I would have liked to get to this post sooner, but in a way, I am glad I didn’t. The distance of a couple of days helps put the events of Saturday in perspective, even if I can’t remember each minute detail the same way I might have, had I been able to post either Saturday night or Sunday morning. More on that in a minute, when I share some final thoughts.
It may reveal how exhausting the CPAC schedule is when I disclose that I couldn’t drag myself out of bed to get up the hill to the Marriott in time for all of Rick Santorum’s speech, which was scheduled to start at 8:30. I made it for the last 10 minutes or so, in time to hear him sounding a strident tone, warning of the dangers of a militant Iranian theocracy and the machinations of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Santorum is one of the smartest neoconservative thinkers and hit back hard in the Q & A period that followed his speech when he was asked if the USA could afford financially to be meddling where its presence isn’t desired. (Not the exact wording, but I believe I’m being faithful to the spirit of the question.)
Rick Santorum is one of the politicians I have admired most for many years and continue to today. I didn’t seek many autographs or photographs with the plethora of celebrities who were present at CPAC, but when I happened to walk by the area where Santorum was conducting a meet and greet, I quickly lined up for a picture with this fine man. There has been no greater stalwart for the sanctity of life and the sacredness of marriage in the political arena than Rick Santorum. He has occasionally wandered off the reservation, e.g. his backing of Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey in 2004. But he acknowledged this mistake before the CPAC audience (before I arrived in the building; I found out about it on Twitter) and when queried about why Pat Toomey is the expected nominee this go-round and not Santorum, the Senator issued a 4-word reply, “Because he’s earned it.”
Heavy hitters came in rapid succession on Saturday. Accordingly, we moved straight from Rick Santorum, in a bit of discordant but hilarious dissimilarity, to Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart actually emceed several sessions at CPAC 2009, but returned this year to much wider recognition. Thanks to the significant role he played in showcasing the ACORN exposes of James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles (who introduced him to the CPAC’10 crowd), he has now gone from being a behind the scenes player to the status of a celebrity in demand at CPAC and elsewhere. Breitbart spent most of his 15 minutes or so in a diatribe laced with biting invective and satire, directed at MSNBC, John Podesta and sundry other leftist front groups. I thoroughly relished the whole tirade, but especially enjoyed the few minutes he spent sharing the enlightenment he received as a young liberal student in a New Orleans college who became thoroughly fed up with the deconstructionist nihilism of his professors and as a result, launched a lucrative career in conservative activism.
Bill Bennett was next, introduced by the 14-year-old conservative sensation, Jonathan Krohn, whom I met out in the lobby later. Bill Bennett has accrued such gravitas that he demands respect. He is certainly a hero of mine. I love the quiet, but authoritative way in which he makes his case, enjoy his radio show on a regular basis and have read his books. He has star power and connects with his audience.
Speaking of books, the panel that followed Bill Bennett was one of the highlights of the whole 3 days for me. I read a lot of books that counted in 2009, but two that will stand out not just in that year, but, I think, for the rest of my life, are Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism and Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man. Both authors were present. Goldberg addressed, in a brief synopsis, the raison d’etre for the book. He had realized the void of intellectual literature on the true meaning of fascism, the failure of the public at large to understand that it was a phenomenon of the Left and also that “fascist” is not a term to casually throw around, but must be understood for what it is: “A religion of the state [that] assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people…It views everything as political and holds that any action byt he state is justified to achieve the common good.” (I pulled that definition directly from the book, rather than rely on my memory.) Shlaes recounted familiar material from her book, as well, including several anecdotes from FDR’s administration. She showed real fortitude, showing up to speak at all, with a bad case of laryngitis.
Ann Coulter spoke at the stroke of noon and filled the ballroom wall to wall, with perhaps thousands at capacity in overflow conference rooms outside the Marriott Ballroom. Coulter is one of a kind. There are only a handful of speakers, not just in the conservative movement, but anywhere in the world, who can command such a massive audience who hang spellbound on every word they utter. And she isn’t even really a serious political pontificator, though she is a very intelligent one. (Many forget that she has a JD from the University of Michigan Law School and was an attorney for a while in the Department of Justice Honors Program, among other achievements, prior to hitting the big time as an author and on the punditry circuit. Read Matt Latimer’s book for more funny stories about her.) It is no wonder she is consistently invited back to CPAC. She hits it out of the park every time and makes the losers at Media Matters spit nails.
I left to get a Chipotle burrito and blackberry Izze and got back in time for Newt Gingrich’s speech, only to discover a ballroom at capacity, with a line of hundreds more snaking back across the ropeline, waiting to get in. I didn’t hear a word of what Newt said, though I could clearly intuit the rapturous reception he was receiving from the crowd.
