During the CPAC panel, “Why Conservatism is Right for Women: How Conservatives Should Talk About Life, Prosperity & National Security” five conservative women did a decent job pitching conservatives on women, but neglected to provide a roadmap for pitching women on conservatism.
They noted CPAC’s own lapses (only one woman spoke on stage during the first day of the conference, most female speakers were placed on Saturday, the worst attended day) and said a positive effort was required to recruit women as leaders and voters.
But, if they came with a message for conservatives to hear from women, the speakers on the panel had scant advice for how conservatives should speak to women. The entire discussion was light on references to specific policy, save for when Sabrina Schaeffer of the Independent Women’s Forum endorsed guns at universities, saying, “You really want your daughter to be defenseless on a college campus without a gun?”
Instead of contrasting Republican and Democratic policies, the speakers contrasted the narratives and expectations of both parties. Kate Obenshain, the author of Divider in Chief, said that discrimination was a real problem, but only Republicans empowered women by not casting them as ”a victim class.”
The moderator, Tammy Bruce of The Washington Times, agreed, heaping scorn on Democratic women who, she said, talk about supporting women, while, in reality, “Liberals infantilize women by saying the government needs to take care of them.” The other women on the panel cheered.
But the women’s own remarks cast conservatives into a victim class of sorts, oppressed by some outside, unreasonable force, that could respond only to power, not to persuasion or negotiation. In order to build a coalition of and for women, these speakers might have done better to crib from the rhetorical strategies Rand Paul used in his speech at CPAC.
Paul opened by saying that his remarks were addressed not to Republicans, but to all “lovers of liberty,” which excluded some of his audience but also proffered an invitation to people outside the usual CPAC crowd. The first thinker and activist he referenced was William Lloyd Garrison, the unflinching abolitionist. From there, he proceeded to trace out a series of attempted tyrannies in American history, and the men and women who, in the words of Garrison, were “as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice” in opposing them.
He strung together the generalized warrants issued by the British that helped spark the Revolutionary war, the wide abuses of slavery and Japanese internment, the personal persecution endured by Richard Jewell, falsely accused of 1996 Olympic bombing, to the present lawlessness of the NSA. His story was united to the past accomplishments of activists, including those who might agree with him on civil liberties but disagree with him on economic or foreign policy. Paul was making a claim about intersectionality, that groups with different personal interests share a broader interest in opposing all tools that could be used for oppression.
The speakers at the women’s panel would have benefited by making a similar appeal to the victories of the past and looking for bridges of solidarity. It is doubtful that the suffragettes known as “iron jawed angels” for persisting in hunger strikes for the right to vote felt infantilized by their struggle.
By speaking solely in terms of contempt and condemnation about liberal women, the panelists precluded the kind of solidarity that Rand’s speech offered. If they want the Republican party to offer a compelling message to female voters, it won’t be enough just to elect women, if all they have to offer is a negative message. The Republican party won’t be persuasive unless it can consistently recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of the women’s rights movement, and tell a compelling story to establish their policies as an extension of that legacy.
They could tell a different story, about the powers that women sought and what they used them for. Carrie Nation sought the vote not just as a symbol of equality, but because the exclusion of women from the polling place meant that the needs of the family were ill-served by the government. She fought against drunkenness, but women today might fight for maternity and paternity leave.
Betty Friedan told the stories of women who were left adrift when they were still expected to be housewives, even as the work of running a household had been automated away. They wanted to enter the workforce, not just to make money, but to stop being isolated. Learning from her example, we might speak up for the workers whose factory jobs are being automated away or the college students who enter a hopeless job market, trying not only to make them financially stable, but to secure them the dignity of work and to strengthen the local institutions that offer community and relationships.
Tell a story about how women sought rights in order to be able to fully live out their responsibilities to their families, communities, and nation, and then you’ll be ready to ask to carry on the torch they bore.
If only Nixon could go to China, then, in the opinion of Grover Norquist, only conservatives can reform the criminal justice system.
