CPAC Reflections 2: It's Not Happening
Watching CPAC from the comfort of my living room arm chair, a sinking feeling arose that would not abate. I assume CPAC exists to inspire the crowd. But it's also a major event with a lot of visibility. Anytime we have the bully pulpit shouldn't we make our case clearly and boldly? I presume so.
But it didn't happen.
The speeches were inappropriately small. (And, as an aside, most speakers were introduced with the same 4 ½ second pop music clip blaring the following lyrics: "You're insecure. Don't know what for. You're turning heads when you walk through the door." Were they kidding? It was utterly amateurish.)
But, back to the speeches....
Ben Carson, who is a welcome voice on the scene, gave what is now a canned speech. Having heard him speak on several occasions I looked forward to hearing something new. But it wasn't there. He spent the latter portion of his speech talking about the organization he formed that focuses on education. His organization may be terrific, but it represents a microscopic dot on a horizon in flames. And the brief interview with him afterwards was shameful, with the cocky interviewer droning on and hardly giving Carson a chance to speak.
Mia Love was another speaker I looked forward to hearing. Regrettably, she was introduced as "A woman!' and "Black!" I recoiled in my chair. In no particular order: (1) we know, (2) we're not interested in identity politics, and (3) Mia Love has based her work on her values, not on her gender or skin color. Alas.
Anyway, out came Love with her usual radiance. I like her and supported her campaign in 2012. Unfortunately, her speech sounded more like a high school valedictorian speech than that of an up and coming star of the conservative movement. Apparently, we need to be more confident. The word "confidence" was used more times than Obama can say "I, me, or my" in a single speech. Love's speech was absolutely bursting with references to "confidence" (including having the confidence to be confident). And if you missed the message to be confident, mid-way through her 10-minute presentation she referenced her Haitian-American community and her Latino American friends. Huh? I did not appreciate the "Latino American" throwaway line. If this is the GOP's idea of reaching out to the Hispanic community, then we are doomed on that front.
Michele Bachman gave a speech that hit on some good points, but it was disjointed. First she set off to make a case about who really "cares." It seemed like it was headed in the direction of realizing that the people who really care about us are our family and loved ones. But apparently it's the people at CPAC who really care about us. From there, she segued into Benghazi, the war on children, cyber attacks by our enemies, who really cares (repeated theme), White House indulgences, and so on. All good points, but there was no big picture offered other than her attempt to repeatedly talk about how much "we care." Sigh.
Ted Cruz is a voice I welcome with eager ears. But even his keynote speech was small and disconnected. There was no overarching vision presented with bold words. He spoke about the "stagnating economy," but steered clear of naming precisely what is going on. He talked about our "free market system," but dared not say that our government has been infiltrated by socialists, communists, Marxists, and Islamists, who have a very different vision for America. He spoke repeatedly of the need to get back to "growth and opportunity" -- another generic phrase that gets lost in the shuffle because it is vague and forgettable. It leaves no lasting impression.
During the half hour he spoke, he made no mention of the looming threats to our national security save a passing comment on the money Obama gave to Egypt. He, along with so many other conservatives, seem not to grasp that the issue of big government vs small government, taxes, growth, and all the rest won't matter if we are destroyed by enemies who live within our borders and who are lapping at the shores. Cruz also quips about the sequester like far too many conservatives of late, glibly mocking it by sarcastically pointing out how we're all doing just fine after this miniscule cut. Why the joke? Why not rail against the horror of what the sequester is going to do to our ever-weakened military? And lastly on the subject of Senator Cruz, he doesn't do himself any favors by pontificating. As much as I can't stand Diane Feinstein, her recent reference to Cruz as patronizing was not off the mark. I hate to admit it.
Artur Davis was also among the roster of speakers. Like others who spoke before and after him, he referenced the Constitution and talked about how our opponents are pushing the bounds of it. But he did not rattle off a devastating laundry list of how they are doing so.
