CPAC, the place last week where shame went off to die and truth was buried…

Vince Rizzo
7 min readMar 6, 2023

MEME ME-ME

The latest incarnation of CPAC, the American Conservative Union’s annual conference, is the place where shame has seemingly gone to die. Conservatives have given their seats up to the Trump crowd as this year’s bash was more a rally for the party’s frontrunner. The less-than-clever among them coined the phrase “owning the libs” as a calling card for their misanthropic worldview. Modern-day conservatives practice their lib-owning meme on platforms where their sniping is generally done in the raucous privacy of conservative echo chambers- Twitter, Facebook, Fox “news”, “Truth” Social, et.al. The point is that the quip is at the expense of those living their lives somewhere else, and the “owning” is done for the enjoyment of insiders. The “libs,” as they call us, live our lives unowned and fairly free of their boorish boasts. But the practice itself is an unspoken acknowledgment of the emptiness of its practitioners and the nihilism of a party that has blithely existed without a political platform since 2012. They literally believe in and will support the opposite of whatever their rivals propose.

CPAC 2023 was a half-filled frat party for Donald Trump’s “revenge tour.” He boldly promised to prevent World War III while assuring the MAGA-tized crowd that at home, he would be their retribution. He always talked tough but inside we know there is a greedy-grabby little man who needs attention. CPAC was as good a place this weekend as any to soothe his lagging ego. So off he went.

The Cato Institute describes itself as a libertarian think tank with strong ties to the conservative movement (one of its founders was Charles Koch), it defines the limits of owning libs this way:

There is a growingmovementofconservatives who have only one strong policy opinion: They embrace whatever positions make liberals, progressives, and Democrats mad. Colloquially, this is known as “owning the libs” and conservatives who embrace it express it through trolling and the adoption of possibly earnest beliefs merely in opposition to those held by left‐​wingers. It is a far cry from the other intellectual movements of conservatism inspired by Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke, Michael Oakeshott, and the fusionism of the mid‐​to‐​late 20th century that blended portions of libertarianism, traditionalism, anti‐​communism, and neo‐​conservatism. To be clear, not all conservatives ascribe to the “own the libs” ideology, but it certainly appears to be more common than it used to be.

CATO Institute, “A Tongue‐​In‐​Cheek Appeal to “Own the Libs” Conservatives on Immigration,” by Alex Nowrasteh, April 27, 2021

The “far cry” mentioned above is a less-than-subtle admission that lib-ownership has little to do with traditional conservatism and is a feature of the GOP’s incoherence on the issues facing the nation. They have decided to forego even the slightest trappings of governance for power. The CATO Institute article goes on to raise the interesting scenario of how conservatives, with the very issues it has used as a cudgel against liberals and conservatives, can “own” them- in this case with a focused immigration position:

Immigrants will also diminish the power of American unions. There is a strong negative relationship between immigration and union density over American history. Further undermining American unionization through immigration liberalization will really put “the libs” in a bind. Potentially related to unionization, the growth in federal outlays also slows when immigration is liberalized partly because Americans don’t want immigrants to receive welfare. There’s even evidence that more diversity reduces support for welfare. It would be hard for liberals to choose between a larger welfare state and freer immigration, but many would choose welfare. Hard choices would probably result in some shedding of some progressive tears.

CATO Institute, “A Tongue‐​In‐​Cheek Appeal to “Own the Libs” Conservatives on Immigration,” by Alex Nowrasteh, April 27, 2021

Oppositionalism

They introduce the policy as a tongue-in-cheek example, but their point is clear, even those on the right recognized the simplemindedness of their penchant to choose obstinance over policy.

The term “oppositionalism” has been used to describe the obstructive defiance some children exhibit in response to authority. In a political context, a tactic like “owning the libs” is as childish as it is disingenuous- the retributive use of obstruction as an argument for avoiding solutions is irresponsible. It trades scorched earth for common ground. One blogger identifies the problem with those for whom their defiance is both motivation and goal:

Oppositionalism: . The belief that the more opposition exists to an opinion, the more valid that opinion is. Oppositionalism is a widespread phenomenon especially among conspiracy theorists, who tend to believe that the opposition their views generate reveals that they have discovered a truth the establishment does not want the world to know.

