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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 dishapir@student.umass.edu.

Comments
10 Responses to “Extremist CPAC endangers Republican future”
  1. D.G. says:

    It is a huge mistake to assume that any of us would have voted for McCain had he not picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. In fact, Sarah Palin was actually perhaps the only person who pulled in the true right. As for me, the addition of someone a little more conservative like Sarah, wasn’t enough to get me to vote for McCain. My state was solidly a McCain outpost, but there was absolutely no way I would have placed a yes vote for McCain. Therefore, I chose to opt out of voting for president at all. First time I ever did that. So, perhaps you can blame me for Obama if you wish. However, who you should really blame is the Republican party for leaving its core principles. Some of us will not hop train number 2 to hell, even if it is going slower than train number 1. We would rather not ride the train at all, and wait for one going the other way. Perhaps Ron Paul is that train, but irregardless we aint gettin’ on board unless your headed in the right direction!

  2. Ed says:

    > 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.

    And people wonder why I took the train……

  3. Ben says:

    “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.”

    Okay, this is just dumb. No one’s saying that if you veer off the course on one particular issue that you are not a conservative. This is the sorry old, tires, never existed “Republican purity test”.

    No, you don’t have to be “pure”, whatever that means. However, I’m sick of people calling themselves conservatives who–from what I can see–don’t agree with the conservative position on even a bare majority of issues.

    Let’s say I call myself a liberal. I’m a liberal, but I’m a pro-life liberal. I’m a liberal, but I oppose gun control. I also support the war in Iraq. Strongly. I oppose the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell. I’m a liberal, but I don’t really like minimum wage laws. And I’d rather not bring back the fairness doctrine. I’m not so keen on affirmative action either. But I’m a liberal. Trust me, when I tell you this–I’m a liberal.

    No one would buy this line of crap. It’s because words have meanings. You can’t call yourself a conservative, turn around and take all liberal positions, then get mad at real conservatives for not having a big enough tent.

    Furthemore, I’m a little sick of this idea of “re-defining” what conservatitism means. That’s the easiest way to get around the clear definitions of words. It’s like saying, “well, yeah, I know that all of my positions are in fact liberal, but liberalism is the new conservatism! Yes!”

    By the way, Ron Paul would like you to believe that he represents an older, “truer”, more faithful kind of politics. He does not. You flatter him in this article. He’s a fink and a liar.

  4. Ed says:

    The one thing I saw in Washington – CPAC was part of a larger visit to the quagmire city – is a growing conflict between the Populists and the Progressives. It is really not left and right anymore.

    There are Populists on the left and right, and there are Progressives on the left and right, the real split is Populist v. Progressive.

    Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and others are Populists. Obama and Deval Patrick are Progressives hiding behind the Populist mantras, Ron Paul is a cult hero in the best tradition of Lyndon Larouche.

    The 2012 election is going to be a wave of Populism. How it breaks D/R is going to be far less important than the populist values on the like we haven’t seen since the election of Andrew Jackson.

  5. Dmitriy says:

    Agreed Ed,

    That is a very good observation. Agreed with Ben Duffy also that Ron Paul is a nut. I hate him as much as anyone. Though, I believe his ideas, though populist all the way, have basis in the ways republicans thought at certain times in history. Isolationism after the republicans of the WWI era, and fiscal libertarianism after the Goldwater era types, before the neocons came in. I dont think he belongs in the republican party, and am sad that our party wastes money to give him a stump. He knows this. Thats why he runs republican instead of libertarian, cause when he runs republican he gets all kinds of TV time, debating the big boys like Mitt and Rudy, ranting off pointless one liners to the applause of stoner kids that they plant in the audience. And then win TV debate Txting polls.

  6. Mike says:

    “Instead, they are using the paleoconservatives and libertarians as footmen, lying to them about their intent in politics.” So true. IMO, I don’t think those in the neo-con camp are going to be dissapointed at how this whole thing turns out. There will be a few wins this fall by those who believe in limited government. It could very well happen that the next president will be a Republican, but when it’s all said and done about the most this little tea party movement will get is a government that experiences a slight decline in the rate of growth like during the Reagan years. Those whose worst nightmare is the loss of a major federally funded program or dept. will not be losing any sleep anytime soon. Brian Wilson just wrote a great article on his observations at this year’s event called “who put the L in CPAC?”

