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February 15, 2011
Sitting in at CPAC
First time at the Conservative Political Action Committee. It is the right year to make that particular debut. There were 12,000-plus people there, and one felt intense delight in feeling so in synch with the gathering -- they were all on the right side of the left-right ledger. It was the biggest turnout in the history of CPAC.
The speeches and presentations were fabulous, some so funny it could have been a nightclub (Ann Coulter), some so magnificent our waves of applause were unbroken from one thought or statement to the next (Florida's Allen West -- a man some think might in a few years be president -- he already carries himself with the gravitas of a hero and a leader, which I believe he is).
We went from early a.m. to late p.m., going from ballroom to meeting space, from 3,000 in a room and overflow, to a packed room or two with 'only' 100 or so (on the history of the current Israeli/Arab situation), in a room so hard to find it was amazing to us that anyone was seated by the time we found it, far off in some aerie corner of the vast Wardman Park Marriott on a hill off Connecticut Avenue. We attended lectures on public speaking, a discussion and panel on the Ground Zero Mosque as well as a recap of the tragic deaths of firefighters and police on 9/11 by relatives, and a host of smaller meetings, such as one given by young women Tea Party publishers of a new Tea Party magazine. David Horowitz, a fiery speaker who switched many years ago from a firebrand leftist to a fierce defender of rightwing causes, also had his time in the CPAC sun, speaking of on-campus Islamism and hatred for traditional conservative values and causes.
The worthy 90-minute film made by the Gingriches on Reagan -- a deeply moving tribute that brought many to tears on Friday night -- had one impressive passage that recalled Ford letting Reagan do an ‘introductory speech' in '76 -- but the film narrator notes that it was not an intro for Ford -- it became in actuality the first speech of Reagan's 1980 run for the presidency. There was a superbig and delicious Reagan at 100 birthday cake with a colorful cowboy-hatted Reagan bust atop the triple-layer iced cake. Several hundred eager cake-o-philes stood in line for a huge slab of the chocolate and vanilla cake, moist, sweet and...like Reagan himself... enduring.
Allen West's talk as closing speaker of the CPAC convention, 2011, was to many of us instantaneously the first salvo in West's 2016 run. The moment he appeared, as we have seen every time he mounts the podium, this man of strength and fortitude has a deeply presidential, dignified and gravitas-filled presence. You gravitate to the man and his wisdom. His respectful military bearing. His solidity. These are all in marked contrast to what we have now staring out from teleprompter visions on our White House news transmissions. West is -- an adult.
DC midtown is a pleasure, a grid that is easy to figure out and navigate; wide, wide streets; stately and gracious Capitol-ish buildings; historic sites; lovely roundabouts (Dupont Circle and others) and to a New Yorker, the traffic was laughably light compared to the constant turmoil and tumble of NYC canyons. The cars are slow to accelerate after a light change, which seems strangely courteous and helped attendees on foot or otherwise to circumnavigate huge multilane avenues and intersections.
Neither Governor Palin nor Dick Morris was in attendance, nor Governor Huckabee; somehow one would have expected them, but she has first-call priorities, and so, obviously, do both men.
There was a not-large section of the main ballroom devoted to the press. Even at that, the media were not in very great numbers, which is shameful if it were not also surprising. Others had to wait in queues hundreds deep, then repair to overflow rooms for the video of the speakers when they could not get in. Trump, Coulter and a few others had these gargantuan lines snaking out and down the corridors.
Friendliness prevailed: Everyone smiled at everyone. We got free T-shirts, hats, buttons, pins, paraphernalia, books, petitions, invitations, mini-candy bars. Our favorite T: I read it for the articles (Constitution.com). There were book signings, and live on-the-spot interviews. Andrew Breitbart got caught in a phalanx of mics on the central hotel lobby floor; we watched him jostle good-naturedly with a dozen reporters from a balcony overlooking the atrium lobby. Breitbart in person was almost as funny as he was smart and cogent on the problems assailing us.
People were well dressed, the women foxy and often sexy, teeter-y on tall stems and spike heels, the men in well-tailored suits and conservative but contemporary hip haircuts. There were well-behaved people from every one of the 50 states, a sprinkling of blacks, Hispanics, cowboys, pols, mavens. There were lots of kids, many teens, a few elderly, but masses and masses of well-informed, sharp adults taking the reins. Many of the quips and 'jokes' made could not have been understood were the listeners not amazingly au courant with every aspect of government and events of the day. Former Ambassador John Bolton, serious and deeply conversant with the realities of politics and diplo-urgencies the world over, remarked that with the shocking failures of intelligence revealed by the events in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, and now, even Iran unfolding without anyone in the administration knowing much beyond the average Joe, this is one time Clapper ought not to be fired, since in all likelihood, he would be replaced with someone even worse.
