CPAC and Unnecessary Turmoil

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The Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, certainly had its moments. In what appears to be an impromptu statement, Ryan Sorba, head of the Young Americans for Freedom’s California chapter, stood up to condemn CPAC’s invitation to GOProud, a group that supports gay Republicans:

Mr. Sorba was booed by some in the conservative audience. He has a right to his opinion, and certainly to his personal beliefs. Without vilifying Mr. Sorba, I would like to examine why his concerns are misplaced.

Conservatives and libertarians are concerned about the scope and reach of government. The phrase “limited government” is used to convey this thought. But it is a complex subject. Conservatives generally recognize the need for laws governing human actions that harm or endanger others. Social conservatives tend to marry this idea with another: that individual actions can endanger entire communities, cultures and nations. Sometimes, they want to enact laws, or continue supporting standards to protect society. I submit that is not within the purview of a limited government, as only an expansive, intrusive and overbearing government can hope to “preserve” a culture (think: France).

Finding the right balance between maximum freedom, smallest government, and social order is difficult. But if the choice is between limiting the reach of government into our daily lives and limiting access to political activism by gay people, it might be instructive to take this simple three question test:

Choose one answer in each question:
Within the last 500 years, which one of the following groups has wrongly imprisoned, tortured, and executed people in violation of natural law:
A. Governments
B. Gay people

Within the last 500 years, which one of the following has extracted onerous taxes from people, often without giving them the right to be represented:
A. Governments
B. Gay people

Within the last 500 years, which one of the following has restricted various liberties, including property rights, religious liberty and freedom of speech:
A. Governments
B. Gay people

As the audience members at CPAC booed, they reminded me of the decision by Ronald Reagan as he considered a run for the Presidency. He was asked to oppose the 1978 Briggs Initiative, a measure put to the voters that prohibited gay and lesbian teachers, with jail terms specified for encouraging homosexual behavior. It enjoyed about two thirds support prior to Reagan weighing in, as the Log Cabin Republicans note in their history:

Many prominent politicians in the Republican and Democratic parties were hesitant about standing up to the bigotry of Briggs and his allies. That’s when gay conservatives turned to former governor Ronald Reagan. At the time he was preparing to mount a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980. His advisors all thought he was committing political suicide when he decided to be an outspoken foe of the Briggs Initiative. Reagan declared that the initiative “is not needed to protect our children – we have the legal protection now.”

Reagan went further, detailing the dangers of passing such a measure. “It has the potential for real mischief,” the former governor explained. “What if an overwrought youngster, disappointed by bad grades, imagined it was the teacher’s fault and struck out by accusing the teacher of advocating homosexuality? Innocent lives could be ruined.”

Reagan’s forceful opposition helped defeat the Briggs Initiative. In November 1978, voters rejected the Briggs Initiative by more than a million votes. Even in conservative Orange County, Briggs’ home base, the initiative lost. Long-time Democratic gay activist David Mixner met with Reagan in 1978 to personally lobby him on the Briggs initiative, recalling, “Never have I been treated more graciously by a human being. He turned opinion around and saved that election for us,” Mixner said. “We would have been in deep trouble. He just thought it was wrong and came out against it.”

While social conservatives have a home in the greater conservative movement, it would be instructive for them to remember the greatest threat to freedom comes from government. A government expansive enough to limit the freedom of gays is one expansive enough to limit the freedom of conservatives.

Cross posted to FrankHagan.com