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3/2/2009
LOOKING BACK AT CPAC

I have returned from my trip to Washington after an irritating day of travel yesterday. The tiny plane that I took from DC to Philly (I was supposed to lay over an hour there) was delayed taking off because the Captain - bless him - decided to de-ice the plane before we left. Because of his caution, I missed my connecting flight to Chicago but considering the alternative of flying through a snow and ice storm without de-icing, I am not going to complain.

I’m sure you’ve heard plenty already about CPAC and what or what it didn’t accomplish. For myself, if I were to give the conference a grade it would be a D+. Much red meat - little substance. I understand that this is not unusal for CPAC but given the urgency of the need for reform and the fact that so many people who are actually engaged in the process of reform were present. I thought there might be a little more debate and brainstorming than there ended up being.

The real business of the conference took place behind the scenes at the social gatherings hosted by some of the many groups who exhibited at the conference. As a blogger, I got invited to quite of few of these shindigs and I can tell you that most of the debate about where the movement (and to a lesser extent the Republican party) should be headed took place among activists, lawyers, lobbyists, political pros, non-profit staff, and pundits who shared a drink or two while assessing the prospects for change.

I’m not going to name drop but it is probable if you follow politics closely, you would have heard of or seen on TV a lot of people that I spoke to. Some knew of my writings and were interested in what I had to say. Others wanted the perspective of the blogosphere - which I was happy to give them as honestly as I could. In all instances, I was encouraged by the hunger to seek a new path for conservatism that would lead back to the top.

I hasten to add that no one was suggesting that conservtive principles be abandoned. In that respect, almost everyone agreed with Newt Gingrich that we should be a movement of “bold pastels” as Ronald Reagan put it - our ideals put forth confidently and with certainty. The number one symptom that many agreed was holding conservatism back at this point was timidity in the face of Obama’s success. This was before Rush Limbaugh’s speech on Saturday so I am unsure if there were some who wouldn’t change their mind about that after hearing Rush.

What about Rush? A great performance. But a blueprint for change? I’m afraid not. In fact, Limbaugh set himself squarely on the side of those who believe there isn’t much wrong with conservatism except we’re not being conservative enough. This is depressing if only because Limbaugh - rightly or wrongly - is seen as a leader of the conservative movement. I think this rather silly even though Rush has transcended the notion of pure celebrity and entered the political realm. Limbaugh - who placed the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” clause in the Constitution’s preamble rather than the Declaration of Indpenendence - had similar problems with placing his conservative beliefs in a coherent context.  Being for individual liberty and accomplishment is fine. But Rush said precious little more about the definition of conservatism from there on out.

But on the positive side, Limbaugh gave a stirring and devastating critique of Obama’s bail out culture. Some described it as “angry” which I would agree with wholeheartedly. And why not? It is nonsense to believe that conservatives shouldn’t be angry with what Obama is doing to the country. The people voted for change, not the fundamental alterations that Obama is carrying out using the economic crisis as an excuse for massive intrusions by the government into the private sector. Some of this is certainly unavoidable. But I am beginning to believe that Obama’s concern for the economy is secondary to his ambition to change this country from what it was - a free, capitalist superpower -  to what he wants it to be - a mostly free, mixed economy, second rate power.

Limbaugh’s red meat address actually did some good; it cheered conservatives at a time they needed a boost. But Limbaugh actually may have started something of a civil war with his criticism of Newt Gingrich and those of us who believe that something is wrong with conservatism and that more is needed than simply believing more strongly in the movement and throwing up candidates who are even more “conservative” (according to Limbaugh’s lights) than we have in the recent past.

Gingrich, who gave an equally harsh appraisal of Obama and the Democrats, managed to shoehorn in some very telling comments about conservatism. In fact, I believe he spoke the most important words of the conference when he said, ”

“And so it is time to recreate the party of the American people and to recognize that that is a much bigger party than the Republican party. In every major political speech Ronald Reagan reached out to Democrats and Independents as well as Republicans, and he understood to govern in America you have to bring people together in a tripartisan majority. We are bigger than the Republican party, we stand for principles that transcend the Republican party, and we’re going to fight for the principles that lead to economic growth and jobs.”