All in all, the excellent feelings of bonhomie carried me along even though it was hard to find meal food, and no time for restaurants, though I did find a great organic Chinese place not far from the convention, on Connecticut, with delicious and light fare. I found a cell phone, three undated/unnamed compromising photos in a plain manila envelope, and a black shirt. I turned them in to the hotel L-and-F. My friend lost his cell, and when I called to locate him, a woman answered. She had found the cell, and guarded it for hours, and we navigated toward each other through the throngs via constant cell-phone re-vectoring, and our red hat, something that made finding us easier.
The cell phenomenon is a marvel: We all called each other constantly, since the minute you went to the loo or out for a water, you were swallowed up by milling banks of people. So all day long we were in constant touch--Where are you now? Which escalator bank? Is that Chris Rock--oh, looks exactly like him, though... Doesn't Betsy McCoughey look great in that winter-white suit? Are you looking at Margaret Hoover being interviewed? Hey! That's Richard Dreyfuss over there! [We spoke with him Friday and Saturday--he has totally white hair, and wore a Tyrolese hat that made him resemble a cheery troll with mushroom tendencies. A huge uber-liberal, Dreyfuss had to feel this event was excruciating, so I asked if this event were not excruciating; we were sure he was there under the radar doing some undeclared docu or something...] Was that Jim Pinkerton passing you--is he 6'8" or what? A giant! And is there free food at that lecture? Did you get that tote bag at the NRA booth? Where'd you get that magazine? Tea Party people were there, a strong undercurrent, with a few presentations in not-massive meeting halls.
Lots of celebs, lots of firepower, lots of 'popcorn'--jumping up and down, clapping madly. Attendees' hands are shreds of their former selves. Everyone whooped and hollered at most of what was said by Coulter, Bolton, West, and the people before and after.
What the State of the Union might have been, should have been, was heard from the Boltons, Haley Barbours, and the roster of outstanding speakers from inside and beyond the Beltway.
The only surprising and disturbing thing was the results of the straw poll -- some 3,740 people voted -- not us, as we never saw the ballots anywhere -- and the results were given for the preferred 2012 presidential candidates: Ron Paul (odd, since he has zero chance of winning) and Chris Christie, of NJ, who is building quite a head of steam, but is not onboard in terms of things like amnesty (none) and illegal aliens. We were struck dumb by the huge roar that went up at the results -- not these people! Paul is draconian, perhaps, on issues, and that makes him maybe popular -- but insofar as my pet issues go, he seems a far outlier who is scarily off the reservation.
My companions and I were chastened by the results, even though they were not a scientific poll in any way, and there is the possibility that Paul had a big staff representation at the convention, and voting; we have no way of knowing if the results were skewed, though the interpreters did a superior job of tabulating all sorts of aspects in bar charts and scales, projected on our giant screens, and compared last year's results to this year's on all the variables. The results were teased out for many minutes with slides and analysis before the audience got the information they sought: Which candidates are favored by this crowd for 2012. We noted that the rest of the ticket was not hazarded at all, though Georgia thinks Bachmann and Mitch Daniels, Johnson, Huntsman and Jindal have a better chance than the straw poll results indicated.
A sad note: Jonah Goldberg had been scheduled to speak, and at the last minute was subbed for by someone (from the National Review). A friend emailed that Jonah's 43-year-old brother, Josh, had fallen from something -- and had died. Their mother is Lucianne Goldberg, quite famous from blogging ... and the Monica Lewinsky "confessionals."
We had free wi-fi in our terrific hotel room (another Marriott, just 10 minutes' biking from the convention), a kitchenette and dishwasher and fridge and stove as well as a dressing room, three beds and great lighting -- that is my major focus, as most hotels are underlit. They gave us a fabulous included breakfast with fruit and fries and eggs and waffles and toast and yoghurt and cereal and juices and tea and coffee. Held us through the day.
Looking around in the hotel's breakfast room, I spoke with some men in my elementary Arabic, and had guessed aright -- they were Arab businessmen from Tunisia, and we discussed the current Egyptian imbroglio. They think talk about the Muslim Brotherhood to-do is overblown, a figment of the press, and not the risk we make of it. While that is comforting, I somehow doubt their take is as real-politick-y as is ours. It is a mistake to judge our situation by another culture's assessment, no matter how well-meaning.
CPAC was a smashing success. Biggest party in town.