CPAC Reflections 1: Getting Back to Core Principles
Over three days, Thursday through Saturday evening, March 14 to 16, dozens of current issues of concern to Conservatives, Libertarians and Republicans were addressed at the 40th CPAC annual get-together. On show were 200 speakers on panels and symposia, 15 full-length films and professional, info-dense documentaries, private VIP luncheons and receptions, dozens of new political and analytical books were talked and hawked, and fast new alliances were forged by people of all demographics from all 50 states.
One surprise was the vibrancy of the crowd. With thousands of college age and recent grads roving from hall to hall, bedecked with stickers and campaign buttons ["Kill the Death Bill" was pretty ubiquitous], wearing caustic-ghastly makeup Kristen Stewart and pal Robert Pattinson would be proud to display for the Zombie March dance Friday night, and queuing up for Dr. Ben Carson's autographs after a folksy but meaty barn-burner Saturday ("Let's just suppose, for a magical moment, I were to be president in 2016," his cheeky hypothetical jape, evoked storms of applause and laughter), although there was a healthy representation of adults at the Conservative Political Action gathering in DC suburb, Prince George's County, this year scarcely a retiree was visible at the surging near-8,000 attendees at the HQ Gaylord Hotel this year.
The conventional wisdom is that such a conclave would be top-heavy with hoary-headed WWII vets. Not so. Some, sure. But most of the assembly was in their robust, orneriest middles or engaging just-woken, full-fervor enthusiasts. One modern note of change: Whereas 20 and 30 years ago, the vast preponderance of attendees were smokers, this year, there were zero smokers catching a drag outside the giant Gaylord entryway. A notable fashion stand-out, or maybe a gathering trend: We spotted so few women and girls wearing pants that we could count them on the fingers of our hands.
The majority of the fashion-forward skimpy-mini crowd wore pretty skirts, knits, designer dresses or smartly tailored suits. Okay, we spotted one pair of jeans, but on just one female. Good-looking women were a commonplace in the wide, crowded corridors. Men were mostly fit, shaven, wholesome, handsome, in suits, good ties and polished shoes. Even the sexy security unit, first dressed in elephant grey, with bullet-proof Kevlars bulking up their chests under immaculate shirts, donned all-black dress uniforms the next day. Best-looking pack of security guys we've ever seen who -- given the non-violent and respectful behavior of Republicans, Tea Party Patriot folk, top-school grads, religious and ex-military attendees -- had nothing to do. Latter-day Maytag salesmen.
Bonus points: This year there were no scuzzy Occupy anarchists messing up the peripheral shrubbery and parking lot. Maybe all that heavy security detail deferred such hijinks. Side note: There were zero picture windows broken, zero attempted rapes, zero police cars soiled by attendees. Not a soul was arrested, funnily enough.
The excitement and optimism evident in the substantial youth contingent, each paying from $100 to $250 (in addition to hotel and food bills), were mirrored in the vigorous steps and clear voices of the Gen X/Y Girls-demographic. (Not that these tres serieux political mavens watch that barometer of excess, post-adolescent snapshot of anomie, geekiness, deplorable absence of norms and random hookups.) There was even a minor sensation of a few well-spoken high school and even middle-school newbie conservatives attending as assertive conservatives, to general acclaim, when their ages became known -- starting young, but articulate and refreshingly well informed, it seemed. Our own mildly fetishistic roommate acted the welcome sounding board and pleasant co-enjoyer of events and presentations.
Meet 'n' greets were fun for attentive young and old alike. We attended a privileged, separate from CPAC Shabbaton at a nearby hotel, also in sight of the shimmering harbor a few hundred yards away, the evening moderated by columnist Joel Mowbray, where about 100 diners were surprised by the personable, marvelously erect, personably droll and knowledgeable former Rep. Allen West, mid-gefilte fish, mixed salad and cold cuts. West discussed current events on the hill and abroad, particularly as regards unconscionable "gifts" to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, in terms of a quarter billion dollars to the Islamist all-but-dictator and avowed anti-Semite/anti-Zionist, Mohamed Morsi, plus the latest tanks and aircraft.
