The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is the preeminent conservative gathering of the year. For years, conservative luminaries such as Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, and every other name you can imagine have seen it as a destination of choice.
I had the honor to go to CPAC in 2008, and listen to George W. Bush speak in his last year of his Presidency. It was a fascinating experience, especially in the light of the dimming conservative movement at the time.
However, CPAC has taken a turn for the worse.
This is the first year that I can remember where the organization clearly made political choices for the audience. The first ill-advised move was to virtually ban GOProud, the Republican Gay group. By allowing them to participate, they by no means would be endorsing any policy initiative of the group…they would only be providing a seat at the table. Instead, Jimmy LaSalvia, GOProud’s co-founder and executive director, will be participating in a panel hosted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute entitled “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet.” As of this morning, panelists included Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Liz Mair and Jonah Goldberg. This is not even an official CPAC event…basically, Mr. LaSalvia had to come in through the back door.
This policy of exclusion further extended to Governors Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, both of whom have angered conservatives in recent months. Both have raised taxes and considered expansion of Medicaid in their states, further angering the conservative base.
To me, the entire process is somewhat disheartening. I have always viewed conservatism as the grandest exchange of ideas. We believe the market, and the market of ideas, is integral in formulating the best government and leadership possible.
Edmund Burke, the Father of conservatism, said it best:
When the leaders choose to make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in the construction of the state, will be of no service. They will become flatterers instead of legislators; the instruments, not the guides, of the people.
The organizers of CPAC should take a serious look at their decision making process. They like have become too exclusionary, too driven to push their own ideology rather than foster an exchange of ideas. Conservatism must be open to all ideas, and allow the masses to accept and reject the intellectual concepts that best allow the nation to prosper.
Again, a conservative can never go wrong by heeding Edmund Burke:
But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.
CPAC can and should do better.