Rand Paul, who vaulted to hero in the span of a few days, spoke. He began by carrying out two stuffed 3-ring binders while self-consciously complaining that he was only given "10 measly minutes" to speak (which wasn't true, he spoke for nearly 20), but that just in case, he brought 13 hours of information. If he was aiming for a self-congratulatory moment for applause, he succeeded. Anyway, let me say upfront, I don't trust the man. To cite a recent example, the ridiculous charade during Hagel's hearings was sickening. Paul posed direct questions as if to create sound/video bites at his disposal for some future use down the road. Then he voted for Hagel. And if that weren't bad enough, he gave an incredibly absurd reason for casting his "yes" vote. Conservatives were up in arms. No one would forgive him. People were aghast and fed up. Fast forward to CPAC and the crowd was adoring him. I don't care how long he spoke during the filibuster. Great leaders must have the total package. They must be great in all the ways it counts. Rand Paul does not fit that bill.
Marco Rubio was among the early speakers. He championed the idea that conservative values embrace limited government and free market values. How many times can these people repeat these tired phrases? Spell it out. Explain. Paint a vivid picture. And will someone please tell me when, oh when, did national security disappear from the discourse? Wasn't it the case that conservatives and Republicans used to champion national security? Weren't we the ones who clearly differentiated ourselves from the left on this score? Anyway, Rubio spoke with some gravitas, though the speech was not powerful.
Newt's speech was ok. He's usually better than most. But, like Carson, he also spent a large portion of his speech talking about his organization as he encouraged listeners to visit his website. Again, a microscopic offering in the midst of a war. He also sprinkled in what I see as a compulsion on the part of many on the right to show how even-handed they are. It's something I don't expect from Newt and we don't need more of "see how nice and inclusive we can be" rubbish. In this case, Newt recommended Gavin Newsom's new book. Really? Of all the incredible books out there, he had to cite one written by a progressive? Why? The best part of Newt's speech was when he quoted Reagan's reference to there being no right or left, but only up or down. Indeed. And I think we know where we are currently headed.
So overall, bits and pieces of speeches had merit. But the scale was all wrong. And so was much of the tone.
We're in a battle to save our nation. We are battling evil that threatens to destroy us from within and from without. This isn't about someone's well-intentioned non-profit organization, or how the Obamas have too many chefs, or how we need to be confident for goodness sake. And it's not about what any given speaker has done. It's about articulating big ideas and clearly painting the path forward.
Mercifully, from the speeches I watched (and I did not watch them all), there were two exceptions in all of this.
One was Allen West's speech. Allen West does not mince words. He is a serious man speaking of serious matters. He is an inspirational leader who was undermined by his own party to ensure he would not be re-elected. How dreadful was that? But I believe Allen West will forever fight for America. And thank God for him. Perhaps he packed too much into his time, moving between historical references and words of inspiration. But I believe this man is the real deal and I pray he will become a leading voice.
The other exception was a panel put together by the Breitbart organization called "The Uninvited." Here was a panel of luminaries who spoke about the gravest threat before our nation. These panelists were marginalized by speaking under the banner of this sad heading as if they had to sit at the children's table. And if that weren't enough, even the moderator of the panel attempted to suppress part of Robert Spencer's presentation. But Robert and all the rest of them spoke, none-the-less. And boldly. And thank God for them.
And then there was Sarah Palin. In a class all her own. Invigorating, inspiring, engaging, charming. Alas, still not a word about national defense, but by then I gave up. I was happy to hear someone who sounded relatively spontaneous deliver some good lines with gumption and spunk. A good note to end my arm chair experience with CPAC. Still, I was left without any real sense that any speaker, including Palin, has a clue as to how to save this nation. Palin implored us not to see those on the left as our enemies, but as our sisters, neighbors, and friends. That sounds awfully naïve to me. Because the left sees us as the enemy and they are steam rolling over us every single day.
For the sake of time and space, I have not reported on every speech. Perhaps there were some truly remarkable ones. But from the sampling I heard, I was not impressed. It was like eating what should have been a hot meal served at room temperature.
At this time in history, every single conservative voice needs to be powerful and fearless. Leading voices must call out the enemy, name the dangers, educate the public, and offer solutions.
And it's not happening.
Our enemies are bringing all manner of weapon to the fight and we're serving up tea and crumpets. We need great leaders. And we need them now.