Atlas Ideas: CPAC 2009—A Focus on Freedom

The Atlas Society's picture
Submitted by The Atlas Society on Sat, 2009-03-07 22:23

March 6. 2009 -- Republicans and conservatives are not synonymous, nor are conservatives and friends of freedom. But after the 2008 Republican electoral fiasco, in large part due to their abandonment of the principles of freedom, many conservatives are recommitting themselves to those principles.

This commitment was on display at the February 26-28, 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). This event brings together conservatives and those who would make common cause with them on various issues. The first CPAC was held in 1973 with 125 participants. Ronald Reagan gave the keynote speech. In 2008 some 7,300 were in attendance; this year around 8,500 packed several ballrooms to hear the cream of the conservative crop and to show that the obituaries for the movement were premature.

The event can be viewed as an indication of what political activists will be focusing on in the future; the event gives us some hope for the future fight for freedom.

Three-Part Conservatism

Speakers at CPAC are chosen by the event's sponsoring organizations and reflect the different perspectives in the conservative movement.

The movement is a sometimes-uneasy, sometimes-conflicting coalition of individuals with interests in three major policy arenas. First, most economic conservatives oppose the growth of government spending, interference in the economy, and redistribution of wealth. They favor low taxes, minimal government regulations, and protection of private property. A minority of populist conservatives-Mike Huckabee, who spoke at CPAC; Pat Buchanan-favor "family-promoting" economic policies or trade protectionist policies that limit economic liberty.

Second, most foreign policy conservatives favor a strong and active national defense, in the past to oppose the spread of communism, today to counter Islamist fanaticism. A strong neo-conservative minority have favored a Wilsonian-like crusade to spread democracy. A smaller minority of traditional conservatives would reserve the use of military force for responses to direct attacks, believing other uses don't aid our security. All factions are concerned with loss of American sovereignty through the expansion of trans-national regulations in the name of the environment or economic coordination.

Third, social conservatives, usually with religious agendas, would actually limit individual freedom in the name of protecting the moral foundations of American society. Some, like Rick Santorum-who spoke at CPAC-reject the notion that the principal role of government is to protect individual liberty, believing that state power should be used to strengthen traditional families. It is over these matters that the movement has its most internal conflicts, and they rightly concern libertarians, Objectivists, and friends of freedom.

The CPAC Snapshot

This year's CPAC offered a useful snapshot of the state of the conservative movement. Of the 8,500 registrants, 59 percent were 25 years old or younger, most of them students. This large number suggests a good future cadre of political activists, think-tank scholars, journalists.

Most interesting this year were the priorities of the attendees. A survey by Fabrizio-McLaughlin asked which one of three choices "comes closest to your core beliefs and ideology." Of 1,757 respondents, a whooping 74 percent said their most important goal was "to promote individual freedom by reducing the size and scope of government and its intrusion into the lives of its citizens." Only 15 percent answered "to promote traditional values by protecting marriage and protecting the unborn." And 10 percent at most wanted "to secure and guarantee American safety at home and abroad regardless of the cost or the size of government."

The survey then asked more specific questions. Some 27 percent identified "reducing the size of government" as the issue most important to them and 16 percent identified it as their second most important issue. Concerning "reducing government spending," 9 percent ranked it the number one concern and 15 percent placed it second. The war on terror was most important to 12 percent, with 11 percent ranking it second. And 9 percent named "lowering taxes" as most important, with 13 percent ranking it second.

Since CPAC attendees are a self-selected group of the most passionate activists, these results are encouraging for friends of freedom. The pro-freedom convictions of conservatives are what most motivate them at this time. The prospects of unprecedented government spending and growing control of the economy by Obama and Congressional Democrats has focused their attention on this purpose more than at any time in the recent past. And the parade of speakers and panels at CPAC both emphasized the deadly seriousness of the current political and economic situation and provided much intellectual ammunition with which to fight for freedom.

Rep. Ryan and Rand

The keynote speaker at the 2009 CPAC and a true rising star was Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Ryan, whose theme was "Our Founding Principles: The Conservative Roadmap for America's Future."

