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2/26/2009
REFLECTIONS ON GOD, MAN, AND CPAC

I’m sitting in the darkened study of my sister’s beautiful home in Bethesda this morning looking forward to a long day of renewing old acquaintances, making new friends, and participating (more like observing) the goings on at CPAC.

I had an interesting discussion last night with my 17 year old cousin about the problem with conservatism today and was surprised that he pretty much nailed the reasons conservatism is in such bad odor with the public and specifically, with his generation. He sees nothing positive coming from conservatives like Hannity, Coulter, and Rush (just picking three examples). What he sees - and I am forced to agree with him - is an overarching arrogance that brooks no discussion and has little room for disagreement.

We may not like it, but my cousin’s generation - and a couple of previous ones - have been educated differently than many of us. They have been taught that moral questions have many sides, that there isn’t one way of looking at the world. When they hear conservatives referring to the opposition as “unpatriotic” it turns them off - they aren’t sure of their own feelings about America themselves.

Clearly, if conservatives wish to attract the young, a better job of educating them outside of the classroom must be done. They will never learn about conservative principles in school - not only because education is dominated by liberals but because the study of most any western philosophy would be anti-diversity.

So the only exposure to conservatism that most children receive comes to them via the Coulter/Hannity/Limbaugh’s of the movement. Entertaining though they are, their very shrillness and presumption of being in the right turns off most kids who have been educated to eschew such certainties.

But isn’t “question everything” the mantra of any good student? I would hope so. However, at some point, questions must harden into a belief system. And when that process begins, the young have little or no idea what classical conservatism is all about because show biz conservatives either don’t know themselves or find it profitable to abandon reason for ranting.

The perils of educating the young in such a way is that enlightenment values get thrown under the bus in obeisance to a nebulous doctrine where ideology rather than philosophy is encouraged. “Diversity” is a wonderful thing - except in teaching competing ideas. And appeals to “thinking with the heart” are substituted for reasoned thought and a rational, objective examination of the issues.

What’s missing? Historian Page Smith, when writing about the Constitutional Convention referred to a “classical Christian Consciousness” that dominated the gathering. This conservative school of thought posits the idea that man is basically evil, that he is stained with original sin and that therefore, governments must be instituted that restrain his baser instincts and protect others from those who would seek to dominate.

But Smith went on to describe the emerging enlightenment values that were also present at the convention. The enlightenment saw man as basically good, capable of perfection with the application of scientific principles to government. This tug of war - roughly between the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians - ended up with the creation of a document that reflected both sides.

The two great classic philosophies have largely been subsumed by today’s ideological battles. In their name rages a war where one side seeks to dominate the other by any means necessary. I would like to see conservatives try to reclaim some of that classical heritage by becoming more thoughtful, less ideological, and perhaps less doctrinaire - especially since that doctrine is, in my opinion, woefully out of touch with modern realities.

CPAC was not set up to deal with these questions. But it just might start a conversation that would lead to an understanding that for conservatism to become competitive in the marketplace of ideas again, it must acknowledge its shortcomings and work toward reforming itself to better reflect what America has become rather than the way America used to be.

By: Rick Moran at 6:14 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (74)

2/24/2009
THE RICK MORAN SHOW: CPAC PREVIEW

You won’t want to miss tonight’s Rick Moran Show,, one of the most popular conservative talk shows on Blog Talk Radio.

Tonight, I welcome Robert Stacy McCain of the American Spectator, Stephen Green of Vodkapundit, and Fausta Wertz of Real Clear World and Fausta’s Blog as we preview the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that runs from Thur-Sun. We’ll look at the agenda and some of the personalities who will speak at the conference.

The show will air from 7:00 - 8:00 PM Central time. You can access the live stream here. A podcast will be available for streaming or download shortly after the end of the broadcast.

Click on the stream below and join in on what one wag called a “Wayne’s World for adults.”

The Chat Room will open around 15 minutes before the show opens,

Also, if you’d like to call in and put your two cents in, you can dial (718) 664-9764.

Listen to The Rick Moran Show on internet talk radio

By: Rick Moran at 2:35 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (12)

2/16/2009
CPAC AGENDA SHOWS CONSERVATIVES STILL IN DENIAL

The theme of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) should be “Cocooning our way to Irrelevancy” or perhaps “How to lose the next 5 elections in 10 easy steps.”

From my point of view, it really is that bad. With the exception of some effort to bring conservatism into the 21st century communications-wise, the program appears to be an excellent panacea for what ailed conservatism in about 1980. It’s as if the debacles of 2006 and 2008 never happened. Does it matter that the very same people who helped get us clobbered the last two election cycles are running seminars and roundtables at the conference? Not if you’re a movement still in denial that it will take more than “message tweaking” and better utilization of the internet to bring conservatism back and make it relevant to a large portion of Americans again.

