The Conservative Political Action Conference is the largest annual gathering of conservatives. It takes place each year in Washington, D.C. I attended my first CPAC as a graduate student in 2004. I was privileged enough to be invited to speak on a student-led panel, to discuss the successful conservative student newspaper I helped co-found at the University of Maryland.
After joining the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) later in 2004, I attended the next three CPAC's - 2005, 2006, and 2007 - and had the unique opportunity of being the ISI representative at the CPAC planning meetings. Those were some interesting meetings - which included representatives from about 50 or so organizations that helped pick the theme, the agenda, the panels, and the speakers. It was neat to have a voice in this process. I also had the opportunity to speak on another panel at the 2007 CPAC. When I moved back to Florida at the beginning of 2008 - it almost felt weird not being at CPAC that year, after attending 4 years in a row. I then attended my fifth CPAC in 2009. I have not been back since, mostly just due to logistics in my own time commitments.
However, as I witnessed each year, CPAC was growing fast - almost out of control. "Conservatism" has become more popular and tea party activism, among other factors, has certainly popularized attendance at this conference. I even respect, to some extent, the large amount of young libertarians that have started attending CPAC. As my good friend Jeff Frazee, President of Young Americans for Liberty, has told me in the past, he hopes to inject more pro-liberty, limited government ideas into the conservative movement. I proudly stand with him in that effort.
However, as CPAC has swelled in attendance, what it means to be a "conservative" (note: not a Republican, a libertarian, or a tea party member) has become lost. In fact, a few years back, I started calling the conference the Conservative Political Action Circus, as a joke. To take matters further, I have even suggested that we are all under one big tent (like a circus, get it?) But the tent has now become too big. Too many groups are trying to redefine what conservatism is; meanwhile conservatism itself has become lost in the confusion of a conference that now has nearly 10,000 people in attendance each year.
The conservative movement in America has always been a fractious coalition of many diverse groups. And conservatism itself is not an ideology; it is a philosophy, a way of life. Sure, we conservatives have our own view of what the proper role of government is. While we might have differences on various issues, we stand consistently with the Constitution, which created a federal Republic and a system of checks and balances with a separation of powers. Conservatives believe that all human beings are fallible, and that too much power in the hands of one person - or even one area of government - could lead to tyranny. History has repeatedly proved this theory correct. Our founders rightly incorporated this belief of human fallibility in our Constitution by separating power against itself.
However, conservatism is not limited to what we believe the role of government should be. Rather, it is a philosophy, an outlook, a way of life. It exists regardless of man's relationship to his government. As a conservative, the biggest impact we can have is on the culture, which, as Russell Kirk said, extends from the "cult," a communion of souls, a body of worshippers. Our beliefs, together, form our common culture. And our society's institutions, including our government, are reflective of the culture (not the other way around).
Back to CPAC... CPAC is the "conservative" political action conference. It's NOT a Republican conference, it's not a libertarian conference, it's not a tea party conference. I hope all of these groups come to CPAC and play a role in the discussion about the future of our country, but they must remember that they are only welcome to be part of this private organization when and where they agree with conservative principles. Otherwise, the entire point of the conference is lost. When I go to a libertarian conference, for example, I understand that I am going to have some disagreements - and I respect why those libertarians have the views they do - whether it be differences in foreign policy or social issues.
The first year that CPAC took place in the late 1970s, there were only about 100 attendees. The keynote speaker was a former Governor of California, Ronald Reagan. The people there in that room knew what they believed, they had disagreements I'm sure, but they had a common intellectual understanding of the key tenets of conservatism: a commitment to liberty and limited government, a respect for the Judeo-Christian tradition that undergirds this nation and Western Civilization, and the defeat of tyranny (at that time, communism) at home and abroad.
In 2010, there was a division created at CPAC when the ACU allowed GOProud to be a sponsoring organization. This means GOProud has a role to play in the agenda, much like I did for ISI. While GOProud professes their support for limited government, they also openly accept homosexual behavior. Don't get me wrong, those who practice homosexuality will always be welcome at CPAC. For, we are all sinners, and we cannot (and should not) point at the splinter in our neighbor's eye before we first take out the splinter in our own. However, we also cannot allow an organized group that stands squarely opposed to one of the key tenets of conservatism: a commitment to the traditional moral order as defined by the Judeo-Christian beliefs that are at the underpinnings of Western Civilization. Once we allow our beliefs to be watered down, we open a pandora's box.
On the flip side of this - what if someone started an organization called "Christians for Total Healthcare." They could claim they should be allowed at CPAC because they are in line with conservatism's commitment to family values, and that their group believes, from a Judeo-Christian perspective, that government should provide health care for all. Would that progressive belief be allowed at CPAC? And if not, then why is a group claiming to support limited government allowed if they are openly hostile to the traditional moral values that undergird another tenet of conservatism?
Until CPAC can get a grip on what it stands for and what conservatism is all about, I will join with the Heritage Foundation (the largest conservative organization in the country, and the world) and boycott CPAC. I call on all other conservatives of good faith to do so as well and to express their reasons to the Chairman of the American Conservative Union, David Keene and to CPAC's coordinator Lisa DePasquale. Their contact information is below.
American Conservative Union