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Salvo 07.26.2021 5 minutes

No, Porn Stars Are Not Conservative

2019 XBIZ Awards

A defense of Turning Point USA

Turning Point USA (TPUSA) is not what one would generally think of as a bastion of dogmatic Christian zealotry. But that was precisely the charge levelled against the influential conservative youth organization by Brandi Love, the adult film actress who was booted from TPUSA’s annual Student Action Summit (SAS) last weekend after parents of young attendees complained about her presence at the event.

TPUSA’s decision to revoke and refund Love’s $550 VIP tickets was “a worst-case example of cancel culture,” the 48-year-old porn star told the Daily Caller. “It’ s one of the more egregious examples of it. TPUSA literally opened the show talking about how we need to fight back against Big Tech censorship, cancel culture, the deterioration of our First Amendment, etc…If TPUSA is the future, then the future is run by puritanical, fanatically devout Christians who will demand compliance or else.”

TPUSA’s decision to remove a hardcore pornographer from a youth-oriented event like SAS should be seen as uncontroversial. The self-described “conservative porn star”—a 14-time AVN and XBiz nominee—and writer—whose published work includes such classics as Getting Wild Sex from Your Conservative Woman—was blocked from the event “in keeping with [our] standard operating procedures to not involve porn brands, influencers, or personalities that post or publish sexually explicit and pornographic content,” according to a statement TPUSA sent to Newsweek on Sunday. Love, born Tracey Lynn Livermore, was not a victim of mob-directed “cancel culture,” as she and her apologists claim; her removal from SAS was in keeping with the conference rules. TPUSA’s statement continues:

As a matter of policy, TPUSA does not allow adult entertainers, influencers, or brands to participate in its events designed for minors. This was not a decision intended to be unkind to anyone, but in the interest of the student attendees in attendance, and their thousands of concerned parents.

In other words: A reasonable application of a reasonable policy. Surely conservatives, of all people, could be expected to agree—right?

Not quite. Livermore’s Twitter account has become the focus of an intra-conservative debate. Even as some mainstream conservatives came out in support of TPUSA’s decision to refund Livermore’s tickets, the move provoked withering criticism from many corners of the right. The number of prominent conservatives who championed her cause in last weekend’s debate points to a deeper rot in the mainstream conservative understanding of first principles.

Conservatism and “Cancel Culture”

Conservatism, properly understood, does not defend a value-neutral amoral order; our political tradition looks to John Adams over John Stuart Mill. But Livermore’s own argument that the ban was in tension with TPUSA’s stated opposition to “cancel culture” is predicated on the assumption that conservative critics of left-wing moral strictures must necessarily be libertines themselves, as if the only valid alternative to political correctness and left-wing cultural orthodoxy is the absence of any social or cultural standards whatsoever. A version of this argument was echoed by many of Livermore’s right-wing apologists. As Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist—an outlet that Love has written for on multiple occasionstweeted: “I’m disappointed that @TPUSA kicked out @brandi_love for no reason whatsoever. She’s a Florida conservative businesswoman who loves America. The right has an opportunity to be the big tent party. Don’t be a bunch of prudes.”

Some variation of that sentiment was voiced repeatedly by self-proclaimed conservatives throughout the controversy. “I couldn’t care less who bangs who, and I missed the part of the Constitution that addresses threesomes,” tweeted TV commentator John Cardillo. “If [a porn star like Livermore] shows up just to attend and listen, you give her a big hug and treat her like gold. This is not hard,” The First host Jesse Kelly wrote scoldingly. Livermore herself made this the centerpiece of her crusade against TPUSA: “It’s stupid to persecute people who have a different lifestyle than you,” she complained in her interview with the Daily Caller. “That’s a recipe for a shrinking party.”

But hardcore pornography is not just a different lifestyle. If an unrepentant hardcore pornographer who specializes in incest and cuckoldry scenes shows up at an event frequented by 15-year-olds, one doesn’t have to be a “prude” to raise one’s eyebrows. An insidious libertarianism has captured the language and worldview of the modern right. The inability to distinguish between liberty and license is endemic to today’s conservative mainstream.

Libertarians have always struggled with this issue. In a characteristic response to the weekend’s controversy, the official Libertarian Party account tweeted that “while Libertarians and *actual* ‘constitutional conservatives’ both advocate for small government, only Libertarians won’t force their morality onto others.” (“@brandi_love may not be welcome at @TPUSA events, but she’s welcome at the LP’s events,” they added). But isn’t allowing a private entity to associate with whomever it pleases—justified by appealing to the principle of “small government”—the definition of the libertarian worldview, and for that matter, the basis of its justification of Big Tech’s political censorship? Such incoherence is an outgrowth of libertarianism’s suspicion of any limitations on individual autonomy, which inevitably conflates the tyrannical exercise of state power with the enforcement of any kind of moral authority whatsoever.

This libertarianization of conservatism is the reason for the widespread accusation that TPUSA’s decision to remove Livermore was somehow hypocritical, in tension with the organization’s critiques of “cancel culture.” But the problem with cancel culture is not simply that some opinions are seen as socially unacceptable, but that our standards for what those opinions are have shifted radically to the left. Conservatives should be seeking to move those standards rightward, not seeking to abolish them altogether in favor of a libertarian “live and let live” morality. The idea that the right can only ever be intellectually consistent in its critiques of cancel culture if it never enforces its own standard of social morality is a gross perversion of the “liberty” that is often invoked as the basis of such arguments.

The Limits of “Big Tent”-ism

Up until now, the right’s attempts to resist the left’s increasingly censorious public orthodoxy have been on almost exclusively libertarian grounds, opposing the left’s conception of morality because it threatens “liberty” rather than on the grounds that it is substantively wrong or unjust. This defensive retreat into empty proceduralism—in which an emaciated sort of individual autonomy in the “marketplace of ideas” is elevated over any concrete or permanent standard of right—has crippled our ability to articulate any serious alternative to the left’s vision of justice and the common good. All we have to offer instead is a milquetoast moral pluralism.

Perhaps we simply can’t afford to exclude anyone from our coalition in the urgency of the current political moment. This was one of the more compelling arguments mustered in Livermore’s defense—that “a conservatism that shrinks its base to pretend it’s morally superior will sadly continue to lose the fight for this country,” as Twitchy editor Sam Janney argued, and that “exclusionary social conservatism” will “be guaranteed to lose elections,” as the libertarian singer Phil Labonte tweeted. Certainly, the hour grows late; conservatives—patriots of any political disposition, really—can hardly afford to refuse any potential allies in the existential fight for America. But the right’s “big tent,” while a laudable aspiration in the abstract, has its limits.

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