The side conference being sponsored by PJTV - “Conservatism 2.0″ - looks interesting but here again, we have familiar faces who haven’t expressed much interest in real conservative reform. (Some panelists on the communications side are the exception.) Glenn Reynolds and Michelle Malkin are internet friends of mine and I agree with them on many issues. But are they really the people to be running a “Conservatism 2.0″ conference? Perhaps I misunderstand what they are trying to accomplish. And I may be pleasantly surprised. But before we can even get to “Conservatism 2.0″ perhaps we should be thinking of taking a remedial course in what conservatism should mean in our modern society. I’m afraid this sort of introspection will reveal how far afield conservatism has strayed but may also generate thoughts and ideas about how conservatism can be relevant in a 21st century industrialized democracy.

Online activism is fine and seeking new ways to communicate is an excellent idea. But does it matter what we will be trying to get across? If so, I’m not sure that this PJTV side conference will accomplish anything useful.

Alright…so. My idea of “reform” is probably a helluva lot different than most conservatives. But maybe we could start with the recognition that in elections, the way you win is by getting one more vote than the other side. And no matter how you want to add up the numbers, the 30% of so of the nation that identifies itself as “conservative” will always fall short of 50% + 1. I hate to break this news to my fellow conservatives; you can use any kind of mathematical hocus pocus you wish but there just aren’t enough of us to only allow “true conservatives” a place at the table. The absence of conservatives like David Frum, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, and others who probably agree with 90% of conservative positions on the issues but have been driven from the movement for their apostasy — real or imagined — is as incomprehensible as it is depressing.

This is the way back? It’s not a question of being “moderate” or “true-blue” but rather how long does conservatism want to wander in the wilderness? Ideas on how to reform conservatism — and I speak of real reform, not the cosmetic solutions that appear will be offered at CPAC — must come from as many sources as possible. Some conservatives might not like the smell inside the “Big Tent” but turning up your nose at people who disagree with you on one or two issues is just plain nuts. “Litmus tests” and the like are all well and good unless you are a minority, getting smaller and less relevant, and don’t wish to find a way back in order to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

Our dire situation doesn’t seem to have sunk in yet. This is evident by how many sessions are scheduled that appear to have been lifted from the agenda of a decade or more ago. To wit:

Thursday, 2/26 at 10:10:

“The Key to Victory? Listen to Conservatives”

Michael Barone, U.S. News and World Report
Rep. Aaron Schock (IL)
Rep. Peter Roskam (IL)*
Rep. Virginia Foxx (NC)*
Saul Anuzis, Michigan Republican Party

Moderator: Al Cardenas, American Conservative Union Board of Directors

I would listen to Michael Barone if he appeared in a bathtub. As for the rest, the day the conservative movement stops listening to members of Congress (with precious few exceptions) is the day we begin the road back.

Thursday, 2/26 at 1:50 pm

“New Challenges in the Culture War”

Rep. Chris Smith (NJ)*
Dr. Janice Crouse, The Beverly LaHaye Institute
Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel and Liberty University School of Law

Moderator: Marjorie Dannenfelser, Susan B. Anthony List

New, old, what’s the difference? The issues are losers. The GOP is no longer seen as the party of fiscal restraint, low taxes, and strong defense but rather the gay bashing, anti-woman, anti-minority party. Those who believe a simple tweaking of the message will change that are dreaming.

Friday, 2/27 at 9:00 AM

Breakfast with Phyllis Schlafly: “Doing the Impossible”

Schafly is one smart, tough woman but part of the ancien regime. The same goes for many of the speakers at the conference. Ann Coulter will once again try to make headlines by attempting to top her own outrageousness. Ralph Reed is selling a book and hardly relevant to my idea of modern conservatism. The Members of Congress invited are, with a couple of exceptions, an uninspiring lot. Mike Pence and Eric Cantor are two of the more thoughtful House members in the Republican caucus but the rest are vanilla and oatmeal.

There are a couple of interesting sessions including Thursday morning’s “Timeless Principles, New Challenges: The Future of the Conservative Movement.” But the panelists? Van Hipp, American Defense International, Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal, and Bay Buchanan, of the The American Cause would not be my choices to run this session. How about Ross Douthat or Marc Ambinder? These are guys who have given conservative reform a considerable amount of thought. Alas, they are not “pure” enough for this crowd.

Also a session I plan on attending will be “Building the Conservative Hispanic Coalition.” I will almost guarantee that it will be the least popular session as far as attendance at the conference. Given the way GOP candidates shamefully and inexplicably dissed Hispanics by refusing to show up for the Spanish TV debate, I would be ashamed to show my face at this session too.