Engaging liberals and progressives on issues is less important than entertaining the right-wing universe. It is at the heart of all lies big and small- lies used to distract voters from issues that are more difficult because they are nuanced- like immigration. Good people with all good intentions can disagree and do so with principle. So much for the current GOP.

Trump began his political rise based on a long-disavowed rumor that was circulated during the 2008 primaries which suggested that Obama was born in Kenya and was ineligible for election as president. Aside from the fact that the claim is false, it was irrelevant. His mother was a citizen and that fact controlled Obama’s eligibility for the presidency. The birther debate generated by Trump to discredit Obama did not depend on its truthfulness or facts. The hysteria that consumed the right was, to them, validating and self-persuasive. The protestations and the eventual release of a valid birth certificate citing his birth in Hawaii was further proof of their delusion as it was backed by an establishment that they had decided was part of the very conspiracy they themselves had concocted. The circular argument notwithstanding, they had been had. Instead of owning the left, as it were, they were owned by a two-bit carny huckster. His denial of the truth, just as his frequent refrain that truth was malleable- Fake News! — was, in reality, a defense for being caught lying.

Oppositionalism has now become institutionalized in the GOP as Trump prepares for his third presidential run by fooling the party that is now neck-deep in the belief that he is the answer to the nation’s ills- that the dalliance with autocracy on the right is proof that fascism is the new rage and that the libs have simply missed that boat. At the CPAC conference this week, accusations of the ACU’s chairman, Matt Schlapp’s improprieties caused some candidates to reconsider their attendance, while others were attracted like moths to a flame. Along with Trump, Kari Lake, and Nikki (Bless Her Heart) Haley gambled on their party’s acceptance of deviance, their faith tested and refreshed by their leaders’ need for redemption and renewal. Schlapp’s behavior in some Republican circles inhabited by the religious fringe is viewed as a divine opportunity for redemption- but the facts, while messy, suggest per- rather than con- version:

Matt Schlapp, has been rendered the butt of jokes among liberal commentators in the months since a male Republican campaign operative accused him of making unwanted sexual advances during the closing days of Georgia ‘s senate runoff between Herschel Walker and Senator Raphael Warnock.

In documents filed in a Virginia court as part of a sexual battery lawsuit against Mr. Schlapp, the anonymous accuser alleges that the ACU chair “placed his hand” on his leg and “began aggressively fondling [his] genital area in a sustained fashion” as he was being driven to a hotel after visiting a Georgia bar… (T)he accuser said Mr. Schlapp had “put his hands on me in a sustained and unsolicited and unwanted manner”.

“Matt Schlapp of the CPAC grabbed my junk and pummeled it at length, and I’m sitting there thinking what the hell is going on, that this person is literally doing this to me,” the accuser said, according to the report.

Independent, What are the allegations against CPAC head Matt Schlapp?” by Andrew Feinberg, March 2, 2023

Owning their own

Schlapp has seemingly given new meaning to “conservative political action.” Those who chose to attend his organization’s conference are unlikely to own anything other than their own indifference to depravity. One is left to wonder why, for example, Ron DeSantis chose not to attend. Was he truly put off by Schlapp’s behavior, or was he afraid it was catching?

Owning liberals was always part of a right-wing conspiracy to take over and, thereby own, their own party’s apparatus. Most of us have either lost or have experienced strained relations with friends and relatives who have become victims of the right-wing conspiracy to own their own. We recently spoke with a friend who has been a victim of her party allegiance. Red-state-poor, in retirement, she resisted vaccines until she and her husband contracted COVID. She and her husband now live in poverty with health issues that are abated only by the benefits acquired from Medicare, the program her party is trying to “sunset” out of existence. She suffers her fate blaming the libs, defending the traitors of J6, and hating the president whose party advocates for her needs. The conversation ended with her wish for better times. The words dripped with irony as she gushed, “I can’t wait for Trump to return.” She sounded hopeful, even though Donald Trump values her willingness to be duped as much if not more than her vote.

As it turns out, owning the libs is like owning stock in sketchy cryptocurrencies, the more you own the worse off you may be.

Originally published at https://vincerizzo.substack.com on March 6, 2023.

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Vince Rizzo

Former president of the International Association of Laboratory Schools (IALS) and a founder of a charter school based on MI theory.