Extremist CPAC endangers Republican future
This past weekend, I embarked on a road trip to our nation’s capital to attend the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC. CPAC may be the largest meeting of conservative pundits, journalists, pollsters, politicians, donors, activists and students in the country. In my car, I drove a group about as eclectic as can be found at CPAC: Collegian journalist and columnist Pete Rizzo, a devout liberal; Joe Robichaud, a UMass alumni who is a traditional conservative and also a gun owner; Brad DeFlumeri, UMass’ most well-known ultra-conservative; and myself, a proud subscriber to neoconservativism.
Prevented from going last year because I volunteered to play in the orchestra of the biannual Five College Operas, I was determined to make it to this year’s convention. CPAC often determines the agenda and direction for the conservative movement for the coming year. Last year would have been interesting to attend because the attitude would have been, “We screwed up.” “Who’s fault is it?” “What do we do now?”
At that convention, the party was re-energized by the keynote speaker, Rush Limbaugh, who went over his allotted time to set a new agenda for the party. This agenda was the inspiration for the activism to follow, such as the successful tea party movement, although that is officially a Glenn Beck movement.
This year, after the quick turning of the tides to favor the Republicans again, I was interested in seeing the energy, plans and ideas that may have emerged from a victory in the struggle against the Democratic supermajority that had existed until almost this year’s CPAC convention. I also wondered what kind of party the Republicans are becoming, and if they learned their lesson after the 2008 elections. I left CPAC highly disappointed and marginalized: The wrong lesson was learned from the election.
While at CPAC, I saw how my party is being stolen from the people under the guise of “doing what the people want.” Most people would agree that one of the reasons John McCain performed poorly during the presidential race was because of his blundered pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate. McCain firmly held the majority of the moderate voters in the country and would have kept them because Barack Obama was seen as a very liberal candidate. Though conservatives say that McCain would have lost because Republicans would have not voted for him, I believe that faced with the choice of a moderate McCain to a liberal Obama, even the most extreme paleo-conservatives would have still supported McCain.
He should have called their bluff. Instead, he broke under the pressure of pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and the Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich types, to tragically nominate Palin. Sarah Palin is still a disaster for the Republican Party. But at CPAC, I saw her glorified from all corners. For some reason, the CPAC conservatives are betting their money on the horse consistently in the back of the pack.
The CPAC attendees thoroughly disavowed the big-tent political theories. Tea partiers and Ron Paul libertarians formed a significant number of attendees. They were set on reverting the Republican party from a successful neoconservative direction to an old interpretation of what it means to be a Republican – often termed paleoconservative and in extreme cases, libertarian. They seem to have the idea that people should conform to unchanging ideals of the party or leave; a very small-tent policy.
I find this trend absurd. A party is not an ideology, it is a term applied to a group of people after they have already mostly agreed on some ideas that bind them in a voting block. Yet there would still be disagreement because not everyone always agrees on all issues. A party is comprised of citizens with ideas and opinions, without whom the party has no values or ideology. Therefore, a party that a certain name applies to should be allowed to change its values and ideologies based on the opinions of its members. The people aren’t wrong for not supporting the party, the party is wrong for not supporting the people.
At CPAC, they try to pretend that there are unchanging, core “Republican” ideals, saying that if you disagree with the party on any issue, you are not a real member. This culture ostracizes moderates and average Americans who are not zealots of any party, and forces the zealots to pick a unified side on every issue, devolving the process of thought and need to be educated on issues.
The keynote speaker at this years’ CPAC was Fox News political opinion show host, Glenn Beck. Once thought of as the “poor man’s Rush Limbaugh,” while at CNN, Beck’s exposure to Fox News’ audience catapulted him to Limbaugh-status. His speech on Saturday afternoon exposed the new agenda against those whom they call “false Republicans,” or those who call for a moderate, big-tent party.
He antagonized many in the Republican Party by attacking Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican president who many moderate Republicans admire. He quoted Roosevelt, “‘It’s not even enough that it [money] should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it only to be gained so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.’”
Then he asked the audience if that was what their Republican party stood for. “No,” was the response.
Really? We as Republicans support illegal and unethical methods of gaining wealth? We will not prosecute Bernie Madoff, Al Capone or a CEO that drove their company into the ground, causing families to lose their incomes? Should the conservative stance on Bernie Madoff be that it is the investors’ fault that they didn’t watch what they were doing with their money, and therefore he stole it legally?
This should be absurd to anyone sensible, but that participants of CPAC did not boo Beck off the stage after he so misinterpreted and defamed a Republican president who should be our model of progressive conservatism is a testament to the conservative movement’s current waywardness. Not to mention Beck convincing the audience that the Bull Moose Party’s progressive conservatives were the same as the communists of later progressive movements.
Mr. Beck, just because the word is the same does not mean that its users mean the same thing.
Ron Paul won the straw poll for the question “Who would you want to be the next presidential nominee?” Though there were a lot of tea partiers and libertarians there, conclusions about the accuracy of the polls cannot be made. A man on the Metro on the way to the convention center said he was tea-party organizer and was going to CPAC only to vote for Paul in the straw poll. He said that they were busing tea partiers in from all areas.
It seems tea partiers are the Republican Party’s answer to the jobless liberal activists that conservatives complain about. They have nothing better to do with their lives than to travel to a convention in order to vote in an insignificant, unscientific, straw poll.
This was a problem with CPAC.
Although a registration was needed to attend, anyone was able to attend and participate. In a famous moment, young right-wing nut Ryan Sorba was booed off the stage for his condemnation of CPAC for inviting GoPride, a pro-gay Republican group. Because of the open nature of CPAC, whether this was a sign that attitudes toward homosexuals are changing in the party, or that his opponents planted themselves in the audience, is uncertain.
It’s true that the current success of the Republican Party is owed to the tea partiers. Because of them, guys like Beck could push the conversation so far to the right. But the actual victories are being won by the moderates. Brand-new Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown addressed the convention on opening day; a surprise appearance to introduce speaker Mitt Romney. He received thunderous applause and plaudits as the savior of the party for the rest of the weekend. I wonder if this reaction would have been the same if his vote in support of Obama’s “jobs” bill happened not on the Monday after CPAC but before it? Probably not. Scott Brown is about as moderate as Republican candidates get, but a significant reason for his victory was his ability to garner support from the tea partiers, who were happy to be in the freezing cold all day holding his signs.
The moderates are now afraid to come out as moderate or neoconservative Republicans. Instead, they are using the paleoconservatives and libertarians as footmen, lying to them about their intent in politics. This has been the case for a long time, probably since Ronald Reagan’s first term, but I think we might be approaching a time when the old right will rebel, thus driving the Republican Party into insane extremism, making it forever inapplicable to the beliefs of average Americans, the “silent majority.”
At least this year, rocker Ted Nugent wasn’t encouraging paleoconservatives to use their Second Amendment right to hunt RINOs.
Dmitriy Shapiro is a Collegian columnist. He could be reached at email@example.com.