And, as I mentioned, there is the PJTV side conference. At least here, there appears to be an effort to think outside the box. Patrick Ruffini will be on a panel with Jude Cristobal, singer-songwriter, Andrew Klavan, award-winning author and screenwriter, and Alfonzo Rachel, advocate of right-minded ideas on new media talking about “New Media Empowering Conservative Messages.” There isn’t a new message yet but at least we’ll be ready when there is one.

Saturday’s PJTV session is being billed as a “conservative answer to The View “and features some pretty savvy women moderators including Michelle Malkin, political strategist Jeri Thompson, and pollster Kellyanne Conway. The concept is interesting but I question how it plays into the “Conservatism 2.0″ theme. A take off of an MSM television show and transferring the format to internet TV may be entertaining but instructive how? It would seem to me that the format might get in the way of any kind of serious discussions about the future of conservatism but, I may be pleasantly surprised.

Perhaps I am expecting too much from a conference where conservatives are gathering to learn about activism (there are several sessions about “nuts and bolts” politics that are always very good), enjoy the company of mostly like minded people, and gape at some of the stars of the conservative movement.

But looking at the agenda and the speakers for CPAC 2009, I can’t help but think that this will be a lost opportunity. There is so much for conservatives to think about; facing up to the failures of the Bush years and conservative’s role in enabling those failures; less ideology and more pragmatism; a fundamental reassessment of how conservative principles can be relevant in a nation of 300 million people of varied ethnicity and interests; and a radical cleansing of limiting ideas that stifle debate and place more emphasis on assessing the purity of one’s conservative beliefs by a self-selected minority rather than accepting and embracing our differences.

And most importantly, fleeing the mindset that re-enforces the notion that there isn’t much really wrong with conservatism that a dab of message clarification here and a spot of renewed enthusiasm there won’t cure. Accepting the fact that there are fundamental problems is the first step toward recovery.

Unfortunately, CPAC fails miserably in that regard.

UPDATE

Here’s more from some clear thinking conservatives:

Frum:

Could we possibly act more inadequate to the challenge? More futile? More brain dead?

We in fact have a constructive solution to offer, one that would deliver more jobs faster: the payroll tax holiday, an idea endorsed by almost every reputable right-of-center economist. But that’s not the solution being offered by Republicans in Congress. They are offering a clapped-out package of 1980s-vintage solutions, including capital gains tax cuts. Capital gains! Who has any capital gains to be taxed in the first place?

Almost 70% of Americans say that President Obama will change the country for the better, the CNN poll found Feb. 7-8. Asked whether President Obama is doing enough to cooperate with Republicans, 74% said yes. Asked whether Republicans are doing enough to cooperate with President Obama, 60% said no.

In every poll I’ve seen, hefty majorities approve of President Obama’s economic performance. Approval numbers for congressional Republicans remain dismal.

If we’re to make progress in 2010, we have to look serious. This week we looked not only irrelevant, but clueless and silly. Quite a job for a little mouse.

Douthat:

But that’s a big if - which is why the more likely road to revival for the GOP probably starts outside Washington, with politicians who can afford to be experimental without constantly worrying about what Rush Limbaugh would say about them. This is one of the ways reform happened in the Democratic Party of the ’70s and ’80s: You had a collection of distinctive and innovative political figures - your “Atari Democrats,” your neoliberals, your “New Democrats” - who were testing out new ways of being liberal in statewide races long before their ideas were embraced by the party nationally. (Some of them still haven’t been, of course, as Mickey Kaus will be happy to inform you.) What the Republican Party needs, above all, is a generation of politicians who can fill the “center-right” space currently occupied by time-servers like Arlen Specter and Susan Collins with a politics that’s oriented around policy, rather than process. It needs a reform caucus that’s actually interested in reform (as opposed to deal-cutting), and that’s populated with politicians who have tried something new in difficult political terrains, and proven that it might work.

If such a caucus doesn’t emerge in Washington, though, then the party has to hope it emerges in the statehouses - and that one such statehouse occupant has what it takes to win the party’s nomination, the Presidency, and singlehandedly turn the GOP away from it’s self-defeating, self-destructive habits along the way. This is both the easiest way for the party to acquire the leadership it needs, and the hardest: It’s the easiest because it only requires the emergence of one great politician, rather than the slow cultivation of a generation of them; and it’s the hardest because it depends on the skills and vision of a single reform-minded leader, rather than a pooled efforts of like-minded cohort. Some of the failures of the Bush Administration, it’s worth noting, reflect precisely the latter set of dangers: You had a President trying, fitfully but with some sincerity, to create a new kind of conservatism (compassionate, big-government, whatever) without the kind of institutional and intellectual support that his project required. And it’s easy to imagine the next Republican President - whether it’s Jindal in 2016 or whomever - running into the same sort of problems, and running aground on them as well.

And yet, these guys are frozen out of CPAC and Ann Coulter gets center stage?

By: Rick Moran at 12:44 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (66)