West stayed a good time, considering his busy schedule, book commitments and public speech to the much larger non-Shabbat crowd. We met some fascinating people at this "tisch" of 100 mostly out-of-state CPAC attendees.
Saturday, midday -- same harbor-view hotel, different room, smaller crowd -- we were treated to a political comic for a fast stand-up set on absurd aspects of the political zeitgeist landscape. We had heard rumors that Ted Cruz would drop in, as Allen West, ACORN-buster James O'Keefe (whom Breitbart had deemed "one of the best journalist-reporters in the country" after he and his pretend-prostitute partner had outed ACORN for the frauds they were), and cartographer Mark Langfan had, the night before.
Attendees hailed from all over the United States, with a few even coming from digs in Europe, Russia, the Far East and South America. Excitement and enthusiasm were evident, whether at the Exhibit Hall down two levels from the exhibition concourse, to the flyering volunteers at every escalator efforting to convince the crowds that Chris Christie is still a hero party fave, still the capacious GOP hope for 2016, and not to sequester him out for his storm Sandy perceived party betrayal and padded shoulder-to-skinny shoulder camaraderie with the current half-and-half top Administration enchilada.
The NRA and Intercollegiate Institute, Citizens United as well as the active Tea Party Patriots were strongly in evidence around the hotel and in booths downstairs. They made T-shirts, mandatory totes, free bottles of water, buttons, bumper stickers, ample cocktail receptions, refreshing chocolate mints, even elegant quilted carrying cases with terrific box lunches available, if you knew where to look. And what session to attend.
Speaking of the White House, not much ozone was expended in presentations, roundtables and panels, as policy issues focused on repair, reclamation, fairer representation of military votes, the Justice Department under siege by a seeming injustice moustache-mind, better media accountability and reporting than is currently the case, the future of the GOP and the Tea Party, how the sometimes-fraudulent electoral system can be ameliorated, and halting the dizzying four-year and counting hemorrhage of 'transparency' and accountability under the flouted Constitution can be stoppered. It was not a 3-day calumny-fest.
While the ills of the body politic were cited in relation to how they can best be framed and repaired, the dear-leader-from-behind name was, in fact, notable for being MIA. That is not to say that the book launches and films did not address the golfer-in-chief. They assuredly did and do.
New media were in evidence, with annual blogging awards on hand, and app-, online-, in-person and computer-driven straw polls. (Surprise, not: Rand Paul was favorited for 2016, just as, for most recent poll years, Ron Paul invariably garnered top straws, pulled by his legion of -- often bussed-in -- supporters.) Rand Paul's edgy and amusement-flecked talk on Thursday maximized his fan base after his stellar performance with an historic 13-hour filibuster against unilateral, unvetted presidential drone-strikes against American citizens on American soil.
As fitting for the speedy electronic age we inhabit, websites and think tanks, institutes and national student leadership programs were talked up, radio and TV interviews taking place on the floor of the major presentation hall. Cellphones, tablets, droids and iPads vied for space with laptops and the occasional humble notebook. At the media pen, with several hundred reps from national papers, magazines, online, international, national and local newsies, it was actually fun to be speed-writing next to communications peeps who did not snort or coast in sneering condescension, which occurs routinely in events that are salted with the heavily leftist press corps.
One Asian writer moved away to a different spot in the holding pen, but actually came back to apologize for having left his first spot: "I didn't want you to think I moved away from you or anything. There was no outlet for my laptop here." Though he was Japanese, we think, he was what one would call in mamma loshen, Yiddish, a real mensch. We were interviewed, ourselves, by three separate radio interview programs during the three days, a sports-and-rock station, a political talk channel, and a local satirical program. Many photographs were politely requested. (We are not sure why; probably something to do with our clothing making a statement of sorts.)
During the 3-day event, there were 36 book signings, authors delighted in the venue and occasion, generously sharing their time with purchasers. Titles ranged from Benjamin Shapiro's smart monograph on Bullies: How the Left's Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America (Watch that guy; he was on some panels, he's young enough to pass for an undergrad, and he is smart, sharp, fast...a real comer, our estimation.)
