Monday, January 31, 2011

Freedom Frontiers

The Conservative Political Action Conference will be held this year on February 10th in Washington, DC, with confirmed speakers including Rep. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul, Hon. Mitt Romney, and Hon. Rick Santorum. Hon. Sarah Palin is not yet confirmed, but she’s invited. It is hosted by the American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF), a nonprofit that describes itself as representing “the views of Americans who are concerned with economic growth through lower taxes and reduced government spending and the issues of liberty, personal responsibility, traditional values and national security.” For more information, go to the organization’s website.

The first panel listed for this year’s CPAC is “Reagan at 100: Role Model for the Next Generation,” an appropriate choice given Reagan’s early role at the conference. The transcript archives of past CPACs on the ACUF website contain 12 speeches by Reagan between 1974 and 1988, followed by a notable 18-year gap in transcripts until 2006, two years into the second term of the second Bush presidency. Reagan ended his 1974 speech with this humble line: “We are indeed, and we are today, the last best hope of man on earth.” He ended his 1988 speech, as President, with these words from an American soldier stationed in Korea: “Mr. President, we’re on the frontier of freedom” and he followed that quotation with his own: “Well, so are you.”

Conservatives today might agree with that 1988 message from Reagan, but they probably have a different idea about where the frontier of freedom actually is. That frontier is no longer at the edge of the great United States of America—instead, these new Republicans might depict the frontier graphically as a boundary separating the middle of the country (red) from the two coasts (blue), or as a ring around Washington D.C., which they aim to conquer and “take back,” for freedom’s sake.

One frontier of freedom that these new Republicans do not support is the issue of gay rights, specifically the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and any legislation or court decision granting gay marriage rights. In a January 27th article, the NYT reported on a disagreement as to whether a gay conservative organization should be allowed to co-sponsor this year’s CPAC. Several conservative groups, such as the Liberty Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation, have refused to participate in the conference this year because of the co-sponsorship. The organization in question, GOProud, believes in “limited government, individual liberty, free markets, a strong national defense and a confident foreign policy.” That sounds like a pretty reasonable platform. Interestingly, it’s also much more consistent than that of most conservatives who fiercely support business interests, limited government, free markets, and individual rights for…most people.

I can bet that Reagan would also object to the involvement of GOProud in his favored conference, though I’m seeing from a quick scan on the internet that his attitude towards homosexuality was a little more complicated than that of many conservative politicians. In any case, this current narrow-minded stance on gay rights is perfectly in line with history on the subject, and it fits well with the retro, Norman Rockwell view of America that conservatives hold dear. What will it take for hard-line conservatives to move into the 21st century and truly embrace the “individual liberties” for all that they claim to support?

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