There were two more panels on Saturday afternoon that were highly worth the time, one on global warming and the other on the future of the conservative movement in 2010. The global warming topic could not have been more timely, with the 3-feet high piles of yet-to-melt snow stacked on either side of the walks that we all were forced to negotiate whenever we headed anywhere in DC. It rarely snows in DC at all and they have coped with 2 blizzards in the last 6 weeks or so. Steven Milloy, the author of Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them, and Chris Horner, the author of Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed, were both on hand to hold forth on this topic and did so in a highly competent fashion. BUT, the fireworks came from my friend Ann McElhinney…not that anyone expected otherwise. Ann is one of the producers of the documentary film Not Evil, Just Wrong, which debuted last fall. Ann did not have kind words for James Cameron or for his latest cinematic wonder, Avatar, and bitterly skewered its contents, to the uproarious mirth of the crowd.
The panel on the 2010 elections was a virtual Who’s Who of commentators. Matt Latimer, former Bush White House speechwriter, moderated the panel, made up of pollster Ed Goeas, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Michael Barone of the yearly Almanac of American Politics (though more would probably recognize him as the anchor of the Fox News decision desk throughout the 2008 primary and election season) and John Gizzi, political editor of Ronald Reagan’s favorite newspaper, Human Events. Gizzi received full-throated cheers when he expertly reeled off all 30+ of the House districts that are seeing retirements this year and stated that all but 1 of them stand a chance to be either retained or picked up by the GOP. In the case of the Senate, not even one GOP seat is in serious play, whereas most of the Democrat seats stand at least a chance of a Republican pickup. Both Norquist and Barone, but especially Barone, have been on the political scene for so long and are so plugged into its inner workings that they can effortlessly tap a wealth of stories from the past that draw parallels to the current scene. It was a highly interesting panel.
Glenn Beck, as everyone knows by now, was the closing speaker of the evening. I have heard all of the commentary in the ensuing 48 hours about the Beck speech. I can only detail how it all felt in the immediacy of the moment. While it lacked the exhilarating qualities of Rush Limbaugh’s speech to CPAC 2009, it certainly was not the downer I feared it might be, as a regular watcher of his TV show and daily listener to his radio program. A chalkboard was wheeled out about 10 minutes into the speech and Beck shared a brief lesson on the devastation of progressivism in both parties for the next 40 minutes, while making it clear that this path must be shunned if America is to survive. Candidly, I probably would have avoided the description of the current “morning in America” as a “hungover, vomit-inducing, head-pounding kind of morning, but morning nonetheless.” And one of my regular critiques of Beck is that he is too sweeping in his generalizing denunciations of the Republican Party, at times. But most radio hosts fall prey to this tendency; with 3-hour shows and mostly stream-of-consciousness monologue combined with some prepped points of argument, oversimplification can occur. Beck regularly welcomes Jim DeMint, Michele Bachmann and other establishment Republicans to his show. And even more to the point, Beck never pretends to be other than what he is: a regular, self-taught guy who reads a lot and thinks out loud. Beck is right on when he paints a picture of our country and its fiscal crisis as a desperate situation that needs immediate attention. And he could not be more correct when he stated inimitably that “it isn’t enough just to not suck as much as the next guy.” Ronald Reagan stated, a bit more artfully, that conservatism was about raising “a banner with bold colors, no pale pastels.” The crowd loved the speech at the time and Beck received repeated ovations. He ended on a truly high note, with a triumphant reading of Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” as a tribute to the American exceptionalism that he espoused unashamedly and, yes, at times, tearfully, all the way through the speech.
Regardless of the disagreements some may have with Glenn Beck and his tactics (and I have a few), it is difficult not to conclude that he passionately loves his country and wants to see it continue to shine on as a beacon for future generations.
CPAC 2010 now belongs in the annals of political history.
The energy level this year was through the roof…off the charts. As I looked back, I could see that it had all begun last year, when we realized, 5 weeks after 2 million exuberant Obama supporters witnessed his inauguration, that conservatisim was alive and well and here to stay, contrary to the premature reports of its demise. Rush Limbaugh made the same pronouncement on his show today.
I enjoyed being able to meet new friends and renew acquaintance with ones I had met in the previous year as much as or more than listening to the celebrity speakers. Twitter revolutionized my CPAC experience this time around and I have a feeling that if I had obtained blogger credentials and hung out in the Blogger’s Lounge, it would have enhanced the 3 days even more. Every time I go to DC, I learn more about how the city works and what conservatives there and around the country are trying to accomplish.
The pace at CPAC clips along so quickly, though…such a blitz of speeches, coverage, conversations and discussions that it takes me several days to sort through it all after it is over, let alone catch up on sleep! Be assured, though, that this is, more than ever, THE happening event for conservatives each year. At church Sunday night, after flying home in the morning, I was greeted by people who had followed what I was doing on Facebook (not many at my church are on Twitter yet). I was asked by one friend, “Can anyone go who wants to?” I was pleased to reply in the affirmative. My hat is off to CPAC and the American Conservative Union (the chief sponsor) for intentionally keeping the costs affordable so that it is accessible to grassroots types all across the United States.
I feed off of the encouragement from CPAC all year. I’ll be back for CPAC 2011, ready for more interaction, excitement and memories.