The president of Americans for Tax Reform joined Texas Governor Rick Perry and former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik to speak against mandatory minimum sentences and in favor of a criminal justice system more focused on rehabilitation than simple retribution. As Perry put it, “We’re not a soft on crime state, but I hope we get the reputation of being a smart on crime state.”
Kerik has experienced the criminal justice system from both sides, first as a cop, then as an inmate when he pled guilty to eight felony tax and false statement charges. He spent three years in jail, but was able to resume his life and his consultancy work when he was freed. That opportunity isn’t available to most felons, he pointed out. In his experience,
I was sentenced to three years, I knew men who were sentenced to a year and a day, but it’s not really a year and a day. A felony conviction is a life sentence. … You can’t punish people for life for making a mistake
Perry agreed with Kerik, saying that the mandatory minimums and other sentencing guidelines are “a really bad concept.” Long jail stays are costly to the state (which must feed and house criminals) and to the prisoners themselves (who spend more time adrift). He’s worked to shorten sentences where it’s safe to do so, and, as a result, Texas closed two prisons last August.
Perry may seem like an unlikely spokesman for criminal justice reform, having come under fire from reform groups like the Innocence Project, which has repeatedly petitioned to commute death penalty sentences without success. But Perry draws a distinction between death penalty or life without parole sentences, which are intended to sunder a criminal permanently from civil society, and shorter sentences, which, due to a dearth of rehabilitation programs, leave criminals unprepared for reintegration and force a de facto separation. Read More…
It might be a tradition that every year that GOProud is excluded as a CPAC sponsor, there will be a stealth panel on gay marriage.
In 2013, that slot was filled by the “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet” panel, which was the standing-room only panel thrown unofficially by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. This year, the gay rights debate happened on the mainstage at during “Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?”
The social conservatives tried to pitch their issues within a libertarian framework. Dr. Matt Spalding of the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center at Hillsdale College acknowledged he differed with some of his fellow panelists on gay marriage, but said, referencing the conscience exemption carveouts, “We must have an agreement on religious liberty.”
Alexander McCobin of Students for Liberty fired back that libertarians were a little more worried about the religious liberty of couples and pastors in churches that conduct gay weddings, which are not acknowledged by their governments.
Spalding tried speaking in libertarian terms again, saying that, by default, conservatives should view any government institution with suspicion and that activists must address “whether the State has an obligation to recognize marriage at all.” In his view, traditional, one-man-one-woman marriage is “like gravity” a law external to the government, not written by it. Private contracts were a different matter, he said, but, for the public institution of marriage, the old tradition is “the only definition that makes sense.”
Throughout the panel, the social conservatives seemed to be soliciting the help of the libertarians, trying to speak their language, while the libertarians seemed indifferent to the idea of converting social conservatives. The libertarians answered the questions that were posed to them but made no parallel attempts to appeal to socially conservative tenets in order to attract their fellow panelists to libertarian positions.
The closest the libertarians came to trying to attract social conservatives, rather than just rebut them, was when Matt Welch of Reason argued that religion benefits from a free market in churches and contrasted the vibrancy of American churches with the weakening ones in France. However, the diversity of American sects is not necessarily attractive to social conservatives, any more than a strong environmentalist is pleased by a completely free market in cars, where some meet gas efficiency standards and some do not.
By the conclusion of the panel, the speakers agreed that social conservatives and libertarians could remain bedfellows, albeit strange ones. However, the tone and tactics on display reinforced Ross Douthat’s assertion that social conservatives are no longer negotiating as equals, but are working out the terms of a conditional surrender.
John Solomon, the editor of the Washington Times, opened the privacy panel at CPAC with a clip of Edward Snowden, and the question, “Is he a traitor?”
