Conservatives’ Cultural Agonies at CPAC

There’s something refreshingly honest in two takes by conservative commentators on the behavior of young and youngish people at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Erick Erickson laments the lines of young men queued up to buy condoms, and the trend he sees in men coming to the conference with the goal of having casual sex:

They risk dragging the whole affair down to some bawdy, rowdy distraction. They risk embarrassing themselves and the conservative movement. They risk the perception premised on their own actions that conservative men of a certain age think that good manners and decorum around women of the same age is unneeded or unwanted. This is not to say CPAC cannot and should not be fun. This is not to say that CPAC cannot and should not be a party. But it is to say that I hope the college groups bussing in students next year, the out of college set there to network, and CPAC itself encourage behavior we all too often don’t talk about anymore in our society — the behavior of gentlemen. Eat, drink, smoke, be merry, but be chivalrous too. There really is, regardless of your age, no need to play the cad at CPAC to score points with conservative ladies.

And Melissa Clouthier takes her sisters in the movement to task for how they dressed and presented themselves:

Women will be future leaders, too, and I was dismayed to see how many of them either looked frumpish or like two-bit whores. First, are these young people being taught anything by their parents? I was at another service-oriented gathering of young women where the girls were in tight bandeau-skirts (you know, the kind of tube-top skirts that hookers wear on street corners?). They were sitting with their mothers. What is going on here?…I cannot even tell you how many girls have told me that all they want is to get married and have babies. They do not seem to make the connection that a young man is not interested in getting married and making babies with a girl who is so easy as to have a one-night stand over a CPAC weekend (or any other weekend.)

If there’s one thing I agree with conservatives about, it’s this: conservatism’s survival as a modern family-values movement depends less on passing policies that restrict the sexual and reproductive rights of Americans and more on building an alternative cultural framework and narrative, and convincing people to actually base their lives on its tenets. This is an effort that tends to work well in closed communities. It’s much easier to, for example, choose not to have sex until you’re married if you’re surrounded by people who are making that same choice, and who are providing reinforcement that such a decision is not only moral, but will provide you with the most benefit. The idea that waiting to have sex will make sex better because you’ll have reserves of the hormone oxytocin are part of arguing that making a conservative lifestyle choice will actually yield better results.


Events like CPAC are disconcerting because they suggest that the movement is doing poorly at selling conservative ideals of sexual ethics on a broad scale. Whether the conference has consciously tried to cultivate a party vibe or not, it’s clearly no longer an environment that reinforces values like chastity, conservative self-presentation through family, and dating as a pursuit of marriage. And of course that’s disconcerting to commentators like Erickson and Clouthier. It’s utterly unsustainable for conservatives to govern one way and live another if they truly want a society based on their stated and legislated values. But calling women sluts and exhorting men to be gentleman seems unlikely to bring the two back into alignment.