Books promoted at intervals throughout each day, with signings held in the Exhibit Hall down two level; Frank Marshall Davis (someone's REAL father, author suggests); Benghazi and Fast & Furious cover-ups; transparency concerns; bullying by the left; handling the onerous health imposition of the ACA on our lives, privacy and bankbooks.
And film. For those who like their patriotism in the dark, watching and, possibly, resting from all the ambient turbulence stirred up by the wealth of information imparted by the sessions, there was a pride of films and yet more. Fifteen of them, most, sponsored by Citizens United. Among them were full-on features and docs, going from Phelim McAleer's debunking colossus Fracknation, to Dinesh D'Souza's popular 2016, Mike Huckabee's film, The Gift of Life, The Hope & The Change (40 disappointed Democrats talk about their change of heart, and party) from Stephen Bannon; Newt and Calista Gingrich'es timely documentary, America at Risk: The War with No Name, fanatics following their notion of Koranic dicta, but faced with the targets' (us) impossibility of waging winning war against an enemy the government adamantly refuses to even identify, even works overtime to pretend does not exist; plus their hagiography of Ronald Reagan, Rendezvous with Destiny; to Judicial Watch'es DC premiere, District of Corruption, spotlighting government scandal, secrecy and epic ... corruption. One disappointment: Many of us were waiting impatiently for Hillary, The Movie, billed as "everything you've forgotten and need to know about the would-be presidential candidate," but someone forgot to screen it, and our 'need to know' was mysteriously canceled sans explanation.
Issues presented and discussed included reducing the unprecedented debt burden, absent budgets, protecting the military in the face of unprecedented budget cuts, lopsided healthcare, and reconfiguring the current unwonted and escalating costs of the Affordable Care Act, foreign-aid extravagance (especially to avowed enemy states making no secret of their wish-list to dismantle or destroy this country), energy policies, marriage, pregnancy termination, gender concerns, environment, illegal immigration, gun management concerns, Constitutional issues breached by current House abuses, threats from abroad, connecting to the Tea Party , the Justice system, party growth, "global warming" alarmism, branding and marketing of the party, public safety and education--of the voter as well as of youth. Daily Leadership Institute job workshops and internship fairs attracted a steady stream of career hopefuls; these did not focus solely on college grads, but were thoughtfully geared at employment seekers of all age groups, when 89 million Americans are out of work or earning only part-time income.
A major tranche of CPAC time and sentiment was expended in memorials, films, convention coverage, and a lavish cocktail hour for hundreds, devoted to the inestimable loss of the merry savant and media conscience gadfly, Andrew Breitbart. His contribution to the CPACs of the past few years and recently cannot be overstated. Breitbart died one year ago of a massive heart attack. He was just 43.
For good measure, in terms of starred speeches, several were outstanding and a cause for wildly jubilant applause and cheering. Rising rock stars Marco Rubio and Rand Paul (his posters read: "Stand for Rand") scored high on the Thursday superpopular ratings. Friday, Donald Trump raised a blip or two. But for hot, buttered pop-pop terrific, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA filled the 3,000-seat Potomac ballroom, with his rhythmic, reiterated invocation, "And they think I'm crazy?!"
Bobby Jindal, much more relaxed onstage than his ill-fated appearance 4 years ago as the opposition rejoinder to the State of the Union, opened with a series of comic jibes at Democrat frailties and peccadillos, the president's various handicaps, and acquitted himself well.
But the two sweep-you-off-your-feet speakers were Dr. Ben Carson, who recently put the White house back on its heels at the National Prayer Breakfast -- and repeated his first grand slam with his direct, genuinely warm, straightforward talk on the responsibility of the state to its people, its health imperatives and his simple faith in faith and the efficacy of the solid parental structure to produce winning citizens in a competitive world. It was brought home to listeners that he is, one, a supremely talented brain surgeon, a man never born with the silver spoon of the spendthrift-in-chief, and yet far more accomplished than those who were shocked at his effrontery in criticizing the president for mounting debt, and for sabotaging of the national health system by an unwanted grab for one-sixth of the economy-an act stuffed down our unwilling throats and becoming ever more a horrendous mistake and costly liability. And two, he could get away with what he said because he, too, is black; no one can accuse him invidiously of the now-corrupt and vile charge of "racism" visited like holy water on Easter Sunday against those daring to counter the administration on any issue. Pow. Pow.
