Another Perspective

William F. Buckley Jr. and CPAC’s Mission

CPAC controversies over Christie, gays come from a misreading of group’s purpose.

By 3.5.13

CPAC is another week distant.

Speakers announced. Cue the usual controversies.

This year’s controversy awards go to the alleged “snubbing” of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie -- a speaker last year but not invited this year. Another winner in the controversy department is the decision not to have official participation by a gay group -- GOP Proud .

(And full disclosure here, last year I was a panelist at CPAC and, alas, cannot attend this year. I will miss it.)

The other day, Mark Levin posted a link to William F. Buckley Jr.’s original mission statement for National Review. In the way of the Internet world, Mark also cited this piece by Dan Riehl which in turn was a response to Jonah Goldberg’s NR piece on CPAC. Got all that?

If one understands the purpose of CPAC -- it is a conservative conference not a political party -- these controversies and others over the years (inviting Rush Limbaugh was another controversy for anti-Rush Republicans of the David Frum variety) come in to focus quickly if one asks this question:

What if William F. Buckley were here today to write a CPAC Mission Statement?

As it happens, Mr. Buckley has done almost literally that.

No, WFB hasn’t overturned the grave, a notion he would doubtless find as appalling as amusing, casting him as it would as The Deity.

But Buckley long ago did something that has served conservatives well over the years.

In 1955 Buckley wrote out that mission statement for his new magazine, National Review. There is to be found the famous line about standing “athwart history, yelling Stop.” But there is so much more in Buckley’s clear and concise statement that under the circumstances it begs a reprinting -- with a tweaking to bring it up to 2013.

So here’s a link to the Buckley original.

What follows is the modernized 2013 version that one imagines WFB might have penned for CPAC in the Age of Obama, Chris Christie, and gay marriage. Written with a bit of help from CPAC’s own description of its founding. My modernizing tweaks aside, primarily updating for current events in terms of names and issues, 99.999% of this is Buckley himself:

Our CPAC Mission Statement
By William F. Buckley Jr.

March 5, 2013

There is, we like to think, solid reason for rejoicing. Prodigious efforts, by a small group of conservative activists gathered by the American Conservative Union met in Washington to discuss the future of the conservative movement.

This meeting resolved that an annual event was needed to rally conservatives, share strategies and promulgate and crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America. It was thus the birth of the Conservative Political Action Conference -- CPAC. But since it will be the policy of this conference to reject the hypodermic approach to world affairs, we may as well start out at once, and admit that the joy is not unconfined.

Let’s face it: Unlike Vienna, it seems altogether possible that did CPAC not exist, no one would have invented it. The launching of a national conservative conference brought forth from many conservative organizations in a country still widely assumed to be a bastion of conservatism at first glance looks like a work of supererogation, rather like calling for a conference of royals who support royals within the walls of Buckingham Palace. It is not that, of course; if CPAC is superfluous, it is so for very different reasons: It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.

CPAC is out of place, in the sense that Obamacare and the National Abortion Rights League (NARAL) and the New York Times and Chris Matthews and MSNBC are in place. It is out of place because, in its maturity, literate America rejected conservatism in favor of radical social experimentation. Instead of covetously consolidating its premises, the United States seems tormented by its tradition of fixed postulates having to do with the meaning of existence, with the relationship of the state to the individual, of the individual to his neighbor, so clearly enunciated in the enabling documents of our Republic.

“I happen to prefer champagne to ditchwater,” said the benign old wrecker of the ordered society, Oliver Wendell Holmes, “but there is no reason to suppose that the cosmos does.” We have come around to Mr. Holmes’ view, so much so that we feel gentlemanly doubts when asserting the superiority of capitalism to socialism, of republicanism to centralism, of champagne to ditchwater — of anything to anything. (How curious that one of the doubts one is not permitted is whether, at the margin, Mr. Holmes was a useful citizen!) The inroads that relativism has made on the American soul are not so easily evident. One must recently have lived on or close to a college campus to have a vivid intimation of what has happened. It is there that we see how a number of energetic social innovators, plugging their grand designs, succeeded over the years in capturing the liberal intellectual imagination. And since ideas rule the world, the ideologues, having won over the intellectual class, simply walked in and started to run things.

