The CPAC Boycott

John Stapelton's article on 2/8 "Get Back to CPAC" and the ensuing debate on the comment boards underscore the great divide of the center-right movement in America today. But contrary to Mr. Stapleton's assertion, the boycott is not an act of cowardice, rather it is an important development for the future of the freedom movement.


The active boycott by groups like Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council, and Concerned Women of America has created another opportunity for dialogue about the differences between social and fiscal conservatives. For social conservatives, the stand in defense of marriage is not about exclusion but about defending the principles and moral norms that have "kept us and preserved us a nation."

And there's the rub.

From the tea party crowd, we hear a consistent drum beat of smaller government, lower taxes, and individual liberty. The "Don't Tread on Me" slogan has become popular again. But are these the fundamental principles that if applied will lead to greater freedom and prosperity? Is freedom best achieved when government just "leaves us alone?"

Social conservatives would rightly answer, "No."

Social conservatives are not arguing that runaway, government spending and overreaching, federal agencies do not pose an immediate threat to our freedom. They do, and the Tea Party has done a terrific job confronting the threat.

What social conservatives correctly argue is that the threat to marriage and other social norms and values are no less real. And that if we focus on spending or regulation alone we become like the doctor who gives a patient medicine to treat obvious external symptoms but ignores an underlying pattern of destructive behavior.

Perhaps it would help both sides if we think about fiscal and social conservatism in terms of a math equation where:

SC [social conservatism] + FC [fiscal conservatism] = LF [lasting freedom].

If we remove one of the variables (in the form of lower taxes and less government regulation or stable families and moral norms) on the left side of the equation, we cannot expect a lasting freedom. The equation just doesn't add up.

Put another way by one commenter to Mr. Stapleton's article, "If being economically wise is the heart of conservatism, then the social issues, its soul."

For those who are still in doubt as to the validity of the aforementioned equation, we need look no further than communism, the antithesis of small unobtrusive government.

As part of the takeover of power in Russia, communists first sought to destroy and weaken the two key social pillars of a free society: 1) the natural family and 2) faith or religiosity. Once these were destroyed the vacuum created enabled the communist government to easily step in and fill the void.

The lesson for fiscal conservatives today is that in the fertile ground of a culture of divorce, abortion, a vocal gay-rights movement and the general breakdown moral norms are sown the seeds for massive government growth. To a large extent, we have already watched this growth happen.

Noted columnist Walter Williams wrote, "Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we've become."

That last line is perhaps the most important. We cannot expect smaller government if we are unwilling to promote and secure those moral norms that provide the backbone (or civilization) upon which a limited, unobtrusive government can thrive. As John Adams famously warned, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Ed Feulner, president of the same Heritage Foundation and that is boycotting CPAC, likes to say that the family is the best department of education, health and corrections. These departments are as extensive as they are in a large measure because we do not have the family structure underneath to support and protect a truly limited form of government.

From this vantage point, it becomes much easier to see why the definition of marriage and the defense of the natural family are not as one commenter to Mr. Stapelton's article declared a "boutique issue" but a central issue to social conservatives.

In this light, the boycott becomes an effort to strengthen the supports of the conservative tent versus an attempt to "exclude" or "isolate." Only then, under the cover of that solid structure, can we expect to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" and propel America toward a the kind of smaller, unobtrusive government every conservative hopes for.

Lyall Swim is a partner at Junto Communications. He is the author of an ongoing series of commentaries on George Washington's Rules of Civility on
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