Sunday, March 17, 2013

CPAC: The Parody And The Ecstasy

CPAC: The Parody And The Ecstasy

Every March, good conservatives from all over the country put on their finest wacko bird plumage and swan their way down to the annual three-day debutante ball known as CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The sponsoring organization of CPAC is the American Conservative Union.  The conference is open to anyone who wants to register; $195.00 will get you General Admission, $1,000.00 the VIP Package.  The guest list of speakers, however, is a Mrs. Astor’s 400 list of acceptable conservatives.

In with a bang this year was Rand Paul, fresh off his filibuster triumph.  Returning hero Marco Rubio was given a prime-speaking slot.  Also hot, Ted Cruz, the freshman Senator from Texas who seems to personify slashing partisanship.  And new star Ben Carson, the Johns Hopkins surgeon who broke protocol at the non-partisan National Prayer Breakfast by sharply criticizing Mr. Obama.

Out were large-bodied, large personalities with Joisey accents.  Also out, interestingly, was Virginia’s quite conservative Republican Governor, Bob McDonnell.  His sin was backing a roads and transportation bill with tax revenue.  Christie didn’t come.  McDonnell was asked by evangelical right leader Ralph Reed to give a few remarks at a small private gathering as a consolation prize.  Also out, very out, but very much in attendance, was Karl Rove, who was hissed at multiple opportunities.

So, what do all these folk actually do at CPAC?  What do they talk about?

Remember, first and foremost, that the Conservative movement is one of ideas.  So there are a lot of highbrow, deeply intellectual books about the philosophical underpinnings of modern Conservative thought, often placed in a gemütlich setting.  At “Muffins and Mimosas With the Honorable Ken Cuccinelli” you can meet the great man and pick up his “Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty.”  Other worthy titles include Obama’s Four Horsemen; The Disasters Unleashed By Obama’s Reelection and The Communist, The Untold Story of Frank Marshall Davis, Barack Obama’s Mentor.  For some outrage at the mainstream media, there is Spin Masters How the Media Ignored the Real News And Helped Re-Elect Barack Obama and Fast and Furious, Barack Obama’s Bloodiest Scandal and its Shameless Cover-up.  For those interested in economics, Stealing You Blind.  How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You.  And, from the Dale Carnegie wing of the party, Bullies, How The Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America as well as Ann Coulter’s heartfelt plea for tolerance, Mugged; Racial Demagoguery From the Seventies to Obama.

Not in the mood to read?   Who could be, with all those luminaries in town? Buy them all and take your significant other (opposite sex, please) to a flick.  Popcorn and raisinettes included.   Woo her with the rom-com “Hating Breitbart.”  Get her to snuggle with the scary “2016: Obama’s America” or “Hillary The Movie.” Show her your caring, humane side with “Occupy Unmasked; A Shocking Indictment Of One Of The Most Controversial Movements in American History.” Or your depth with “Generation Zero: The Debt Crisis That Obama And the Left Ignore at the Peril of the Nation.”  

Too much fun? There was some serious talk, and some policy.  Mitt Romney made a mellow, low-key presentation, showing a previously well-hidden graciousness, which was fairly warmly received.  Paul Ryan gave a wonky and boring speech, outlining, with his customary lack of detail, how the Conservative revolution would finally get the government off the backs of the downtrodden 1% and liberate the poor and the elderly from the moral burden of dependency.  The NRA sponsored a workshop on how to protect the Second Amendment (no word on free samples.) There was an anti-abortion film presented by Mike Huckabee and a session on how to become a conservative journalist, and some obligatory climate change debunking 

OK, maybe those are a bit of a snooze. But big thoughts, and big personalities abounded, although not necessarily in the same people.  

For pure entertainment value, Donald Trump came wafting into town under a luxuriant head of hair; he trashed Obama and demanded that Latinos never be given citizenship because they might vote Democratic. Sarah Palin brought her special brand of just-plain-folks-stick-the-knife-in, and the crowd went absolutely nuts.  Wayne LaPierre made ‘em laugh when it came to gun control, alternately mocking, jeering, smirking. 