Bruce Fein, a lawyer hired by Snowden’s family, replied, “Snowden is more of a patriot in Thomas Paine’s sense: someone who saves his country from his government.” Solomon stuck to the theme by asking Fein, “If he were a traitor, how would you defend him?” Fein pushed back on the appropriateness of these questions, saying it made no sense to let a discussion of laws Snowden broke eclipse the discussion of “the lawlessness of the government that he exposed.”
Fein added, that, if the government was so keen on the rule of law, it had no need of extradition to prosecute the National Director of Intelligence, James Clapper, for perjury before Congress. Arguably, he said, Clapper’s offense and the overreach he covered up was more serious since, “When the government becomes a lawbreaker, it invites every man and woman to become a law unto themselves.”
The fear of governmental lawlessness was a central concern for Charlie Kirk, the executive director of TurningPoint USA. After allegations that the IRS selectively audited conservative groups, he said, it was impossible to hear the president promise that these programs target “enemies foreign and domestic” and be confident that the kinds of groups and people in attendance at CPAC weren’t in danger of increased scrutiny as retribution.
Former Governor of Virginia Jim Gilmore, who served as a U.S. Army Counterintelligence Agent, said that Snowden’s disclosures put the country at unacceptable risk. When spy programs go too far, he said, they should be opposed through official channels, not subverted through broad, illegal disclosures. Gilmore had opposed the Total Information Awareness program, he pointed out, and he didn’t put anyone’s lives in danger to do it.
Fein replied that the secrecy of these NSA programs made them hard to oppose using conventional means. He pointed out that Rand Paul’s class action lawsuit against the NSA could never have been filed, but for Snowden’s leaks. Without access the specific details Snowden revealed, Paul’s lawsuit would have been thrown out as speculative.
As the audience weighed the tradeoff between liberty and security, Gilmore drew applause when he argued that intelligence operations are needed to defend national security. But when the moderator asked the attendees to raise their hands if they felt safer as the result of NSA surveillance, barely twenty or so hands were visible in a room packed more than two hundred strong. The lively crowd booed Gilmore when he called Snowden “a coward as well as a traitor,” and one attendee yelled “You lie!” when Gilmore said, “I understand pretty well what the Fourth Amendment is about.”
Fein spoke up against appeals to 9/11 and said that terrorist attack shouldn’t necessarily be answered by giving the government new powers. According to Fein, “People are saying the laws prior to 9/11 didn’t work, but that’s like saying that our laws against murder don’t work, since there are still murders.” Ultimately, he concluded, an increased risk of attacks is the price America pays for liberty.
Which of these text messages do you think would be more likely to get a conservative voter out to vote?
- Tomorrow is Election Day for Governor! Your Voting Record is Public. Be a good citizen, be a Voter!
- Will we let them beat us? Friendly reminder to Vote for Gov tmrw.
Adam Schaeffer, the Director of Research and the co-founder of Evolving Strategies, posed that question to CPAC attendees at a panel titled, “Vaccines vs. Leeches: Using Experiments to Win Hearts, Minds, and Elections.”
He and his team have sent out both these messages to randomized subsets of voters, and it turned out that the first message had a statistically insignificant effect on voting, but the second turned out to raise turnout by 6.8 percentage points.
Schaeffer and others (including the growing team at Para Bellum) are trying to use experiments to guide outreach, testing tiny variations in messaging to find big, unexpected advantages. The Democrats, relying on the research of Alan Gerber and Donald Green, have been using experiments to increase turnout and maximize fundraising, and have outpaced the GOP’s efforts.
Experiments have the power to subvert the conventional wisdom of campaigns, since it’s easy to try out a new idea cheaply. In 2012, the Obama team found that they could maximize the chance that one of their emails would be opened with a simple, enigmatic subject line: “Hey.” Small changes can make a big difference.
In Schaeffer’s experiments, timing was critical. Although the second message produced good results in the morning, when the same message was sent in the afternoon, the results were still significant, but they were significantly negative. Voters who were contacted in the late afternoon had their turnout rates drop by -11.4 percentage points as a result.