  7. Hi Dmitriy,
    The only real change Ron Paul stands for is from an unlimited growth model to a limited government model. He tries to use the tools available in the most effective way. Tools like political parties and the US Constitution. If there were other tools available he would use those also.

    I disagree that Dr. Paul or the tea party folks will endanger republican future. The party is a tool, it will not be harmed by having a more responsible and conscientious generation of individuals using the tool to promote liberty through limits on government growth.

    The GOP is ripe for a coup d’état. The only way to stop the mindless growth of a hate and fear based empire is to wrest control of the tools from the maniacs who have been in charge for all of my lifetime. Most precincts are so desperate for captains that anyone who volunteers will be granted the voting seat in their local GOP. This party is ripe for those who act. The label “Republican” will continue on but the type of candidates we create under that label will be less like Lincoln and more like Taft.

    The wheels have come off the neocon machine but their momentum in their pursuit of empire carries them, and all of us, toward the brink of destruction . The only thing certain is that without a GOP counter balance to the progressive model of ever-accelerating oppression and control, unsustainable aggression and oppression are our only future. There is no hope of using the democratic party to limit government and only the slimmest glimmer of a hope that enough limited government conservatives will follow Ron Paul’s example and begin to practice regular participation in the grooming and vetting of GOP candidates at every level.

    You are mistaking a true aspect of Dr. Paul’s followers as representative of the whole. Thank you. The best thing an overwhelming foe can do for the underdog is to believe their own nonsense about the challenger…and it makes for some very entertaining reading for those who know how little you know about what you base your opinions on.

    Personally I hope most of Dr. Paul’s supporters remain self-marginalized sign-wavers and herd-joiners, members of third parties or non-voting agitators. I hope they continue to hold the attention of folks like you while every neighborhood in every town and county across the country has Ron Paul Republicans taking over their local GOP central committees. The GOP leadership is ripe, bloated and oblivious. Even with folks like me who love pointing out the death spiral of the neocon empire builders and religious crusaders they remain oblivious. I am so fortunate to live in these hopeful times for peace and liberty.

    There is nothing remotely conservative about empire building, religious crusading or the fiat funding that enables their unlimited growth. There is nothing remotely conservative about adopting the progressive tactic of big government in the most extreme, the constitutional amendment to impose religious beliefs on non-believers. The exact opposite of religious freedom.

    Most GOP leaders do not understand the reason they are similar to the democrats is not based on their positions on various issues. The similarity that is repugnant to those who advocate individual liberty is their willingness to pursue big government and perpetual war, mainstays of the progressive movement since the days of our country’s founding.

    Now that the democrats have gotten past their peacenik phase and have become open, full time advocates of perpetual war I think its a great time for the neocons to go back to the democratic war party. The only relevant difference between the two parties is how their current leaders choose to enslave future generations in payment for their pursuit of empire in the present. The consequences don’t vary based on the supposed morals of those who choose the actions.

    Two years ago a huge wave of Ron Paul supporters tested the GOP’s defenses. Most were successfully repelled by the close-minded lock-step mentality of the old-guard cold war Republican Christians. The rest came to realize that the struggle for the defense of liberty is all about demanding a limited government and local community diversity. Now the second wave is seeing the toe-hold the devoted participants from the first wave have created and they are joining the party in huge numbers, taking precinct captain positions and preparing to flush the candidate pipeline of the crap that has accumulated over the past 60 years.

    We don’t know each other and I have no credibility with you so I have no expectations of convincing you of anything. My only point is to tell you from the grass roots perspective what is happening and why. I don’t care if you believe me or not. My only goal is to plant the seed so that from now on every victory for the defenders of liberty as they wrest control of the GOP from the advocates of unlimited growth will remind you that you’ve been told. There should be no surprises the next time Ron Paul wins a conservative event or when he is quoted by an up and coming GOP candidate. Now that you know what I know you cannot unknow it. Enjoy! :-)

    Jahfre Fire Eater

  8. muad'dib says:

    Wow, when the devout archconservative says that the Republican Party is morphing into neo-fascism, they’ve really got a problem. And pretty soon the rest of the country will have that same problem too.

  9. Aaron Foley says:

    “and myself, a proud subscriber to neoconservativism.”

    what do you have to be proud of?

  10. Aaron Foley says:

    what are your elements of neoconservatism that draw you in Dmitry?

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