TCS Daily

The Right's Right

By Ryan H. Sager - February 21, 2005 12:00 AM

Welcome to the furthest right reaches of the right: the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC for short. Here, evolution is a wild hypothesis, "Log Cabin Republican" is a slur and young women know they have to wear short skirts to get ahead.

Thursday through Saturday, young conservatives and established Republican activists got together in Washington, D.C., for the annual ritual of meeting, greeting, sitting and eating together in service of "the movement." Young activists were groomed, contacts were made and the Republican machine hummed along.

Needless to say, triumphalism permeated the proceedings. The Republicans, having just held the presidency and consolidated power in Congress, are perhaps entitled to some gloating. But out-and-out arrogance was the order of the conference, as well, and that is what threatens to undo Republican gains in the long term.

Arrogance toward Democrats isn't the problem -- though that was everywhere, from Ann Coulter's conservative stand-up routine (kind of a Republican version of "You might be a redneck if..." delivered to wildly cheering fans) to the popular t-shirt slogan, "What blue states? I only see red?"

No, the arrogance that will prove problematic, ultimately, was that directed at the libertarian-leaning conservatives by the social conservatives. The message in that regard was clear: We Christians can do this alone, y'all who ain't down with J.C. best be running along.

That was the message when Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute, who was on a panel to defend President Bush's proposed immigration reforms (supported by no less a conservative institution than The Wall Street Journal), was loudly booed by the anti-immigrant crowd. That was the message when a representative of the Log Cabin Republicans was booed and then asked by a student, "You people [homosexuals, that is] already have the right to live together, you got the sex, what else do you people want?"

In fact, if there was anything particularly striking about this year's CPAC, it is to just what extent Republicans have given up being the party of small government and individual liberty.

Make absolutely no mistake about it: This party, among its most hard-core supporters, is not about freedom anymore. It is about foisting its members' version of morality and economic intervention on the country. It is, in other words, the mirror image of its hated enemy.

Consider these statements.

On the immigration panel mentioned above, Phyllis Schlafly took the hard line against immigration.

"The idea of giving any job to any willing worker is absolutely unacceptable," Schlafly said. American workers won't and shouldn't work for the wages Mexicans and other Latin American immigrants are willing to accept, she said, and companies should be forced to pay them more.

All of this met with wild applause from the audience. And so there we have the most conservative of conservatives fully buying into economic protectionism -- not to mention the minimum wage, which a past generation rightly saw as a destructive and outrageous intrusion into the free labor market.

Then there was the speech by Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, another CPAC rock star. Santorum made the revealing choice of referring to marriage as "the ultimate public good" -- i.e. a product or service that the government must provide because the free market won't.

Santorum, of course, doesn't just support banning gay marriage (though that's where all the energy in the so-called "pro-marriage" movement is directed), he also supports various government programs to promote the institution of marriage.

But as one Log Cabiner asked, just when did the Republican Party become the party of Washington, D.C.? Just where in the Constitution is the federal government given the power or responsibility to manage citizens' family lives?

To be fair, libertarian -- or classical liberal -- principles were not without representation. The Libertarian Party (ugh...) had a booth. The ACLU had a booth. The wonderful folks over at Bureaucrash had a booth.

But precious little libertarianism came from the stage, and what little did was seldom well received.

Now, perhaps CPAC just isn't any place for libertarians. But that, in itself, is a problem. The conservative movement should be reaching out to people who, well, just aren't as bothered by "Will & Grace" as some other people are.

Conservatism can't survive by religious extremism and tax cuts alone.

There needs to be something more than Ann Coulter's substanceless ranting and faux-provocative calls for a "new McCarthyism." There needs to be something more than immigration opponents comparing Mexicans to burglars stealing American jobs. There needs to be something more than treating the Log Cabin Republicans like a punchline conservatives would rather forget.

But that something wasn't present at CPAC.

Ryan Sager is a member of the editorial board of The New York Post. He also edits the blog Miscellaneous Objections and can be reached at


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