Testing so many hypothesis and checking the impact of messages on so many tiny subgroups leaves candidates vulnerable to being mislead by statistical artifacts. Most commonly used significance tests have a one in twenty chance of being false positives. When a campaign tests hundreds of variations, some results are bound to seem significant in pilot tests but fail to preform when they’re applied to the whole electorate. Read More…
Republicans who don’t want to be doomed by demographics were likely to be found at “Reaching Out: The Rest of the Story,” a panel discussion of strategies for engaging with non-traditional voting blocks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. In their consideration of model behavior and missteps, the panelists revealed how politicians’ fears and errors feed each other in a vicious circle.
When politicians head out of the “country clubs and rotary clubs” that Jason Roe, the panel’s moderator said that some of his colleagues were reluctant to leave, they’re moving from a place of strength to uncertainty. Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, tried to correct a misapprehension that holds politicians and activists back from reaching out, “There’s a misconception that, in order to be on Univision you need to be able to speak Spanish, and that’s not true, you can have a translator.”
Relying on a translator is a humbling act. Barack Obama and the other attendees of Nelson Mandela’s funeral didn’t have the expertise to realize that the supposed ASL interpreter was, in fact, miming meaninglessly. That error was at least egregious enough to not be misinterpreted, but, when politicians need translation, they may end up being subtly misunderstood, so that damage is done without calling attention to itself or prompting a correction.
Attempts at self-reliance can be just as perilous as placing your trust in others. Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to use his elementary Spanish to connect with the people he served as mayor of New York City were treated as a running joke, even inspiring a parody twitter account (@ElBloombito) who was prone to utter Spanglish phrases like, “El nuevo mayoro shovelingo no es un big dealo. Yo use shovelos all el time! How else can yo buildo castles de sando at mi Bermuda beachcasa?”
And if this weren’t enough to scare politicians away from going beyond the cultures in which they’re fluent, they would have been truly disheartened if they had stopped by one of the panels later in the afternoon, “Opposition Research in the Age of the Grid” where Lloyd Miller of Directive Research was ready to how any momentary gaffe could be retrieved and exploited. Read More…
A glut of Ph.D.s and endlessly rising college tuition prompted Hollis Robbins to wonder in the Chronicle of Higher Education if we should revive the tradition of the private tutor at the post-secondary level.
As a matter of economics, why not consider the option of hiring a single professor to teach a first-year curriculum to a small number of students? At the level of the individual student, it may make sense to some families. Rather than spend $50,000 for a year of college at a selective private institution, one could hire a single Ivy League-trained individual with a doctorate and qualifications in multiple fields for, say, two-thirds the price (far more than an adjunct professor would make for teaching five courses at an average of $2,700 per course).
The idea becomes more attractive with multiple students. A half-dozen families (or the students themselves) could pool resources to hire a single professor, who would provide all six students with a tailored first-year liberal-arts education (leaving aside laboratory science) at a cost much lower than six private-college tuitions, and at the level of a real salary for a good sole-proprietor professor.
If Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like those offered by Udacity and Coursera assume that education is primarily a question of transferring skills, which can be learned and practiced with or without personal supervision, the latter-day Septimus Hodges envisioned by Robbins reinfuse the idea of apprenticeship to education.
An apprentice, immersed in the work of her mentor, has the chance to learn things that her teacher may not know how to verbalize. In Edward Frenkel’s memoir Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality, he describes his apprenticeship in mathematics, where professors set him problems to work, and invited him to departmental lectures where he could learn not only how to use the theorems that had been threshed out of conjecture, but the process by which they were generated and tested, and the aesthetic standards that many of his fellow mathematicians believed were a guide to truth.
Trying to teach Frenkel mathematics solely though textbooks and lectures, brilliant as he was, would have made as much sense as teaching blacksmithing out of a book. No matter how detailed the diagrams and instructions, the book would capture only the elements of the discipline we knew how to pin down into what Daniel Kahneman would call System Two thinking—the work we do deliberately, not instinctively.
