IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

My answer to the Conservative Political Action Conference

So last week, I was surprised and oddly delighted by something that my friend Rachel Maddow also picked up on:
In this Feb. 19, 2010 file photo, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist jokes around as he is introduced prior to addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. For two decades, Norquist has been the driving...
In this Feb. 19, 2010 file photo, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist jokes around as he is introduced prior to addressing the Conservative...

So last week, I was surprised and oddly delighted by something that my friend Rachel Maddow also picked up on:

"They have invited Chris Hayes to CPAC this year, Chris Hayes host of Up w/ Chris Hayes here on msnbc invited to speak on a panel with Ralph Reed...I don't know if he's going to go, but it's cool that they asked him."

Yes, the legendary Conservative Political Action Conference had invited yours truly to participate at its 40th annual conference this March. I was specifically invited to be part of a panel called: "CSI Washington, D.C.: November 2012 Autopsy" along with Ann Marie Buerkle, John Fund, Michael Barone and Ralph Reed. I would be among 10,000 hard core conservative activists gracing the same stage as everyone from Marco Rubio to Sarah Palin to Mitt Romney, who have used the occasion to flaunt their conservative bona fides.

The form letter invitation I received even paid me the odd compliment of calling me "one of America's leading conservative voices."

"As one of America's leading conservative voices, your participation in CPAC 2013 will be critical in our efforts to unite and energize conservatives."

My initial reaction was: of course I'll go! As someone who attempts to convene discussions across various ideological boundaries, I have a special appreciation for CPAC's willingness to invite someone with my politics to speak to the attendees. And as someone who regularly invites conservatives to sit at our table with a bunch of liberals, leftists and progressives, it seems only sporting (and karmically appropriate) for me to accept.

But then I remembered, thanks to a number of conservatives in my twitter feed, a pretty gross episode from 2011.

That year the board of the American Conservative Union, which sponsors CPAC, voted to ban the gay conservative group GOProud from sponsoring the 2012 conference. GOProud was founded in 2009 by two former Log Cabin Republican staffers and its co-founder Chris Barron told me that one of the first things they did was send a check to the ACU to co-sponsor CPAC. They were accepted as sponsors in 2010 and in 2011, but social conservatives mobilized against them and ultimately prevailed.

As far as GOProud knows the policy is still in effect. So I wrote back to Al Cardenas who runs the ACU in a letter yesterday and asked whether the policy is still in effect. If it isn't, I told him, I'm psyched to go and if it is, well, I'll wait until it changes, which is, really, just a matter of time.

Now I should be clear, GOProud is not an organization I share much with ideologically, or even, truth be told, like all that much. They come out of the Breitbart wing of the conservative movement that seems to relish nothing more than pissing off liberals.

GOProud is not really the point. The point is the principle, which is: it's not OK to ban organizations for reasons of pure bigotry. But the ACU does this because there's a powerful constituency within conservatism that won't have it any other way. It may not even be a majority of conservatives at this point, as a number of conservatives have said to me, but the bigots have enough juice that they call the shots.

And this kind of sums up the whole problem of the contemporary conservative movement and the Republican Party, doesn't it? Maybe because I'm a squish, or, in the immortal words of Abbie Hoffman, a liberal who won't take his own side in the argument, I always want to find the important, redeemable, salvageable aspects of conservatism--a salutary caution about radical change, a skepticism of bureaucratic dysfunction and the perils of central planning, reverence for institutions, but then sometimes, I kind of feel like conservatism and the Republican Party it largely controls is just the name we give for a variety of interests ruthlessly devoted to hierarchy and exclusion: keeping those people, whoever they might be, out.

The grand irony is that this year's CPAC will largely be devoted to debating and brainstorming how to resurrect the electoral fortunes of conservatism in a country in which "those people" now make up a majority, and there are, as GOProud co-founder Chris Barron pointed out to me, several panels even explicitly devoted to inclusion. All this while GOProud is still exiled.

In the last few months there has been an absolute avalanche of articles and blog posts and essays and magazine cover stories and TV segments about How to Save the Republican Party, but is the Republican party worth saving?