not a commandment to embrace or celebrate. CPAC could perfectly illustrate the difference by inviting GOProud back into the tent.
— Daniel Foster is news editor of National Review Online.