Many college classes feel like they could be eclipsed by MOOCs because they’re taught at such a remove from the teacher’s own experience of their discipline that apprenticeship is impossible. Apprenticeship is more common in the last two years of college and graduate school, when students have worked through the introductory material in their hundred person lectures and move on to seminars with professors. Robbins’s reform would be intended to bridge this gap (he imagines that after one or two years with a tutor, students would join normal universities as transfer students). Read More…
Abdullah al-Shami may be about to achieve a very strange kind of victory through martyrdom.
So far as we know, Al-Shami isn’t on the verge of a suicide bombing or self-immolation. If he dies in the coming weeks, it will likely be at the hand of another. Well, hand might be putting it strongly, since the hand that presses the button that looses the missile from the drone that kills him may be halfway across the globe. But if the bomb lands true, al-Shami will be the fifth American citizen assassinated by his government in the War on Terror.
The location of the person killing him will be as mysterious as his own origins. Although it is now public knowledge that the Obama administration is debating whether the man known by this nom de guerre meets their own classified criteria for assassination, al-Shami’s real name, place of birth, and biography to this point have all been kept secret. The most the New York Times was able to cobble together about his life is this:
The F.B.I. investigated Mr. Shami and determined that he had been born in the United States, but that he had left as a young child and had not maintained any ties to the country. In the years since then, Mr. Shami worked his way up the ranks of Al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan, his ascent aided by his marriage to the daughter of a top Qaeda leader. Last year, he appears to have risen to become one of Al Qaeda’s top planners for operations outside Pakistan, including plots against American troops in Afghanistan.
“We have clear and convincing evidence that he’s involved in the production and distribution of I.E.D.’s,” said one senior administration official, referring to improvised explosive devices, long the leading killer of American troops in Afghanistan.
Improvised explosive devices are intended to kill American troops. They’re deployed either tactically, for the sake of frustrating the objectives of an enemy force, or cathartically, out of the desire to wound and destroy, regardless of whether it advances a military objective. President Bush would often characterize al-Qaeda as motivated by a desire to destroy our freedoms and ideals. Stretching our laws to permit the droning of American citizens would seem to do more damage to American ideals than an entire shipment of IEDs.
While the armed forces and the C.I.A. have systematically picked off high-ranking leaders in al-Qaeda, to the point where nationalist factions blithely ignore the orders of their higher ups, civil liberties law at home has been subject to a barrage of Justice Department memos, FISA court opinions, and executive orders, many of them kept as secret as any military operation, on the same justification: we can’t afford to tip our hand to the enemy.
According to the Times, the debate over al-Shami’s death has been driven as much by logistical concerns as by ethical or legal scruples. Obama has been working to hand over responsibility for drone assassinations to the Pentagon. This would put drone program under a few more legal restrictions, but free the United States to claim responsibility for strikes and make other disclosures that the CIA can’t. However, the Pentagon has no authority to kill anyone in Pakistan, where al-Shami is rumored to be hiding.
If the President makes an exception to allow the CIA to conduct this strike, it will be yet another jury-rigged change to our legal system, meant to secure the short-term objective of killing the enemy, while possibly endangering the security and trustworthiness of the government we are defending from men like al-Shami.
The United States has struggled to find a way to support Syrian rebels without putting American lives at risk, and President Barack Obama has repeatedly rejected proposals to shift from arms dealing to cyberwar. He’s making a prudent choice.
Instead of targeting enemy soldiers, cyberwar targets enemy infrastructure. Just as your own computer can be damaged by being infected with a virus, enemy computers can be compromised with targeted malicious software, but, instead of stealing your credit card number or wiping your hard drive, these attacks can steal battle plans and disable or even destroy weapons systems and infrastructure.
Cyberwar is a tempting option, since it keeps our boots off the ground and out of enemy airspace. One Pentagon plan would have reportedly grounded President Bashar al-Assad’s missiles, preventing him from launching airstrikes without the inconvenience of setting up a no-fly zone or a shield system.