And then there was former Governor Sarah Palin, who came out all pistons blazing, with humor, puckish wit, deft packaging, terrific writing -- no teleprompter. She chided those who needed chiding. And she topped off her boffo performance with a little gesture that brilliantly reminded the cheering, raucously applauding packed house about two annoying recent disruptions: She reached below her lectern for a long second, and drew out a huge cup imprinted BIG GULP, and sucked on the straw. She mocked those who had pitilessly attacked Marco Rubio some weeks ago for nothing more than reaching for a drink of water on air, while at the same time also giving a saucy in-your-face Oh Yeah? to 'Nanny Mayor' Michael Bloomberg, whose effort to deny New Yorkers the right to buy a plus-size soda, over 16 ounces, was recently trounced in the courts, which stated that he had overreached his authority.
It was so audacious a move, yet so simple in conception, that not a few people mourned the loss of the McCain presidency, if only because this kind of gorgeous intelligence was subbed in by the plastic box of hammers called Joe Biden. What would our past four years have been, had this feisty politician been permitted to let 'er rip on all the issues she has a handle on far deeper and more insightful than the wooden wallflower veep, his legendary malaprops and goofball missteps?
She also talked guns: For Xmas, she said her husband, Todd got a new rifle, and she bought him somewhere to hang it: So Todd has the gun, and I have the rack.
And it didn't even matter that she came onstage and faced hordes of her enthusiasts wearing what looked like fitted black jeans instead of something perhaps a bit more suitable for such a public appearance. We'll forgive her that. And as it turned out, the studly moderator, FNC host Steven Crowder, coming onstage immediately afterwards to intro longtime battler Phyllis Schlafly was nearly unhinged by Palin's killer presentation. "I love my wife, but [Palin] is a smart, effective professional woman who is, umm, sooo FINE!" Crowder gushed [roughly reproduced]. Before he made mock of Joseph Biden's hypocrisy at going to Rome to meet with the new pontiff, Pope Francis, in the face of his, and Nancy Pelosi's, unchurchly positions on abortion: They both say they're Catholics. (Though Pelosi has been denied communion as a ticklish consequence of her ...non-sacramental, uncatholic views.)
But wait. As long as this coverage is (and we know: it's nearly as long as CPAC, itself), politics, in the form of disinviting speakers, managed to in sweep one issue, or series of issues, under the rug.
One panel, held in the hotel on Saturday, treated the urgent topics of Muslim expansionism, jihad and government infiltration and their handmaidens in the form of a nest of nuanced but increasingly hard to ignore threats to the country and its people. This panel, titled "The Uninvited," went athwart the organizers of the conference, since one of the chief legs of CPAC involves Grover Norquist, whose credentials are unimpeachable as a patriot, but whose alignment toward Islamism, terror groups and the like is a hands-off proposition.
A 6-person panel, attracting an SRO crowd, included national experts on sharia, jihad and governmental compromise. Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, authors and activists in these arenas, and three other experts, spoke passionately and answered questions from an audience concerned about the country's safety, given the peculiar lassitude of the Administration to terror advocates, financing, even outright attacks. Attendees remarked afterwards that the public needs more information in order to process these concerns; holding a 'banned' roundtable on these issues was a necessary part of the important conference. It is to the speakers' credit that they pursued this meeting, and brought their lifelong study of the dangers presented to the CPAC 3-day fora.
What is the upshot of this inspiring, near-encyclopedic review of the issues facing the GOP and their allies in the near and distant future? Citing Jeb Bush, in an op-ed penned in mid-March for The Wall Street Journal, "The road to Republican revival," the goal is:
"The central mission of conservatives is to reignite social mobility in this country-restoring the right to rise."