As for the partying, these folk actually know how to have a good time.  On Thursday, there was an “Alan West Guardian Fund Happy Hour” and a  choice between a “Presidential Dinner Sponsored By Newsmax.”  and a “VIP Presidential Dinner Reception Sponsored By The National Rife Association,” which, true to form, was by invitation only.  Friday brought the classy “Ronald Reagan Dinner Sponsored By Judicial Watch.”    

The one event I would have liked to have had a FISA-court approved webcam on was the “Walking Dead: Obama Zombies On Parade” which apparently was “a speed networking party for future conservative power players.”  The American Conservative Union, Sixty Plus, and the US Chamber of Commerce sponsored that little gem.

Saturday was a doozy.  The sun rose on Steve King, the Iowa Congressman who wants to emulate Todd Akin in next year’s election for Tom Harkin’s Senate seat.  He was followed by Scott Walker, the union busting Governor of Wisconsin with the smile of a juvenile assassin, who politely put off but did not deny talk of a 2016 Presidential run (Scott Walker???)  The crowd loved Walker.   Those two were the table setters for Newt (introduced by Calista, of course) and then Michelle Bachmann.  All that by 10AM.   Noon brought Sarah, and from the other side of the age and appeal spectrum, Phyllis Schlafly.  12:30 was “Ten Conservatives Under 40” although it’s unclear whether that was a seminar, or a head count. The weekend’s pleasantries were brought to a close by the announcement of the Straw Poll winner and then a late afternoon meal fit for a carnivore.  Ann Coulter followed by Ted Cruz, with each outdoing themselves in chest beating.

So, what did we learn from this experience? Well, at CPAC, it’s the “severely conservative conservatives” who are in charge.  John McCain was booed, several times.  Karl Rove was taken to task by none other than his former colleague at Fox, Sarah Palin, who suggested he go back to Texas. Conservatives seem to be looking for a good time, either with the matinee idols or the bad boys.  Jeb Bush was dull.  Marco and Rand and Ted were not.  Rand Paul said it best “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered…. I don’t think we need to name any names here, do we?”

No, I don’t think we need to name any names.  The crowd knew.  In the Straw Poll, Paul and Rubio were first and second, with 25% and 23% respectively, and no one else was higher than Santorum’s 8%.  And last summer’s fling died a quick (possibly temporary) death.  Paul Ryan was at 6%.  Some of those un-named names? Jeb asked to not be on the ballot, and none of the rest even registered.  Even Sarah only got 3%.

So, what do all these people stand for in their gut?  What do they feel emotionally?  What does CPAC tell us about the inner tuning fork of a conservative? Why would you waste your time reading all those screeds, or watching dark-hued portentous movies of a coming apocalypse instead of trying to find ways to persuade new recruits? And, more importantly, why do conservatives persist in thinking the failures of McCain and Romney to beat the despised Mr. Obama was because of a lack of purity and a lack of passion, and not a lack of appeal of their ideas?  Without being too blunt, can any rational person think that any conservative would have voted for Barack Obama in 2012, much less than the roughly 2,500,000 that would have been needed to switch the popular vote result? 

I have to admit that I am too center-left to get it.  Of all the posts I have written on Syncopated Politics, I found this one the most difficult.  I was stymied when trying to describe what appears to be a visceral article of faith.  I read reports in news links across the political spectrum and felt no closer to understanding. 

Then, a little ray of insight (and maybe a little hope) from a piece by Chris Good on the ABC News site:  “I came here to meet a nice conservative girl, but I think I’m only gonna meet crazy conservative girls,” one lovelorn young man, wearing a red tie, remarked to his friend on the opening day of CPAC.”

Now, that, I can get.  He was speaking a universal language that anyone could understand.

Crazy conservative girls.  Agony without the ecstasy. I feel for that man.


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