Run just about everything. There never was an age of conformity quite like this one, or a camaraderie quite like the Liberals’. Drop a little itching powder in Barack Obama’s bath and before he has scratched himself for the third time, Chris Matthews will have denounced you in a dozen television shows and tweets, Media Matters will have written ten heroic cantos about our age of terror, MSNBC will have aired them, and everyone in sight will have been nominated for a Freedom Award. Conservatives in this country — at least those who have not made their peace with the Great Society, Obamacare and the rest, and there is serious question whether there are others — are non-licensed nonconformists; and this is dangerous business in a Liberal world, as Rush Limbaugh and every talk radio host, the stars and executives of Fox News, the founder of the American Spectator and others can readily show by pointing to their scars. Radical conservatives in this country have an interesting time of it, for when they are not being suppressed or mutilated by the Liberals, they are being ignored or humiliated by a great many of those of the well-fed Right, whose ignorance and amorality have never been exaggerated for the same reason that one cannot exaggerate infinity

There are, thank Heaven, the exceptions. There are those of generous impulse and a sincere desire to encourage a responsible dissent from the Liberal orthodoxy. And there are those who recognize that when all is said and done, the market place depends for a license to operate freely on the men who issue licenses — on the politicians. They recognize, therefore, that efficient getting and spending is itself impossible except in an atmosphere that encourages efficient getting and spending. And back of all political institutions there are moral and philosophical concepts, implicit or defined. Our political economy and our high-energy industry run on large, general principles, on ideas — not by day-to-day guesswork, expedients and improvisations. Ideas have to go into exchange to become or remain operative; and the medium of such exchange is the printed, spoken, broadcast, Internet, or tweeted word. A vigorous and incorruptible annual gathering of conservative opinion is — dare we say it? — as necessary to better living as Chemistry.

We begin our annual gathering, then, with a considerable stock of experience with the irresponsible Right, and a despair of the intransigence of the Liberals, who run this country; and all this in a world dominated by the jubilant single-mindedness of the once- practicing Kremlin Communist, with his inside track to History. All this would not appear to augur well for CPAC. Yet we start with a considerable — and considered — optimism.

After all, we crashed through. Many made this organization possible, and many more than that invested both time and money in it. All with overwhelming personal and public commitments, worked round the clock to make CPAC possible. Scores of professional organizers, communications experts and activists pledged their devoted attention to its needs, and hundreds of thoughtful men and women gave evidence that the appearance of such an event as we have in mind would profoundly affect their lives.

Our own views, as expressed in a memorandum drafted a year ago, and directed to our investors, are set forth on our web site. We have nothing to offer but the best that is in us. That, a thousand Liberals who read this sentiment will say with relief, is clearly not enough! It isn’t enough. But it is at this point that we steal the march. For we offer, besides ourselves, a position that has not grown old under the weight of a gigantic, parasitic bureaucracy, a position untempered by the doctoral dissertations of a generation of Ph.D.’s in social architecture, unattenuated by a thousand vulgar promises to a thousand different pressure groups, uncorroded by a cynical contempt for human freedom. And that, ladies and gentlemen, leaves us just about the hottest thing in town.

The CPAC Credenda

Among our convictions:

A. It is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens’ lives, liberty and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress. The growth of government(the dominant social feature of both this century and its predecessor ) must be fought relentlessly. In this great social conflict of the era, we are, without reservations, on the libertarian side.

