The Sharon Statement, Sorba the Creep, and a curious reversal of roles

As conservatives set their political course this week, much has been made of the newly-released “Mount Vernon Statement,” touted as an ideological update to the “Sharon Statement” that was published in 1960 by the Young Americans for Freedom and facilitated by no less than William F. Buckley himself. While the MVS is an uninspired recitation of conservative thought, the Sharon Statement is, half a century on, still a fine treatise on freedom and discourse, especially in its opening lines:

THAT foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force;

THAT liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;

It is a statement of openness and freedom; of the right to contract; of the sanctity of the individual and his or her right to choose how they will live without undue coercion or influence by the government or his peers. It is a statement that emphasizes common ground on common principles among people of common sense. It is, in short, a statement of ideological strength and a road map to successful governance by and for the People — a statement that is altogether relevant as we prepare for the coming elections.

YAF’s Sharon Statement is effective because it sketches out a way to bring people together on those common principles. And that’s not always easy; it’s difficult even within the conservative movement to always find common ground, and it’s even rarer when both the Right and Left agree on something. Yet every once in a while, someone comes along that facilitates that spirit of cooperation — someone that’s just naturally a uniter, not a divider.

Perhaps “unity through attempted division” is a more appropriate description of the following example. And unfortunately, it was an inheritor of the Sharon mantel that is at the center of it all.

Meet Ryan Sorba. Sorba is the bombthrowing “leader” of a the California chapter of YAF that CPAC attendees booed off the stage yesterday. Sorba bemoaned the inclusion of GOPROUD, a gay conservative group at the conference, as a sponsor of the conference. By the end of his talk, he was declaring who his enemies were.

So if infamy is what he wanted, he got it. Not since Ann Coulter’s infamous 2007 remarks has there been as gratuitous and public a slam on homosexuals at CPAC, although even tonight it sounds like Coulter may be reprising her role as lead bombthrower. (We’ll know the details soon, I’m sure.) Yet in the conservative blogosphere, the reactions to both statements were almost uniformly disdainful. Following Coulter’s outburst, the Captain’s Quarters blog — that is, Hot Air’s very own Ed Morrissey — put it this way:

At some point, Republicans will need to get over their issues with homosexuality. Regardless of whether one believes it to be a choice or a hardwired response, it has little impact on anyone but the gay or lesbian person. We can argue that homosexuality doesn’t require legal protection, but not when we have our front-line activists referring to them as “faggots” or worse. That indicates a disturbing level of animosity rather than a true desire to allow people the same rights and protections regardless of their lifestyles.

Coulter’s remarks were and are derisible, and were appropriately pilloried by just about everyone online. But was that sentiment reflected at the conference itself back in ’07? Not so much. James Joyner reporting for OTB that day:

I would note that, an hour after the speech, people are still lined up around the block for autographed copies of her book. Granted, most of them are young kids of college age. Some of them are older than I am. Somehow, I can’t imagine Ronald Reagan being pleased.

Nor could I. Today’s change in reaction in the room is made all the more satisfactory given the Coulter experience. Yet the irony is that while Coulter’s remarks would have been derided yesterday by a room full of conservatives, the same sort of sexually-oriented taunts were used just two nights ago by avatar-of-modern-liberalism Keith Olbermann against — second drum roll please — Ann Coulter. As Tommy Christopher notes, Olbermann’s segment was “homophobia and transphobia at their most insidious.”

But it’s worse than that. It’s a symptom of a larger problem on the Left when it comes to the dignity of the individual and an insight into the burgeoning awakening on the Right, and it’s poised to do some real political damage sooner rather than later. As John Aravosis from the very liberal AmericaBlog notes, “When conservatives are standing up for gays, and Democrats treat us like we are an embarrassment, there’s a problem.” (via Ace of Spades)

No one wants Sarah Palin to be President. But we’re talking about our civil rights. I think a lot of straight Democrats don’t get that. They see out and proud gay people, a lot of us have good jobs, nice clothes, get to travel the world (and a lot of us don’t, but they don’t ever meet them), so they think our civil rights battle is some kind of champagne party to us, as if we’re doing it for fun because we really have everything we could ever want. Well, anyone who thinks that didn’t grow up gay. They didn’t grow up thinking they were a pervert. That they were sick. That they’d never find love, never get married, never have children or a family of their own – because God made them wrong. They didn’t grow up thinking they’d have to kill themselves once they hit the age of 30 because they’d be single, and people would ‘figure out’ that they were gay, and then they’d lose all their friends and family and their job and career. And they knew they couldn’t live with that….

To the White House, the DNC, and our leadership in Congress: You are messing with people’s lives, and we know it. And the day that an anti-gay bigot gets booed at CPAC, you all better start being very afraid.

Indeed, and it’s not as if the Right is or has been without gay rights supporters. As Young Americans for Liberty notes,

Barry Goldwater once said, “The big thing is to make this country, along with every other country in the world with a few exceptions, quit discriminating against people just because they’re gay,” Goldwater asserts. “You don’t have to agree with it, but they have a constitutional right to be gay. And that’s what brings me into it.”

Toss in Darth Cheney, Ted Olson, and others, and you have the makings of an important course change in American politics. And it’s about time.

The conservative movement has common cause with all who are seeking self-determination, and whether you’re citing the Sharon Statement or Barry Goldwater for support, it’s worth considering that our individual rights are best preserved when people of common interest come together, rather than tear each other down.

And one need not agree with the whole platform of gay conservatives, just as one need not agree with every tenet of every subgroup of conservatism. As Ed noted when the GOPROUD issue came up in December,

If we want to win control of the House in 2010, we need to focus on key principles that address the nation’s crises and the main points of disillusion with Democrats. That should set our focus on those points on which Democrats overreached — namely, spending, government intrusion, spiraling deficits, and fiscal insanity. We need to show that we can, if trusted with power again, govern properly and responsibly, and even more that we understand that the priorities are the fiscal issues and not the social issues that divide more than they unite.

GOProud’s priorities are fundamentally in line with that effort. We should not allow a purity campaign to push away natural allies on the fiscal crisis that grips our country, and the opportunity we have to correct it in 2010.

We are all stronger together, and gay conservatives are as much an ally of the conservative movement as heterosexual conservatives are. We are stronger by emphasizing our important commonalities rather than our less important differences. Fortunately, it appears the attendees at CPAC ’10 agree.

I hope that Sorba’s statements don’t represent the larger YAF group’s sentiments, but if they do, how far the group has fallen from its founding document.

Update: YAF’s Facebook page is getting a bit of an earful over the matter. For those wondering whether the Sharon Statement or YAF as an organization has a position on homosexuality, the group responds:

YAF’s guiding principles does not address gay people. YAF fights to uphold the Sharon Statement.

A specific and public disavowal of Sorba’s remarks is probably not too far behind. Stay tuned.