I’m not sure if Limbaugh doesn’t mean “Republican” when he says “conservative.” There are many of us who believe that conservatism should no longer be the handmaiden of a party that uses the good name of conservatism and whose acts are  totally at odds with the way a conservative legislator should vote. Rather, we believe it should be the other way around; that conservatism should be the tail that wags the Republican party dog, that if they want our money, our activists, and our support, they should comport themselves in such a way as to gain our confidence so that they not only call themselves “conservative” but act that way as well.

(I hope to compare and contrast the Gingrich-Limbaugh speeches tomorrow.)

CPAC was one of the more interesting things I’ve done these last four years I’ve spent as a blogger. I hope I don’t regret spending my own money in a few months. But considering how seriously I take the present course of conservatism, it was probably well spent even if the worst happens and my job disappears.

By: Rick Moran at 2:16 pm
13 Responses to “LOOKING BACK AT CPAC”
  1. 1
    michael reynolds Said:
    2:49 pm 

    But I am beginning to believe that Obama’s concern for the economy is secondary to his ambition to change this country from what it was – a free, capitalist superpower - to what he wants it to be – a mostly free, mixed economy, second rate power.

    You’re doing it again. You’re trying to suss out Obama’s character and thought process and failing.

    Accepting that he’s your ideological and partisan opponent, it does no good to misunderstand the nature of your opponent. It’s not just you, of course, conservatives haven’t understood thing one about this guy from the start.

    Phenomenology, the epistemology that holds that we should begin by setting aside intellectual prejudices, baked-in assumptions, and what we want the truth to be, and do our limited best to see only what is actually there. It’s not just good philosophy, it’s good battle planning.

    Think how much better we might have done had we seen the Viet Cong and the NVA clearly. Or seen Iraqi Sunnis clearly. We looked at each through ideological filters, and through the filter of optimism, seeing what we wanted to see and not what was there. You’re still swinging an axe and your opponent has a compound bow.

  2. 2
    Andrew Ian Dodge Said:
    2:52 pm 

    It was great to meet you man and I look forward to reading your critique of the two speeches.

  3. 3
    Dodgeblogium » Poole on CPAC Pinged With:
    2:53 pm 

    [...] Moran ponders CPAC here and does a good job @ summing it [...]

  4. 4
    mannning Said:
    3:41 pm 

    Idea Time

    Somewhere, sometime, a very smart and knowledgeable team will construct a thoroughgoing comparison between the most likely OUTCOMES OF LIBERALISM and the most likely OUTCOMES OF CONSERVATISM when APPLIED TO THE SAME POLITICAL SITUATION and its issues as the test environment. Maybe in 2050 or later.

    While it could never be perfect or complete, and it would find little acceptance by liberals, I assert that it would be an eye-opener for independents and a wide range of conservatives.

    The main measures would revolve around freedom of choice, liberty, economic potentials, and equality of opportunity, and, as the backdrop, the provisions of the Constitution–as they stand, and as anyone seriously suggests that it be changed.

    We just might then understand more clearly the full impacts of some current decisions of the Congress and President on our nation in a more careful, and unemotional light. It would require an Input/Output Matrix approach that has at least a hundred terms, if not more (an effective econometric matrix for the USSR had 88).

    Such a holistic comparison is far beyond my reach to execute–and probably beyond any real possibility of success by any team, either.

    The attempt, however, would be an enormous learning experience, and one would hope that some of the fallout would be very useful to conservatism. It would certainly provide a framework for discussion where it would be less possible to subvert the process or to bring in emotional factors of little relevance.
    FFT

  5. 5
    David Said:
    4:55 pm 

    Michael -

    Wonderful comment, looking forward to the rest of it where you tell us what we need to know about the new POTUS that you understand and we just don’t get.

