The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is the nation’s largest conservative conference. Every spring, thousands of political conservatives descend on Washington to listen to conservative luminaries and prospective Presidential candidates. The roster of participating groups never fails to generate a significant amount of controversy within the conservative movement. In years past, the inclusion of the gay group GOProud caused concern among some social conservatives. This year’s main controversy was the fact that the group American Atheists was at first granted – then later denied – a booth in the exhibit hall.
Receiving considerably less scrutiny is the content of the panels at CPAC. This is something that should concern social conservatives far more than whether or not a potentially hostile group gets one of the 100 booths in the exhibit hall. And sadly this year’s CPAC offers precious little that is of specific interest to social conservatives. This year’s CPAC includes more than 20 panels on a range of interesting topics including the IRS, gun rights, and Obamacare. However, during the three day conference there are no panels specifically dealing with the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, or religious liberty issues.
CPAC has always had a “pay to play” reputation. And in recent years libertarian groups have stepped up their involvement with the annual conference. That said, CPAC has always promoted itself as a conference where conservatives from a range of perspectives could engage ideas. Furthermore, each of the past 3 years there was at least one panel dealing with pro-life issues. For instance, last year’s CPAC included a panel entitled “The Pro-Life Fight: 40 Years After Roe v. Wade.” which included Marjorie Dannenfelser from Susan B. Anthony List and Tim Goeglein from Focus on the Family. However, the absence of panels of interest to social conservatives this year is disheartening. This is an issue that deserves far more attention from conservative activists.