The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) begins this Thursday in Washington, DC. With an expected 10,000 attendees and hundreds of groups participating, this is one of the largest conservative political events of the year. It is also one of the most controversial conservative events this year because of the American Conservative Union’s decision to allow GOProud (a gay conservative group) to be a CPAC Affiliate (ACU sponsors CPAC, and “Affiliate” groups give the ACU money for a table and other benefits). GOProud participated in last year’s CPAC, and several conservative group like Liberty University boycotted as a result. SFL was involved in a bit of a scuffle over GOProud’s participation last year as well, when I thanked the ACU for their decision to include GOProud.
This year, more conservative groups have decided to boycott CPAC because of GOProud’s inclusion, including the well-known Heritage Foundation. While the number of groups boycotting CPAC is worthy of attention, I am particularly interested in calling attention to Heritage’s decision because of the prominence of their longstanding advocacy for fusionism.
The strategy of “fusionism” (the combination of libertarianism and conservatism) has been dominant in conservative circles for decades. The standard justification for it is that while conservatives and libertarians may disagree on social issues, they ought to work together primarily on free market causes because they both care so deeply for economic liberty. Often, when libertarians would speak up and suggest that the philosophies were different or attempt to advocate for pro-liberty social positions as well, conservatives would brush them aside and say, “don’t rock the boat, let’s just keep working together.” In fact, after SFL sponsored a debate on “Libertarianism v. Conservatism” this past summer (watch the debate here), one of the conservative debaters interning at the Heritage Foundation wrote a follow-up blog post for Heritage on the topic, appealing to libertarians to not pull away from an alliance with conservatives (SFL had several blog responses as well). He concludes the post with,
The type of discourse seen during the intern event is important for further exploration of the shared principles of both ideologies, but in a time when the shared ideals of libertarians and conservatives are under attack from outside forces, all friends of liberty must work together to ensure that the freedom, safety and happiness we experience today will be there for our children in the years to come.
Just this past summer, Heritage was making an appeal for libertarians to set aside their differences with conservatives for the sake of liberty. To be fair, it was just one of Heritage’s interns, but there are other examples of Heritage advocating fusionism as well. Yet when the largest conservative conference in the country decides to allow a gay conservative group that advocates “limited government, individual liberty, free markets and a confident foreign policy” to participate, Heritage decided working together just wasn’t something it was interested in. In fact, given that GOProud supports “a confident foreign policy,” one would think there would be an even stronger alignment between GOProud and Heritage than perhaps a more libertarian group and Heritage.
In boycotting CPAC, Heritage, and the typical stalwarts of fusionism that support the boycott, have revealed that their appeals for a libertarian/conservative alliance are nothing more than for libertarians to sacrifice their principles for the interests of social conservatives. Appeals for collaboration come when conservatives need votes and public support, but disappear whenever pro-liberty social issues gain ground or when conservatives have political power. The call by these groups for libertarians and conservatives to “work together” substantively amounted/amounts to libertarians supporting conservatives on economic issues and remaining silent when social issues are ever a topic of conversation. The nature of fusionism is not partnership, but subservience.
I do not want to end this post on a somber note, though, because this is not a somber story; it is an uplifting one. While several prominent conservative organizations may be boycotting CPAC this year, the ACU stood its ground and defended its decision to allow a gay group participate in the conference. The ACU stuck to its principles of “individual liberty,” “limited government,” and “free markets” as David Keene, chairman of the ACU points out in his 2/21/10 interview here. I thanked the ACU last year for allowing GOProud to be involved in the 2010 CPAC, and I will again thank the ACU for allowing GOProud to be involved in the 2011 CPAC. If libertarians and conservatives are to work together, the ACU has done the right thing.