LOS ANGELES—Perusing an article in the Washington Post today that outlined attempts by far right conservatives to regain control of the Republican Party, I noted that there was a gathering Thursday of the true believers at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, Virginia.
According to the Post, the meeting "included dozens of leaders from across the conservative movement, including tea party organizer Jenny Beth Martin and interest group executives such as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. The meeting, which featured speeches from Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Mike Lee (Utah), marked the first time this year that prominent national conservatives have come together to candidly assess the GOP and their strategy for shaping it."
Two things jumped out at me. The meeting was in the same town as the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation 2014 Summit, being held today and tomorrow, which Senior Editor Mark Kernes wrote about here. And I also took note of the fact that the Family Research Council, which was prominently represented at the political meeting by Tony Perkins, is also a sponsor of the anti-porn event, being held today and tomorrow at the Tysons Corner Marriott, less than a mile away from the Ritz-Carlton.
None of that is surprising on its face. Anti-porn birds of a feather always stick together, which is why we see the same names repeated year after year—and sometimes decade after decade—at these conferences. And neither is it a surprise that the theme of this year's Summit is to frame pornography as a public health crisis. It has been clear to us for several years that the organized, coordinated and largely religion-inspired movement to outlaw pornography in the United States has switched strategies, and no longer leads with a moral argument but with a public health one. As was expressed at this very summit, the goal is to get federal agencies to treat porn like it treated big tobacco.
As stated, none of that is new, but I still found the time, place and person proximity between the anti-porn summit and the far right political meeting to be interesting, precisely because the point the politicians and others wanted to make at the political rally was that the GOP must recommit to the defense of conservative social policies, the very "bedrock principles" they believe the center of the party has strayed from.
“Conservatives ought not to delude themselves that if Republicans win the Senate majority, it will somehow be a conservative majority,” L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center, said at the meeting. “We should have no expectation whatsoever that they will listen. That’s why we’re fighting.”
Michael A. Needham, the chief executive of Heritage Action, the political action arm of the Heritage Foundatrion, added, “I’m terrified that Republicans will blow this election if they are not going to stand for something."
Toward that end, the participants at the political meeting drafted a document that expresses the values they want to see embedded not just in the GOP platform, but in the day-to-day discussions and pieces of legislation coming out of the Republican-controlled House, and more to the point, out of the Republican-controlled Senate... once they regain control of it.
"In the 10-page pamphlet finalized Thursday," reported the Washington Post, "they called on party leaders to champion lower taxes, a well-funded military, and the idea that 'married moms and dads are best at raising kids.' The document warns Republicans against signing on to an immigration overhaul unless the U.S. border is 'fully secure,' and it argues that support for school prayer, a balanced-budget amendment and antiabortion legislation should remain priorities."
In the end, and despite the fact that the FRC's Perkins "led a panel on restoring the 'traditional family' as a priority for the party," pornography was not directly addressed in the final document that is intended to act as a roadmap of sorts for far right GOP activists who plan to put increasing pressure on party moderates as the next round of elections approaches.
But porn is a sub-set of the "traditional family" argument. It is not the sort of issue that gets top-drawer placement on the list of top political priorities, but it nevertheless sits firmly on the second tier of imperatives, acting like a combustible agent for the most important conservative social issues such as keeping the traditional family together, restoring religion to its rightful place in society and putting America back on track.
When all is said and done, sex is still the bedrock behavior that must be controlled for almost all of the other conservative agendas demanded of social conservatives to be fulfilled. There is no other commensurate human activity that has the same power as sex does to undermine the doctrines that social and religious conservatives clearly believe define what it means to be an authentic American. Porn, of course, is the ultimate expression of sex that is not controlled by traditional patriarchy, but which finds its own justification for being.
Because there is no scenario for the social and religious conservative in which sex can be allowed to flourish in its natural course without constraints imposed upon it by either religion or government, pornography is by definition a public health hazard. The fact that a self-avowed socialist, Gail Dines, feels comfortable enough with social conservatives to align herself with them says less about her devotion to liberalism than it does about her devotion to her ideological (and professional) opposition to porn. That she is not only allowed to speak, but given top billing, tells you all you need to know about how fundamentally the people at this weekend's summit take the threat of porn. It is not a side issue for them, but a foundational issue that is a root cause of the weakening of the American family.
People in the industry may scoff at these notions, as may much of society, but it is impossible to imagine any of the participants at either of the gatherings in Tysons Corner, Virginia yesterday, today or tomorrow not agreeing with the proposition put forth by Dawn Hawkins, the executive director of Morality in Media, that "there's an untreated pandemic of harm from pornography."
They may not have made it one of their leading concerns in the document drafted yesterday, but that was just a marketing decision. The juxtaposition of these two gatherings is for me a stark reminder that for these people the proliferation of pornography in America remains the single most visual and visceral reminder that their way of life is under threat, and will come to an end if something is not done soon to force people back onto the straight and narrow.
If you think I'm underestimating the role these people believe porn has played in the dimunition of their faith, I'm really not. Though the fact remains that these sorts of socially conservative issues, the ones Rick Santorum brings to a debate, are rarely if ever a deciding factor in national elections.