The following piece was originally published at a student journal in 2012, but taken down by editors after Republican donors complained and threatened to pull funds. It has since been edited for brevity.
We were somewhere around Amelia Island when the fine wine began to take hold. I remember leaning over to one of my colleagues and saying something like, “I feel a bit lightheaded, maybe you should sit through this.” Then suddenly there was this terrible roar, and all around us, hundreds of conservatives stood from their tables to applause a giant Ronald Reagan painting on the main stage. Then it was quiet again.
This was evening number three at The State Policy Network’s 20th annual meeting, and I was doing anything I could to maintain a poker face while Grover Norquist stood behind a squealing microphone and lauded Ronald Reagan as the greatest assemblage of tissue and cells to ever grace planet earth.
The meeting, however, which spread four days and encompassed roughly 700 activists, wasn’t about living in the past. Instead it was about looking ahead and giving likeminded liberty aficionados from around the United States an opportunity to network and exchange ideas.
But while the alcohol may have flowed like there wasn’t a care in the universe, behind the inebriated smiles rested an unmistakable philosophical divide too big to ignore: though Republicans and libertarians share common ground on economic issues, they still wield two very different—still yet to be resolved—social visions for the future of the country.
Nowhere was this clearer than during a panel discussion I attended about how to broaden the umbrella of the Republican Party. Intrigued by the panel’s self-professed “anti-establishment” conservatives, I listened closely, hoping I might actually hear a few contrite admissions on gay marriage and immigration.
I was gravely mistaken. Rather than an earnest and enlightened discussion about reigning in the Tea Party’s inflammatory rhetoric, or conceding America’s pigmentation and social views have altered and evolved, discourse instead revolved around the notion that Republicans merely lost November’s election because they weren’t “conservative enough,” paving the way for a stunning exhibition of willful and malevolent denial.
If conservatives actually believed in free markets and individual freedom, maybe that would be true. The problem is conservatives don’t. Conservatives instead routinely condemn and admonish both in the name of moral absolutism and subjectivity, even if it means resorting to governmental coercion.
The lone exception to this standard is Ron Paul and, to some extent, his son. That being said, other Republicans have also begun to see the writing on the wall.
This past January Rubio criticized conservatives saying: “For those of us who come from the conservative movement, we must admit that there are those among us who have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable, inexcusable, and we must admit, myself included, that sometimes we’ve been too slow in condemning that language for what it is…”
Rubio is right. However, a handful of dissenting Republicans on a single issue are hardly adequate to convert an entire party whose broader fanatical nucleus still insists “the gays” are tarnishing Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” Never mind the ignorant assumption one’s sexuality somehow correlates with one’s economic and/or systemic views. Never mind the economic benefits of immigration.
The real tragedy is Reagan was far from a “limited government” conservative. Reagan, in fact, not only tripled the national debt, increased federal aid, and added more than 230,000 federal jobs during his time in office, but supported abortion in California as governor and granted Amnesty to roughly 3 million illegal immigrants in 1986 (his one noble accomplishment).
And then there are the conservatives who worship at his altar. Indeed, I have gay friends who, despite limited government views, choose to identify as classical liberals because of the incendiary rhetoric on the right. In addition, having spent my entire life in cities predominantly comprised of Latinos, I have witnessed the hardworking contributions of both documented and undocumented immigrants firsthand, and recognize the devastating effects those cities would sustain if the federal government were to “throw them all out.”
Differences between libertarians and Republicans aside, however, the State Policy Network organized a worthwhile event. The hotel was great. The food was superb. And I had the wonderful opportunity to meet a lot of splendid individuals—they just weren’t conservative Republicans.
Then again, who knows. Perhaps after a few more general election losses, the Republican Party will finally bring itself to acknowledge what the rest of the country already recognizes—the world is round.
Until then, keep the fine wine coming.
Brandon Loran Maxwell