The Conservative Political Action Conference’s decision to bar the controversial gay conservative group GoProud from participating in its event next year has received a lot of criticism from activists on the right who see this as unfair and discriminatory. But there’s also a potential long-term ramification here. If CPAC caves to outside controversy and blocks one contentious group from participating, then it sets a precedent that could lead to other organizations getting blackballed in the future.
There’s a classic episode of “South Park” in which Cartman sets out on a mission to get a “Family Guy” episode pulled, ostensibly because it’s offensive to Muslims. But Cartman has an ulterior motive: if he succeeds at censoring just one controversial “Family Guy” show, that will lead to the censorship of future episodes that might be offensive to other groups. Here’s Cartman’s explanation:
“It’s simple television economics, Kyle. All it takes to kill a show forever is to get one episode pulled. If we convince the network to pull this episode for the sake of Muslims, then the Catholics can demand a show that they don’t like get pulled. And then people with disabilities can demand another show get pulled, and so on and so on, until ‘Family Guy’ is no more. It’s exactly what happened to ‘Laverne and Shirley.’”
The conservative movement is notoriously ideologically diverse, striking a delicate balance between factions that’s often compared to a three-legged stool. There are even intense disagreements within the broad categories of social conservatism, fiscal conservatism and foreign policy conservatism.
By yielding to the protests of one of these blocs, CPAC is declaring open season on all of its co-sponsors. The libertarians can demand the Keep America Safe be cut, the value voters can protest the Campaign for Liberty, and so on.
This is already beginning to happen to some extent. In addition to its decision on GoProud, CPAC also considered banning anti-sharia crusader David Horowitz from co-sponsoring the event, after other activists complained about him. In the end, CPAC decided to allow him to participate. But what if Horowitz’s critics come back with an even stronger campaign against him next year? Would CPAC cave to that, too?
Obviously, there has to be some regulation to ensure groups working against the conservative cause aren’t officially participating in the conference. But letting petty, intra-movement disputes govern the event isn’t the way to do it.