Every year, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) grows larger, and every year it stirs up controversy about who is participating.
This year is no exception.
The conference that takes place Feb. 10 through 12 in Washington will draw 11,000 people, up a thousand from last year. And the controversy, intrigue, and name-calling have already begun.
Some say CPAC should exclude GOProud, a gay conservative group. Others say it should emphasize national security issues more. Conspiracy theorists hint darkly that CPAC has been overtaken by Muslim extremists. And some insist that any group that has chosen not to participate this year must not approve of CPAC policies or speakers.
Rubbish, says Dave Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, whose foundation runs CPAC. Having been chairman since 1984, Keene has seen it all. He bears the brunt of lobbying by those who want to be speakers or want to ban others from speaking.
To Keene, those who try to define what conservatives should think and try to exclude those who don’t agree don’t understand what the movement is all about and why it has been so successful.
“CPAC does not attempt to define the movement,” Keene says. “In the past, you had people say that anybody who is for free trade should be thrown out, or anybody that is not for total restrictionist immigration policies should be thrown out, or groups that are not religious should be thrown out.”
In addition, says Keene, “We’ve had groups that are on one side or the other which never participated because they don’t feel they want to be identified with anybody else. Some economic groups don’t want to be associated with social conservatives. Some of the social conservatives don’t want to be associated with economic groups.”
Over the years, CPAC has excluded only one group, a Citizens Council in Mississippi, which Keene says was racist.
As it happens, GOProud espouses traditional conservative values of limited government, individual liberty, free markets, and what it calls a “confident” foreign policy. It recently came out against taxpayer funding of abortion, and conservative Andrew Breitbart has joined its advisory council. The group will not be speaking at CPAC but wants to staff a booth for promoting such issues as limited government, Keene says.
“Nobody is coming there to argue that we ought to be gay,” Keene says. “They’re coming there because they care about limited government and all of the same things that everybody else cares about.”
To be sure, some policies like the need to reduce taxes are consensus issues, Keene notes.
“Almost all conservatives are for lower taxes,” Keene says. “We wouldn’t invite somebody who said we ought to raise your taxes.” Keene points out that over the years, conservatives themselves have taken fluctuating positions on some issues like abortion.
“President Reagan was originally pro-choice,” he says. “If we were to throw out an organization because it agreed with us on everything but this one thing, we would then be in a position of having to go to all of the other organizations and vet them and say we approve of this or we don’t approve of that,” Keene says. “I just think that that would be crazy, and it would diminish the conference.”
This year, CPAC will have 132 participants, up from 117 last year. Speakers include nearly all the potential presidential candidates. But the Heritage Foundation decided not to participate, starting rumors that it withdrew because of the presence of GOProud.
In fact, Heritage spokesman Jim Weidman says Heritage is emphasizing other events that promote its policies on economic, social, and national defense issues.
“We are not part of any broader movement against CPAC,” Weidman says. “We are merely continuing our efforts to spread conservatism in new venues.”
Keene points out that the way to win elections is not to exclude people.
“Reagan’s position was if you agree with me 80 percent of the time, you are my friend,” says Keene, who will give up his ACU position in April when he becomes president of the National Rifle Association. “That is sufficient for us. If we start voting people off the island, I would be the first to go.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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