B. The profound crisis of our era is, in essence, the conflict between the Social Engineers, who seek to adjust mankind to conform with scientific utopias, and the disciples of Truth, who defend the organic moral order. We believe that truth is neither arrived at nor illuminated by monitoring election results, binding though these are for other purposes, but by other means, including a study of human experience. On this point we are, without reservations, on the conservative side.

C. The last century’s most blatant force of satanic utopianism was communism. We considered “coexistence” with communism neither desirable nor possible, nor honorable; we found ourselves irrevocably at war with communism and opposed any substitute for victory. Those principles, as Lady Thatcher has noted, were carried by our man Reagan, and he -- and they -- won the Cold War without firing a shot.

D. The largest cultural menace in America is the conformity of the intellectual cliques which, in education as well as the arts, are out to impose upon the nation their modish fads and fallacies, and have nearly succeeded in doing so. In this cultural issue, we are, without reservations, on the side of excellence (rather than “newness”) and of honest intellectual combat (rather than conformity).

E. The most alarming single danger to the American political system lies in the fact that an identifiable team of Fabian operators is bent on controlling both our major political parties(under the sanction of such fatuous and unreasoned slogans as “national unity,” “middle-of-the-road,” “progressivism,” and “bipartisanship.”) Clever intriguers are reshaping both parties in the image of Babbitt, gone Social-Democrat. When and where this political issue arises, we are, without reservations, on the side of the traditional two-party system that fights its feuds in public and honestly; and we shall advocate the restoration of the two-party system at all costs.

F. The competitive price system is indispensable to liberty and material progress. It is threatened not only by the growth of Big Brother government, but by the pressure of monopolies(including union monopolies. What is more, some labor unions have clearly identified themselves with doctrinaire socialist objectives. The characteristic problems of harassed business have gone unreported for years, with the result that the public has been taught to assume(almost instinctively) that conflicts between labor and management are generally traceable to greed and intransigence on the part of management. Sometimes they are; often they are not. CPAC will explore and oppose the inroads upon the market economy caused by monopolies in general, and politically oriented unionism in particular; and it will tell the violated businessman’s side of the story.

G. No superstition has more effectively bewitched America’s Liberal elite than the fashionable concepts of world government, the United Nations, internationalism, international atomic pools, sharia, fascination with Islamic fundamentalism etc. Perhaps the most important and readily demonstrable lesson of history is that freedom goes hand in hand with a state of political decentralization, that remote government is irresponsible government. It would make greater sense to grant independence to each of our 50 states than to surrender U.S. sovereignty to either a world organization or a caliphate in waiting.

And there, Buckley stops, as he did in the original.

In these Buckleyesque thoughts one can surely find answers to the current CPAC kerfuffles over the “snubbing” of Governor Christie (indeed, an invited guest last year) and the “exclusion” of GOP Proud.

Let’s begin with Governor Christie.

Recall Buckley writing the following in this mission statement -- and this is a direct, untweaked-by-me Buckley quote: 

The most alarming single danger to the American political system lies in the fact that an identifiable team of Fabian operators is bent on controlling both our major political parties (under the sanction of such fatuous and unreasoned slogans as “national unity,” “middle-of-the-road,” “progressivism,” and “bipartisanship”).

Catch that? The Buckley reference to “bipartisanship” as part of “the most alarming single danger to the American political system”? Catch the bit about the “identifiable team of Fabian operators…bent on controlling both our major political parties ….under the sanction of such fatuous and unreasoned slogans as…. ‘bipartisanship.’”?

Now take a look at this headline and news story in The Huffington Post on Governor Christie from January of this year -- a mere three months ago:

Chris Christie Calls For Bipartisanship In Washington Speech

WASHINGTON -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), in a speech designed to boost his reelection this year and a possible 2016 presidential candidacy, told Garden State business leaders Thursday night that more bipartisanship is needed in politics.

Christie focused much of his speech on New Jersey's recovery from Hurricane Sandy and a bipartisan response from the state congressional delegation seeking federal funds for the recovery. Christie spoke at the annual New Jersey Chamber of Commerce dinner in Washington, which brought hundreds of business and political leaders from the state to the nation's capital.

