The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is taking a lot of guff, and rightly so, from conservatives over excluding Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and gay rights groups such as GOProud from its gathering later this month.
But rather than stay away from CPAC, conservatives who recognize the self-destructive aspects of the movement should discuss their concerns openly and candidly. The most valuable conservatives are the ones willing to convey hard truths.
Those who say that the right needs only to be more articulate and more forceful in defense of the exact same agenda are kidding themselves. Those who say they can't find common ground with gay conservatives who believe in capitalism, Second Amendment rights and federalism are harming the movement, the party and the country.
Those who refuse to recognize that we will not deport 11 million immigrants who came here illegally are in Never Never Land and are defending a lawless system, not the "rule of law."
It is also time to stop complaining about the left and the voters. Conservatives sound too whiny; victimhood is unappealing. They need to be forward-looking, optimistic and practical. It is not enough to be against Obamacare. They must be for market-based health-care reform. It is insufficient to be against excessive spending. They must be for entitlement and tax reform. It's not enough to rail against the breakdown of the family. They must be for policies that encourage and sustain marriage and make child rearing easier and less costly. It's not going to work just to inveigh against teachers unions; conservatives have to enact school reform, including school choice.
Conservatives have to look at fellow Americans who didn't vote for the GOP last time and consider what in the conservative pantheon of ideas is going to capture their imagination and address their needs. And they have to stop fighting battles that Americans don't want them to fight and stop talking only to themselves. States are not going to un-legalize gay marriage.
CPAC should pass out the writings of theorists Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. They were practical and prudent, and they understood that we cannot remake our fellow citizens or reinvent their habits and inclinations. They understood that limited government is not an end unto itself but a guarantee of liberty. And they knew that by rejecting the utopianism of the left and remaining grounded in the world around us, Americans can expand freedom and create a prosperous, vibrant and decent society.
The leaders of CPAC and many in the conservative movement have lost track of that. They are creatures of the 1980s, when our problems, our country and the world were different. They became so adept at the politics of the 1980s that they never left that decade. Younger conservatives have to take the movement into their own hands, refurbish it, revitalize it, cast off what is not relevant and persuade others to join the movement. That is the only way conservatism survives.