  6. 6
    funny man Said:
    5:14 pm 

    Manning,
    good point; I think evolutionary theory combined with population biology to be the most useful for future predictions. However, how do you measure ’success’? Just societies still being around? However, my gut feeling is that there is more than one model for a successful society; I just don’t want to live in all of them.
    Great summary with me giving Gingrich the thumbs up.

  7. 7
    michael reynolds Said:
    5:44 pm 

    David:

    Setting aside the snark. . .

    Obama isn’t ideological. He doesn’t give a f— about ideology, left, right or center. His motives are a mix of high-mindedness and ego. He wants what’s best (as he sees it) and he wants above all to succeed. He looks at the world as a series of problems, numbered one through ten. He’s determined to take a stab at all ten, but is probably realistic enough to be happy with 70%.

    His method is pragmatism. He sees himself as a problem solver and he’ll judge himself by how well he succeeds at solving problems. He believes history will make the same judgment. (He’s right.) His “ideology” is “does it work?”

    The thing that makes Obama so dangerous to right wing or left wing is that the people are on the same page as he is: just fix stuff, we don’t care how.

    And it’s why Rick and everyone else on the right doesn’t get Obama. You keep trying to pigeonhole him as some kind of latter day Black Panther, or Weatherman, or else as Bambi, or even as a crook, or as a cut n’ run appeaser. But that analysis is just a circle jerk: conservatives throwing the same tired, 90’s era talking points back and forth.

    Meanwhile, while you guys are choosing between “socialist” and “communist” as your favorite epithet, the country has tuned you and your tired 1.0 mentality out and is deep into 2.0 territory. Face it: you’re Windows 95, and Obama is a Mac.

  8. 8
    mannning Said:
    7:50 pm 

    I must admit, funny man, that such a comparison would seem to demand success criteria that are not easy to quantify, not easy to validate, and not easy to accept by the layman.

    I have always been suspicious of the reports on which nations have the most freedom and liberty, for instance, because there are many shades of freedom and liberty, and it is hard to score. Add in a wide range of government forms and laws, or at least several forms and laws for each side, and the permutations and combinations get out of hand.

    It would be nice, however, to be able to prove the conservative case in a comprehensive manner that leaves liberals little or no room to maneuver. Just dreaming!

  9. 9
    Scott Said:
    11:20 pm 

    Wait, what?

    Much red meat – little substance.

    Red meat is substance. You seem to be complaining that there’s not enough sizzle on the steak. I think I see why:

    I can tell you that most of the debate about where the movement (and to a lesser extent the Republican party) should be headed took place among activists, lawyers, lobbyists, political pros, non-profit staff, and pundits

    Jesus, we’re just freaking doomed.

    You’re right — the tea-party peons should just sit down and shut up while you activists, lawyers, lobbyists, and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah figure out what to do. You’ll let us know, I’m sure. I can’t wait.

  10. 10
    bsjones Said:
    11:23 pm 

    Rick,

    How did CPAC address the implications of this recent headline?

    World Growth To Be Negative In 2009 For First Time Since WW II

    Article here:
    http://econospeak.blogspot.com/2009/03/world-growth-to-be-negative-in-2009-for.html

    Again, how does CPAC or conservative principles address this very real problem?

  11. 11
    David Said:
    5:25 am 

    Michael -

    Sorry about the “snark” - one of my character defects is that I respond like that to (perceived) pretentiousness.

    Thanks for the explication. In reality I’m more “OS-360″ than Windows (that is, been watching this show for a very long time, and have heard the “ideology-free, pragmatism” bit many times before) and am so excited to be one of the “you guys” at last.

  12. 12
    funny man Said:
    10:53 am 

    Manning,
    dream you may. Just a note of caution; as a good scientist you might have to give up pet theories based on the data.

  13. 13
    mannning Said:
    3:08 pm 

    Quite right, if it is well-founded data, and hasn’t been “adjusted” into knots, fm.

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