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2/18/2010
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW: CPAC 2010

I am not attending CPAC this year. Finances have become problematic and since neither one of my employers were going to pay my way, the $1,000 or so that the trip would cost me will be put to better uses I’m sure.

Not that they would have rolled out the red carpet for me anyway. RedState is running Blogger’s Row this year and it’s strange, but my invitation somehow got lost in the email. Or perhaps they’re still smarting from my post criticizing RedState as “a barbarous brew of angry yawpers.”

A mystery, yes?

Then there are the few conservatives who have gotten angry enough to de-link me, or write long screeds calling me a liberal or other swear words who would have taken great pleasure in confronting me at CPAC for my apostasy. I apologize for not giving you your “Chief Brody slap” moment. Maybe next year.

So who is going to be welcome at CPAC this year?

“There needs to be a purging of the movement, and I think we’re already starting to see a different of hierarchy of groups,” said Erick Erickson, the Macon, Ga.-based founder of RedState.com, who predicts that “you’re going to see a much more diffuse conservative movement that is being led in large part from outside of Washington and is much more in line from the grass roots.”

Erickson, a favorite of the new activists, said, “Some of these legacy groups have become so entrenched in the Republican establishment in Washington that a lot of these new activists don’t think they can trust them.”

As examples, Erickson singled out CPAC’s primary sponsor, the American Conservative Union, as well as CPAC stalwarts including the Heritage Foundation think tank and the groups headed by Grover Norquist and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Those groups and other organizations that once formed the vanguard of the conservative movement — such as the National Rifle Association, the Family Research Council and Young America’s Foundation — haven’t made major inroads in the tea party movement.

And thus my first observation; this is not a friendly gathering where independent thought - or much thinking at all - is welcomed. It is the Palinization of conservatism; the rise of Joe the Plumberarianism on the right as George Will (another who is in bad odor with this crowd) points out:

America, its luck exhausted, at last has a president from the academic culture, that grating blend of knowingness and unrealism. But the reaction against this must somewhat please him. That reaction is populism, a celebration of intellectual ordinariness. This is not a stance that will strengthen the Republican Party, which recently has become ruinously weak among highly educated whites. Besides, full-throated populism has not won a national election in 178 years, since Andrew Jackson was reelected in 1832.

Note: It is not what these establishment conservatives say, nor especially what they think as much as what they represent that has Erickson and others pining for a Stalinist purge. Sidelining Norquist I can see. The man is a toad of a lobbyist who facilitated the sale of the Republican party to special interests. But kicking the Heritage Foundation out the door? Or Newt Gingrich? What connects these targets of the neo-right is that almost all of them approach politics and the issues with a thoughtfulness that is painfully lacking in their purge-happy opponents. They are no less fiscally conservative than the neo-rightists who want their scalps. Nor are they less devoted to the Constitution. To imply otherwise is libelous.

But the neo-rightists who smell blood in the water and wish to take control of the conservative movement are arrogant enough to believe that they have a corner on love for our founding document, and take the simple minded approach that if you criticize them, your devotion to First Principles are suspect. They constantly refer to themselves as “patriots” as if designating oneself thusly actually confers legitimacy on the honorific.

As I mentioned previously, I have never heard of this kind of self-reverence until tea partyers began to identify themselves as “patriots.” Real patriots allow others to append that appellation to them and eschew doing the honor themselves. That’s because some of the prerequisite qualities for being considered a patriot are humility and self-abnegation - not much of which will be on display at CPAC this year.

Second observation; welcoming the Birchers back into the fold while gleefully kicking intellectual conservatives and other “elites” out into the street may be enormously satisfying on an emotional level but brands the neo-rightists as gigantic failures in appreciating irony.

If there is one thing I wanted to do at CPAC if I had been able to attend, I would have loved to stand around the John Birch Society booth and talk to the visitors. Would they be aware of the battle that mainstream conservatives fought in the 1950’s and early 60’s to sideline these wackos, and bring conservatism into the intellectual mainstream? Probably not. In response to my criticisms of CPAC for allowing the JBS to co-sponsor and exhibit, I was informed that, at least as far as fringe nutjobs are concerned, the conservative tent should be expanded to include them. Others, who might not agree with the neo rightists on 100% of their pet issues need not apply.

Third observation; if this indeed, is a changing of the guard with the conservative establishment being marginalized and the neo right ascendant, then it stands to reason that the definition of “conservatism” will narrow considerably.

Protestations to the contrary will do no good. I have experienced first hand the definitional constriction of who these jamokes believe is “conservative enough.” We have seen the repudiation of Newt Gingrich, George Will, Peggy Noonan, David Frum, and countless others who, at one time or another, have been tarred with the “liberal” epithet, or RINO, or “Democrat-lite.” Their sin has been to disagree with the notion that there is one overarching definition of conservatism, that differences on issues or tactics does not mean that there are differences in principles.

But the neo right is unable to differentiate between issues and principles, and thus, there will be precious few “acceptable” conservatives from the northeast, the upper midwest, and most of the mid-atlantic. Ceding that much territory to your opponent will eventually lead to permanent minority status.

