What I don’t understand is why Milo was invited to speak at CPAC in the first place.
As recently as this previous weekend, he rejected the label “conservative” on Bill Maher, citing that the major link between him and conservatism was simply that the conservative side was the only major political side that supported the right to “free speech and expression”, which is obviously his signature issue. He also denied that that alone made him conservative.
If conservative really is “holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion”, is there anyone reading this who believes that’s a good description of Milo or the ideas he represents? By his very existence, he parts from traditional attitudes and values, representing a movement distinct from the norm, and holding an orientation that traditionally has not been accepted either religiously or culturally. He’s anything but cautious, and has advocated significant changes and innovations to what “the right” in America even means.
“Conservative” in American politics is, ironically, essentially classical liberalism. Conservative politics is adherence to traditional standards of governance and political theory, so in the U.K., where he hails from, it may be linked to monarchy. However, the U.S. was founded upon rebellion. Rebellion against monarchy, distrust in both large government and democracy, promotion of individual rights and liberties, and constraints against centralized power. Because of this, U.K. conservatism is quite different than what conservatism connotates here, especially given that the birth of our nation was the rejection of the British system.
The modern conservative movement may have strayed some from these founding principles, and all political movements evolve over time, even those linked to the preservation of tradition. The American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC, doesn’t directly say what they believe conservatism is exactly, but they do score politicians on a set of votes they believe to be most important to the conservative ideal. When describing which votes they choose, they reference Reagan’s three legged stool.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, Reagan described the Republican coalition as a three legged stool, which alludes to it’s inability to stand if it loses a single leg. Oversimplifying, those legs were fiscal conservatives, social cons, and neocons. This may not be entirely fair–by neocons what he really described was a strong national defense as a means of avoiding war, while neocons crave it. By social cons, he didn’t mean just the religious right, but also cultural concerns like the second amendment and approaches to issues like welfare or education. But it is this three legged stool that ACU uses as their baseline. For the record, I reject this standard completely, given that modern neo-conservatism is incompatible with fiscal conservatism, and traditionally social conservatism has been incompatible with basic liberties (and, for the record, people like Milo and ideas’ like his).
Now, in ACU’s defense, their definition of conservative is linked to their ranking system, which labels “conservative” anyone who gets 80%. However, the Republican average on their ranking system is 79%, meaning they include roughly half of the Republican Party. I don’t know a single conservative who believes that half of the GOP are also conservatives, so it may just be that the ACU is casting a pretty wide net. Obviously, there’s reasons to include newsworthy speakers from the right who can draw crowds and followers, and Milo obviously can accomplish that. But such practical concerns betray the principles such an organization is meant to represent, as well as the strategy they’ve historically employed that placed “long-term planning” for the movement above “direct action”.
One can say they’ve already solved the problem by dis-inviting him, but I reject that. He was dis-invited due to a recently revealed controversy… not because it was decided that he does not in any meaningful way represent conservatism. And he doesn’t–not by his own admission, not by the dictionary definition, not by the historical implications of American-specific conservatism, and not even by, in my opinion, the “three-legged stool” test. Had he been an elected official with a voting record eligible for ranking rather than a provocateur extraordinaire, I doubt he would have even made it in with ACU’s liberal requirements for what a conservative is.