Ryan argued that with the economy in decline in 2008 the voters punished the party in power-the Republicans. But he observes that Americans voted for sound economic policies and that Obama and the Democrats have offered an economic monstrosity. He fears that their plan "threatens to radically alter the relationship between America's citizens and our government." With "$56 trillion in promised entitlement spending that we haven't funded" Ryan says such plans will "transform our entrepreneurial economy into European-style socialism." The result: "Citizens who had governed themselves will become mere subjects of the state-more concerned about security than liberty. Once we reach this 'tipping point,' the friends of freedom will be reduced to silence."

Ryan hit the moral nail on the head when he said that the kind of regime pushed by Obama and the Democrats "suffocates individual initiative and transforms self-reliance into a vice and government dependency into a virtue."

This is a message that the friends of freedom must make Americans understand. Many conservatives see the most important moral challenge as returning to what they identify as "family values." But most important to both individual happiness and belief in freedom is a morality of true individualism, which includes taking responsibility for one's life and taking the initiative required to achieve one's productive goals and personal values. A nation of dependent sheep will welcome servitude and their own enslavement, shackling the rest of us in the process.

Ryan enumerated principles of the Declaration of Independence as the standards that should guide conservatives and he offered a list of priorities that he hoped would spark debate and energize the movement. Most welcome was the first one on his list: "It is time to restore the Constitution's guarantee of sound and stable money." In addition to federal housing policy that contributed to the current crisis, the Federal Reserve's pumping up the monetary supply after 2001 provided the fuel for the fire. It's time to discuss getting rid of the Fed entirely!

Ryan outlined the causes of the current crisis and denounced the Democrats' "audacious scheme: Set off a series of regulatory blunders and congressional meddling, blame the free market for the financial crisis that follows-then use this excuse to impose a more intrusive state. Sounds like something right out of an Ayn Rand novel."

Energy and Putting People First

Carrying on a theme from last year that is even more important with the White House and Congress in the hands of the radical left, this year's CPAC highlighted the full-scale war on energy and human beings in the name of protecting the environment.

On the energy panel Niger Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality energized the audience with a stirring speech on how the poor most of all would be harmed by the "let's cut down on use" proposals of this administration.

Another conference highlight was clips from the upcoming film, Not Evil, Just Wrong, by the Irish producer-couple Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer. Two disillusioned former leftists, the duo several years ago produced the film Mine Your Own Business, which showed the motivations of those who would stop mining companies from opening operations in less developed countries like Romania, Mozambique, and Chile as well as the terrible consequences to those countries' people struggling to survive and to obtain the fruits of modernity.

In their new film they take on Al Gore and the global warming crowd. This film promises to be as powerful as their first. In addition to debunking the bad science behind this movement, it focuses on the sheer arrogance and disregard for people in the movement's members. We hear, for example, actor Ed Begley Jr. saying that he's seen the poor of Fiji and can tell by the look on their faces that they're really happy living in their destitution. That's not what the poor themselves say when interviewed for the film.

McElhinney and McAleer suggest a test: How many liberals would be willing to give their mothers one way tickets to live in a third-world village and cancel their moms' passports so they can share the "happiness" forever?

The only exception one might take to Not Evil, Just Wrong is to the first part of the title.

The Real Rush

The biggest newsmaker from this year's CPAC was radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, whose speech was broadcast live on the Fox News Channel and C-SPAN. Rush emphasized what he'd said on his show and in this newsletter: "I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation."

In their coverage, most of the mainstream media spun the story as Rush wanting Obama to fail to fix the economy, thus leaving Americans in dire economic straits. They ignored the "if" part of his statement. The Obama White House quickly assembled had a team of old Clintonites to dub Limbaugh the real head of the Republican Party. They wanted to drive a wedge between Limbaugh's supporters and those Republicans who think he's too radical. This seemed one part of a Nixonian "enemy's list" approach that targeted other critics of the administration.

So CPAC acted as a catalyst to expose the depth of commitment this president, who still has high personal approval ratings, to use any sleazy tactics to restrict freedom and remake the nation just as Limbaugh described.

The Future Fate of Freedom

While Objectivists and libertarians have philosophical disagreements with various conservatives on particular issues, this year's CPAC suggests that conservatives are more focused and energized to battle for what too many Republicans turned their backs on during the Bush years: economic liberty and limited government. This recommitment hopefully will help the Republicans to continue to show some backbone and to begin to articulate exactly what is a stake in America today: the future fate of freedom.
Hudgins directs advocacy efforts at The Atlas Society.

For further reading:

*Edward Hudgins, "Freedom's Filmmaker." The New Individualist, March 2007.

