Is CPAC Getting Less Crazy?

Conservatives are taking baby steps to lighten up at their annual convention by allowing a Muslim to join a panel and a gay group to attend.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty

For years I thought that the “C” in CPAC stood for crazy. And I’m not saying that because I believe that conservatives inherently have a mental disorder. (For the record, I don’t.) What I mean is that over the past few years, the American Conservative Union’s annual conservative political convention has increasingly become a showcase for the worst of the right.

Who can forget the 2012 CPAC panel, “The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity is Wweakening the American Identity?” This program featured Peter Brimelow, a person the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) described as leading, “a race-baiting hate group that warns against the pollution of America by non-whites, Catholics, and Spanish-speaking immigrants.

There were vile, anti-Muslim speakers who fanned the flames of hatred against all Muslims under the guise of warning people about extremists. I won’t even include the names of these despicable bigots because they don’t deserve the attention, but these very people have been identified as leaders of hate groups by the SPLC as well as denounced as extremist hate mongers by The Anti-Defamation League.

And in 2011, CPAC decided to no longer allow the gay Republican group, GOProud, play in their conservative reindeer games. Why? Right wing groups like The Heritage Foundation and the conservative Christian organization, The Family Research Council, objected to their continued inclusion. As I wrote about last week, some conservatives are really freaked out by gays.

But it appears that things may be changing for the better. At this year’s CPAC, which will be held March 6 to 8, we don’t see speakers from hate groups or panels representing the dark, underbelly of American society. Instead, the focus is on public policy and mainstream political issues, such as, “The American Dream vs. The Obama Nightmare: Income Inequality.” (Translation: “Greed is Good.”) There's one about how to free your State from those dastardly unions. And there’s the panel with the longest title ever: “Healthcare After Obamacare: A Practical Guide for Living When No One Has Insurance and America Runs Out of Doctors.” (Doesn’t anyone at CPAC know how to edit?!”)

There’s even one panel I would love to attend: “Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?” My answer is “no” if they stay true to their principles, but you never know what bedfellows you may find at CPAC.

And, in a sign of greater inclusiveness, CPAC invited GOProud to again be a part of this right wing version of Comic Con. There’s even a Muslim on a CPAC panel: Dr. Zuhdi Jasser. While I strongly disagree with Jasser on certain issues, I’m still happy to see a Muslim-American at CPAC as a speaker as opposed to being demonized as a menace to society.

Amazingly, CPAC’s organizers even invited an atheist group to participate—at least for a few days. They ultimately rescinded the invitation when conservatives like Brent Bozell expressed outrage about the inclusion. At least we have to assume Bozell made that statement because we recently learned he wasn’t actually writing his own articles, but secretly had them ghost written.

But don’t get me wrong, CPAC is still offering some speakers who spew a lot of ignorant crap. There’s birther extraordinaire Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson who likened gays to people who rape dogs and molest children.

And one of the big names at CPAC is none other than Sarah Palin. Say what you will about Palin, but…Nope, I actually can’t think of any thinking redeeming to say about her. Although without Palin, there would only be two female speakers of the 25 total speakers at this year’s CPAC.

The question is whether CPAC made a strategic decision to eliminate hate and increase inclusivity? So I reached out to CPAC’s Communication Director Meghan Snyder to find an answer, but alas no response. But being optimist that I am, I prefer to believe it was an intentional decision.

In any event, perhaps this is a model for RNC Chair Reince Priebus to follow. Priebus has been flailing about trying to rein in the more extreme voices in his Party in the hopes of becoming (or at least appearing) more welcoming to different minority groups. Well, it appears CPAC is doing just that by not allowing its resources to be used as a platform for hatemongers and by publicly welcoming diverse groups under the conservative tent, including gays, minorities and even a Muslim or two!

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We will see how CPAC 2014 plays out. My hopefulness for a CPAC convention that is heavy on policy and light on polemics may go by the way side depending what speakers actually have to say.

And while I disagree with conservatives on a long list of issues, I would be the first to applaud CPAC if they continue down this path. Not only is a more reasonable and less inflammatory CPAC good for conservatives, it could ultimately lead to more civility in our political discourse—which is something that’s good for all of us.