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Page Two, The Feminist Ghost at the Conservative Political Action Conference

New to CPAC is the Second Amendment Sisters (SAS) formed in December of 1999 by women who objected to the Million Mom March against guns that was planned for Mothers Day 2000. Its five founders found each other and kindred spirits through posts to freerepublic.net, a right-wing web page. They brought 5,000 women to Washington for an Armed Informed Mothers March and turned them into a national organization. Although it admits men as associate members, SAS believes it is important to "put a womans face" on opposition to gun control. Proclaiming that "Self Defense is a basic human right" it organizes "ladies days" at gun clubs and "shop and shoot weekends." "Come nervous, leave proud," SAS says. Although its focus is on gun ownership and use, it includes martial arts within the scope of self defense skills women should have and is pointedly not affiliated with the National Rifle Association (which has its own womens auxiliaries).

Perhaps the least informed of all the womens groups at CPAC was the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute. Founded in 1993, its priority is giving young women "hands-on training in countering radical feminism and fighting for conservative principles." Proclaiming that "feminists are wrong on almost every issue they tackle," CBLPI objects to almost anything tinged by feminism: affirmative action "because feminists were seeking to foster a pattern of dependency based upon special preferences," womens centers "that became places to plot the demise of traditional values," and "leftist" womens studies programs. Although no one at its booth would agree to an interview, CBLPIs positions are clear from its publications and web page. Its newsletter hosts a regular page of "Feminist Follies" where it quotes "Mrs." Steinem (Glorias mother?) on things it does not like.

While it shares policy positions with the other conservative womens groups, more than any of the others the CBLPI ignores facts and rewrites history. It extols "Mrs. Luce ... [as] the most influential woman in both modern American history and the American conservative movement" with little knowledge of her life, her own views or her time. It also says "she came under the same kind of attack from liberals and feminists of her day that modern women encounter today when they are successful without espousing feminist ideas." In CBLs day, feminists and liberals were on opposite sides of the great policy divide created by protective labor laws and the Equal Rights Amendment. Luce was on the feminist side an ERA supporter who often looked to other women for support. Long after political realignment put liberals and feminists on the same side, Luce still supported the ERA. Her biographers note she was always friendly toward the ERA. When Gloria Steinem had tea with her in Hawaii in the late 1970s, she found Clare to be a feminist on every issue except abortion.

Clare Booth Luce was a remarkable woman, but not because "she personified the qualities that mainstream women admire," as CBLPI leaflets declare. After an inauspicious start in life, she became a magazine editor, a playwright, a Member of Congress (R-CN, 1943-47), and Ambassador to Italy (1953-57). Born in 1903, the second child of a young mother who lived with her father for nine years but never married him, Clare was anything but mainstream. Strikingly beautiful and intensely ambitious, she married a millionaire twice her age and divorced him six years later to become a full-time working mother. Her 1935 marriage to TIME magazine founder and publisher Henry Luce freed her to write and dabble in politics. CBL was also a feminist, as her own mother had been. Alva Belmont personally recruited her into the National Womans Party; one of her tasks was to drop ERA leaflets from an aeroplane at the NWPs 1923 conference in Seneca Falls a month before her first marriage.

Clares politics resembled those of many well-off women of her day. She rejected the welfare state of the New Deal and opposed US involvement in the European War. She believed that women were politically important, and that they deserved equality with men. Having won her seat in Congress partly by organizing the womans vote, she began her speech before the 1944 Republican convention by acknowledging that "Plainly the honor of speaking to you... has come to me because I am a woman." Writing in a syndicated column in the mid 1930s, she said war would lose its romance if there were more "war-veteran mothers." She asked, "What nation would plunge into a war in which its men fought not for their wives and sweethearts, but with their wives and sweethearts?" Although she became steadily more conservative and fiercely anti-Communist as she grew older, only on abortion did she differ with the feminist movement. CBL had an illegal abortion when she was 18, but converted to Catholicism after her only daughter was killed in 1944.

If CBLPI wants young conservative women to emulate Clare Booth Luce, they should hope no one reads her biography.

Conservative women are very shy, especially young conservative women, so they may not find Luce to be a role model they can follow. Or perhaps they are simply inoculated by traditional female modesty. In three days at CPAC I saw fewer women at the podium than at a typical Republican national convention — about 15 percent, including introducers and panel moderators. Even the panel on "Real stories of real liberal bias on real college campuses" featured five young men but no women. When speakers asked for questions from the floor, only a dozen women stood at one of the two microphones to ask a question in three days; only one of these looked like she was under 30. After Schuld spoke, the male moderator asked how many in the audience were women. There were a few titters but only about a dozen women raised their hands. In this audience of 4,000 about 40 percent were women, but raising their hands to admit this was too much for them to do. As long as conservative women prefer passivity they are no threat to feminists.

The annual conference is not a place for the grassroots to debate issues, except in so far as it happens in private conversations. There are no workshops. When time permits, questions were accepted from the audience, but when these became short speeches the moderator cut the questioner short. The tight schedule just didnt permit extensive exchanges.

Nonetheless, the Patriots Act and the Total Information Awareness project received some sharp comments. While a speech favoring profiling was cheered loudly, another recommending that the military patrol our borders provoked grumbling as the full implications sank in. Conservatives are seriously conflicted between their love of individual freedom and their desire for security. A questionnaire filled out by 621 participants showed that only 21 percent were "prepared to give up some freedom for increased security," while 46 percent thought that "concerns about the threat to individual freedom are justified." Everyone wanted to stop illegal immigration, but the many children and grandchildren of immigrants were ambivalent about reducing legal immigration. This "family values" crowd wasnt warm to the idea that immigration policy should no longer give relatives priority.

CPAC made a special effort to recruit young people — tomorrows leaders they call them — with reduced fees and special scholarships. Of the 4082 people who registered for this years conference, 1726 paid the student fee.

Surveys of past CPAC conferences show that most were attending for the first time. About 30 percent of those responding were evangelical or fundamentalist Protestant; 30 percent were Catholic; 20 percent were mainline Protestant; with the remaining distributed between Jewish, Atheist and Other. Only two percent were Mormon, even though many people in this denomination are conservative Republicans. One result of CPACs youth outreach is that 60 percent were under 25. Less than 40 percent were women. Next to Virginia, Ohio sends more people to the annual conference than any other state. When asked their impression of various conservative politicians, Pat Buchanan and John McCain receive the least favorable ratings. Not surprisingly, President Bush and the Republican leadership have the most favorable — though Trent Lotts previously high ratings went down this year.

Although those attending and exhibiting at the CPAC range from the mainstream to the fringe right, attendees at the 30th conference saw themselves as more mainstream than fringe. They are happy with how far the conservative movement has come and where it is going. This represents a mutual convergence between the Republican party and the American right-wing. For the last thirty years right-wing Republicans have waged a concerted war on Republican moderates, driving them out of power and out of the party. Now that conservatism has taken over the center of the Republican Party its softening its edges becoming more pragmatic and less ideological. The conservatives helped the Republicans win elections, and now that Republicans rule, they are eagerly turning the proposals of the right-wing think tanks into Republican policy for the next decade.

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