*Robert Bidinotto, "Up From Conservatism." The New Individualist, March 2007.

*Edward Hudgins, "The Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party." The New Individualist, Fall 2006.

( categories: )

The war on gay marriage is

kaiwai's picture

The war on gay marriage is the same war that is waged on freedom - be it economic or social. The two are interlinked together. One only needs to look at the flirtation with socialism Republicans did for 8 years under Bush.

Freedom is freedom, regardless of whether it takes the form of economic or social.

Here's the thing...

Robert's picture

The Same Sex Marriage amendments in the CA constitution were voted down by Religious Democrats as well... That particular back hander gained most of its staying power from the Hispanic and African American Parishes if the exit polls are to be believed.

And yet the Gay-activists who are beating their chests over this are only targeting Mormons and such. Now why is that do you think?

And I think that people's priorities will be realigned by the Bush/Obama war on capital.

Thanks "someone!"

Ed Hudgins's picture

Thanks "someone!"


Lindsay Perigo's picture

P.S. - If Linz or someone can figure out how to make the chnage on this post (add the "and") which I can't figure out how to do, it would clear but future confusion. Thanks!


Linz or someone.

P.S. - If Linz or someone

Ed Hudgins's picture

P.S. - If Linz or someone can figure out how to make the chnage on this post (add the "and") which I can't figure out how to do, it would clear but future confusion. Thanks!

There was a typo in the

Ed Hudgins's picture

There was a typo in the first lineof the emailed version of this piece. (The web version is correct.) It should read "Republicans and conservatives are not synonymous, nor are conservatives AND friends of freedom." Meaning that conservatives and friends of freedom are not synonymous. Hopefully this will clear up some of the discussion. -- Ed

Sorry to say but the moment

kaiwai's picture

Sorry to say but the moment when I see 'conservatives' stop blaming people like me for the downfall of America - then maybe I'll see a conservatives embracing freedom and liberty.

When conservatives get up and start claiming that terrorism, financial collapse, the expansion of the government, intrusion into personal lives by these said departments, political corruption via collusion between economics are all secondary to the 'war' against same sex marriage - you know they've lost the plot.

For the Republican's to ever gain credibility in my mind it would require the purging of the religious right and neo-conservatives - until then the only real 'conservatives' left seem to sit in the Libertarian Party.

By the way...

Jeff Perren's picture

"after the 2008 Republican electoral fiasco, in large part due to their abandonment of the principles of freedom, many conservatives are recommitting themselves to those principles."

I know of no conservative who abandoned his or her principles favoring freedom, and therefore none who have to "recommit." The author seems, despite his very early distinction, to be again equating Republicans, and Republican politicians at that, with conservatives.

McCain was no conservative despite his attempts to paint himself with those colors during the campaign, and vanishingly few conservatives I know (a very large number) thought he was. Most were willing to hold his nose until it bled and vote for McCain because of the alternative with which they were faced. We see the results of that alternative in action today.

I suspect, though admittedly I'm speculating here about what generates such statements, that the author spends too much time with politicians and lobbyists, and too little time actually reading what conservatives say and observing what they do.

Conservatives: Friends of Freedom

Jeff Perren's picture

"nor are conservatives friends of freedom"

Whoever believes this either has philosophical blinders on or needs to do more research. The only way this can be maintained is by equating conservatives with most Republican politicians and/or people similar to Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, both of whom represent a small minority among conservatives. Even among social conservatives, the percentage is small that favor having the State enforce their moral views.

It's true that conservative candidates and - more importantly - voters make many serious philosophical errors in their defense of liberty. But that is not at all the same thing as being an enemy of it.

The article's body then goes on to contradict this bad beginning by actually showing how freedom-friendly most conservatives really are, and are likely to become even more so in the near future.

Addendum added in edit:

Here is an example of the article contradicting itself.

"Many conservatives see the most important moral challenge as returning to what they identify as 'family values.' "

Yet the poll results cited just above this statement show that it is false. Also, you can scan major conservative sites like HotAir, PowerLine, Michelle Malkin, and others for months and never see those words, much less their use as an argument or desideratum.

One will, occasionally, see references to traditional values, by which conservatives very often mean things like: self-reliance, taking responsibility for one's choices, respecting others, willingness to work hard for what one gets, etc. One would hope that (while the formulation may be less than ideal) these are values that Objectivists can find amenable, if not downright laudable.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.