…. Christie said people want political leaders to work together and put aside partisanism.

Say again.

William F. Buckley, Jr., one of the founding fathers of the conservative movement, specifically warns of those using “fatuous and unreasoned slogans” like…. “bipartisanship.” And there is Governor Christie literally calling for….bipartisanship.

And there are people wondering why CPAC has declined to invite the Governor? Nice a guy as he may be, Christie has become a walking billboard for what is decidedly not what CPAC is all about.

Said CPAC Chairman Al Cardenas to Politico of the Christie “snub”: 

Governor Christie was invited to CPAC last year because he did a great job in N.J. facing up to the teachers unions, balancing the budget and cutting debt. This past year he strongly advocated for the passage of a $60+ billion pork barrel bill, containing only $9 billion in disaster assistance and he signed up with the federal government to expand Medicaid at a time when his state can ill afford it, so he was not invited to speak.

And what, specifically, was that Hurricane Sandy bill all about? That’s right: “bipartisanship.” In the name of “bipartisanship” money was being larded all over the country to states that didn’t come within a country mile of Sandy. As the Heritage Foundation noted, this included $150 million for Alaskan fisheries! Yet there was Chris Christie -- and for that matter CPAC critic Congressman Pete King -- furious that all this pork wasn’t just doled out in the name of, yes, “bipartisanship.”

All of which is to say, Cardenas was in fact following Buckley’s wisdom exactly when he said no to a Christie appearance. CPAC is not the Republican Party. It is a conservative conference. There is a difference.

Which is why GOP Proud has been given the thumbs down.

Again, here’s Buckley unplugged, his words exactly:

The largest cultural menace in America is the conformity of the intellectual cliques which, in education as well as the arts, are out to impose upon the nation their modish fads and fallacies, and have nearly succeeded in doing so. In this cultural issue, we are, without reservations, on the side of excellence (rather than “newness”) and of honest intellectual combat (rather than conformity).

Say again. Buckley pointedly focused on the liberal pressure to conform, or as he put it:

“The largest cultural menace in America is the conformity of the intellectual cliques… out to impose upon the nation their modish fads and fallacies…. In this cultural issue, we are, without reservations, on the side of excellence (rather than “newness”) and of honest intellectual combat (rather than conformity).”

Where is the “honest intellectual combat (rather than conformity)” that Buckley says conservatives must require when it comes to gay marriage? There is in fact a case to be made for several options here -- gay marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships. But when it comes to “honest intellectual combat” to sort all this out GOP Proud has at least twice shown that it is anything but conservative.

The first distinctly non-conservative moment came, as seen here in this December 2011 story concerning the late Andrew Breitbart. Andrew had signed on to serve as an “Advisory Board Member” of GOP Proud. Only to find out the group had “outted” a GOP operative for the sin of being closeted. A distinctly thuggish action Breitbart instantly perceived as one of the exact reasons he moved from Left to Right years ago. Said Breitbart in a statement at the time: 

It is with sincere regret that I announce I must step down as a GOProud advisory member. On numerous occasions I have spoken with [GOProud leaders] Jimmy LaSalvia and Chris Barron of the significant impact the practice of “outing” had in my evolution from the political left to the right. I was under the absolute impression that both agreed. I have a zero tolerance attitude toward the intentional infliction of vocational and family harm by divulging the details of an individual’s sexual orientation as a weapon of political destruction. As an “Advisory Board member” I was not consulted on this extreme and punitive act. Clearly, there are more productive means to debate controversial ideas and settle conflicts. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience stand with GOProud. I still stand by gay conservatives who boldly and in the face of much criticism from many fronts fight for limited government, lower taxes, a strong national defense as well as the other core conservative principles.