However, the safety Obama would win for our troops abroad could be outweighed by the danger he’d expose us to on the homefront. The very remove that makes cyberwar tempting makes it more likely that, if this kind of conflict is normalized, battles will spill over into the infrastructure of our daily lives. And that’s a theater of operations we’re ill equipped to defend.
Cyberwar favors the smaller side. Developed countries have the most to lose, responsible as they are for power grids, secure databases, banking systems, etc. A digital insurgency is agile and light, with nothing to protect but its own files. Some struggling countries even have even lucked into their own defenses by lagging behind. According to the New York Times,
[Cyberattacks were] considered during the NATO attacks on Libya in the spring of 2011, but dismissed after Mr. Obama’s advisers warned him that there was no assurance they would work against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s antiquated, pre-Internet air defenses.
But this strategy is better suited to self-interested despots like Qaddafi or science fiction like Battlestar Galactica than to a modern nation. The United States will never be in a position to sacrifice prosperity and progress for security through technical regress.
Right now, the United States doesn’t just have weak cyber defenses, but, once a breach occurs, our infrastructure isn’t resilient enough to weather the damage. A recent sniper attack on a California power plant raised concern because our power grid is so delicately balanced that compromising just a few power stations, physically or electronically, would give an attacker the ability to induce a massive blackout, even worse than the one that struck the Northeast in 2003. Read More…
Once the news was out, some conservatives began lodging complaints. Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council said, “If this is where the ACU is headed, they will have to pack up and put away the ‘C’ in CPAC,” and Brent Bozell claimed their attendance would be “more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself.”
That may have been the response that Dave Silverman, president of the American Atheists was hoping for, when he told CNN that “The Christian right should be threatened by us.” But, as he explained to TAC, Silverman’s goal wasn’t to attack the conservative movement, but to “change it from within.”
Silverman is a self-described conservative, who cited Christie Todd Whitman and Bob Dole as politicians he particularly admires, and found it ironic to be bumped from a conservative conference less than a week after he’d been out shooting with his family.
With atheists on the rise (the Pew Religion and Public Life project found that the religiously unaffiliated represent 20 percent of all U.S. adults, and a third of those under thirty), Silverman thinks that the GOP has to reach out to atheists in order to stay politically viable. In his opinion, “If Christian influence were wiped from conservatism, conservatism would thrive.”
According to Silverman, he asked the American Conservative Union what compromise or conditions they’d require in order to keep the American Atheists in attendance and was told that no negotiation was possible; it was a matter of tone. (The ACU could not be reached for comment.)
American Atheists is known for the inflammatory rhetoric on their billboards and ads (a sampling from recent years includes “You KNOW they’re all scams!” over an image of houses of worship and “Christianity: Sadistic God; Useless Savior… Promotes Hate; Calls it ‘Love’”). However, the pamphlets Silverman had prepared to hand out (reproduced in full at the end of this article) are relatively mild.
The brochure contains no attacks on the truth of religion or insults directed at believers. Instead it summarizes four key issues for the organization: amend tax policy to end distinctions between religious and secular non-profits, keep religious monuments off public land, limit conscience exemptions unless narrowly tailored, and keep policy debates focused on reason, not revelation.
If their soft-pedaling had won them supporters, American Atheists might have had a new problem on their hands. Although the many conservatives are uncomfortable with atheists, it’s not clear that the atheist movement is necessarily much more comfortable with conservatives. When Edwina Rogers, who had previously worked for Senator Trent Lott and President George W. Bush, was tapped as Executive Director of the Secular Coalition of America, Greta Christina, a popular atheist writer, said that her work as a Republican was “a real problem” and that the aims of the GOP were “diametrically opposed to those of the atheist and secular community.” Christina subsequently resigned her membership in the SCA, when she felt that Rogers did not adequately address these concerns.