Right now, the right is rising because of the demonstrated incompetence and overreach of the Democrats. The voter literally has nowhere else to go if they disagree with health care reform, the bailouts, the buy outs, and the corporate cozying being carried out by the Obama administration. Since conservatives have offered nothing positive for voters to rally to, the recent polls showing people gravitating toward conservatism can be seen as a reaction to what Obama is doing, not to anything conservatives are offering as an alternative.

This will be fine for 2010. But what happens in 2012? And beyond? The bad economic times will be with us for a while, and there will come a point where people will get tired of hearing about sticking to principle and want their government to do something to help them. Since this is a foreign language to the neo-right, they will elect those who seem to care about their problems.

What problems? Here’s David Frum commenting on the vapid Mount Vernon Statement released yesterday:

* Are you an American who was earning less in 2007 than in 2000? The document has nothing to say to you.

* Did you lose your home or job or savings in the crisis of 2008-2009? Blank to you.

* Are you worried about the loss of your health insurance – or how you will pay for nursing care for your aged parents – or what 20% youth unemployment will mean for your newly graduated child’s life chances? Not our department.

* Do you wonder whether we are winning or losing the war on terror? Do you want an explanation for why it took so long for a conservative administration to react to military disaster? No answers here.

I’ve said it before; there are many on the neo right who claim allegiance to the Constitution but refuse to recognize a role for government in modern society. Their notion of “limited government” is more akin to the Articles of Confederation than the Constitution, more comfortable in a 19th century setting than the 21st century.

With that kind of attitude, and if candidates are elected to office that espouse this kind of extraordinarily narrow and restrictive view of what government is about, then conservatives will find themselves shunted to the sidelines before they know what hits them.

The true believers and ideologues who are angling to overthrow the existing conservative regime will eventually discover that populism, as George Will noted, hasn’t won an election in 187 years. And noble goals do not always translate into success at the ballot box. Government, limited or expansive, must answer the needs of the people. Forgetting or eschewing that fact will lead to marginalization and defeat.

By: Rick Moran at 11:21 am
6 Responses to “OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW: CPAC 2010”
  1. 1
    Jim Said:
    12:39 pm 

    Hi Rick

    Very nice post. I am grateful for the way in which you select the quotes you wish to highlight and argue or expand on them.

    I also respect your boldness in sticking your chin out and getting hit so often.

    I think there is ferment out there that has yet to settle. Right now the internet and new media are still new and people are still learning to use them. The loudest voices are trying to shout out the more deliberative ones. I think people like George Will are attacked because they have been around for years and were unable to prevent the world from turning. Passion, not reason, dictates the assault. And simple jealousy.

    Personally, I am a registered Democrat and have been since I was 18. Before 9/11 I was reflexive and didn’t think much about it, just voted with the Democratic herd. Since 9/11 I have evolved in a much more conservative direction. But I take the Tea Parties with a grain or salt, I have not made up my mind about Sarah Palin (she is light on critical experience and could have a better education - but our current president destroyed the unstated reqirements for “qualifications”) and I was willing to listen to the birth certificate arguments (and evern read the lawsuits) before deciding that the proponents have no evidence and not much law behind them. I am still deciding whether the Natural Born Citizen clause is itself an anachronism (note that the Founders didn’t define natural born citizenship or place the burden of proof on the candidate, signs they themselves didn’t feel it critically important. The Founders didn’t even amend changes when they got around to Free Speech, etc.)
    In other words I try not to reject arguments out-of-hand without deliberation.

    I think there are millions of voters out there who are broadly similar to me. They know something is wrong, and think that the country should be more “conservative” - whatever that means to them. Now they are listening to the extremes and will eventually move toward the middle. The so-called “Center Right.”
    It would be nice in the meantime to stop name-calling and argue the arguments not the motives of the arguer.

    Thanks again.

  2. 2
    Fitting in at CPAC Pinged With:
    2:00 pm 

    [...] Joyner | Thursday, February 18, 2010 Rick Moran isn’t at CPAC 2010, both because he can’t justify the expense of traveling and because [...]

  3. 3
    Plumb Bob Said:
    3:34 pm 

    Interesting that you criticize the “neo right” for failing to understand the difference between issues and principles — then approvingly cite David Frum lambasting a document purporting to state principles on the grounds that it does not address issues.

    Make up your mind, willya?

  4. 4
    grognard Said:
    8:40 pm 

    And the left is doing the same thing, no room for Blue Dogs in that party. So it looks like politics will boil down to two groups of people drinking Kool aid, wearing tinfoil hats and screaming at each other. Maybe a Blue RINO party is in the making just to escape the loonies.

  5. 5
    michael reynolds Said:
    8:46 pm 

    Maybe a Blue RINO party is in the making just to escape the loonies.

    Let me know where the convention is, I’ll show up.

  6. 6
    Ben Said:
    10:51 am 

    Are you sure there were “invitations” as such? If so, I didn’t receive one. While I did not attend CPAC, it’s my impression they were open to any blogger that applied, and there were plenty of bloggers there who have criticized Redstate in the past.

    Entirely tongue in cheek, Ben. I have no doubt that if I had decided to go, I would have been able to get credentialed.

    ed.

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