Breitbart, decidedly not anti-gay and decidedly understanding of conservative principle, made plain Buckley’s point. GOP Proud’s action wasn’t about being gay, it was about playing to the intellectual clique on the Left that loves to play the “outting” game.

This was before one GOP Proud leader would later turn on its CPAC host, calling a board member a “nasty bigot” -- behavior that hardly qualifies as “honest intellectual combat.”

In fact, GOP Proud’s behavior is typical of the type of liberal behavior Buckley identified in his 1959 book Up From Liberalism. Wrote Buckley: “Cross a liberal on duty, and he becomes a man of hurtling irrationality.” Outting a man who may -- or may not -- be gay, not to mention running from “honest intellectual combat” by attacking a CPAC board member as a “nasty bigot” is decidedly a sign not of conservatism but a telltale sign of what Buckley long ago correctly identified as the “liberal mania” of “hurtling irrationality.”

So….at a conference of conservatives…is there a surprise that GOP Proud, twice outted for non-conservative behavior -- is on the outs?

But don’t ask MSNBC’s Chris Hayes to explain.

In a hypocritical huff, Hayes has subtracted himself from a CPAC panel because of the aforementioned “exclusion” of GOPProud. Curiously, Mr. Hayes has not quit his job at MSNBC, which network provides an entire television show for the Reverend Al Sharpton, whose legendary verbal assault on a dissenting audience member of a TV show contained the phrase “punk faggot.” (As memorably seen here.) It seems when a real “nasty bigot” appears, Mr. Hayes falls silent. Surprise, surprise at the liberal double standard in its infinitum appearance. Where else but from MSNBC?

All of which is to say, as the barely tweaked Buckley mission statement above demonstrates, things haven’t changed all that much since the original appeared in 1955.

Hayes and others wish to make of a conservative conference a gathering at a cable debate show. Set up the ring: its Hannity meets Chris Matthews.

Diversity, goes the cry.

But strangely, this call for a “Big Tent’ never materializes in reverse.

How many conservatives are hosting shows in MSNBC’s prime time line up? From Matthews to Al Sharpton to Ed Schultz to Rachel Maddow to Lawrence O’Donnell the network’s diversity stretches all the way from A to, well, A.

How many pro-lifers are given an equal number of seats on the NARAL board with pro-choicers?

Indeed, how many members of those opposed to gay rights are invited on the board of GOP Proud?

There is a strange phenomenon abroad in the land of liberalism -- a phenomenon Buckley accurately identified. If issue X is raised by the left, the rest of us are supposed to rally and support it out of common decency. If conservatives take issue, seeing X as a matter of paramount principle -- that is called using a wedge issue. Instantly deserving of casting the conservative opponents into the outer darkness.

One can look across the decades -- from debates on the New Deal in the 1930s to Alger Hiss and the role of communists in the U.S. Government in the 1940s all the way to current debates on climate change (those who disagree are called, with a lovely nod to the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews, “deniers”), abortion (pro-lifers are “bullies”) and gay rights (where a simple “bigot” will do) -- and see the pattern of intolerance for intellectual engagement at work. 

What Christie did with the Hurricane Sandy bill and what GOP Proud does with gay issues is to, as Buckley noted, do exactly what liberals do. To wit: see their “opinions, ideas and evaluations” as “revealed truths.” Which leads to the “tacit premise that debate is ridiculous.”

Liberals, as Buckley understood, don’t want debate. They demand acceptance.

What’s happened in this latest instance on the gay marriage issue is that President Obama abruptly changed his mind on gay marriage. So now the rest of us should hop to and agree the Supreme Court should upend the consent of the governed in 37 states? Debate, you see, is ridiculous. Except when a liberal president says it’s OK -- if, that is, you agree with him.

And so it goes.

William F. Buckley did not, in fact, write CPAC’s mission statement. But he could have.

Because Mr. Buckley understood that CPAC is not designed to be the Big Tent.

CPAC is the Conservative Tent.

Photo: UPI

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.