Steph’s Adventures at CPAC: The Illustrated Report of DOOM! (Part I)

The most dangerous sign you will ever see at CPAC.

If you’re reading this because you spoke to me at the GOProud booth, the Independent Women’s Forum booth, or Rep. McCotter’s lecture, welcome!

Also, a quick caveat: This two-part report will not cover everything. First of all, I also had to work this weekend, so I couldn’t attend the entire conference. Secondly, CPAC has become Dragon*Con. Not only were there official CPAC events running in two ballrooms, but many participating organizations also offered break-out sessions elsewhere in the hotel. Thus, in this Post of DOOM, you will learn as much about my personal hobby horses (feminism, education, pop-culture, and the pro-life movement) as you will about CPAC itself.

That said, let’s begin!


Late Wednesday into early Thursday morning, the southeastern suburbs of DC received about a half-inch to an inch of snow. It was a tiny little weather event, but because the roads were not salted, the Thursday morning rush hour was pretty horrendous. As such, I arrived at the hotel well after the official commencement of the festivities and only caught the tail end of Michele Bachmann’s Thursday morning keynote (more on that later).

Between Bachmann’s speech and about 12:30 PM, I walked around the entire exhibit hall. Everyone who goes to CPAC should do this. The speeches and policy panels are great, but I love to talk to people face to face — and, of course, pick up all the free literature. By the time I left, I was weighed down with three bags full of books, pamphlets, fliers and other doodads. Indeed, the pain of toting all of that back to Woodbridge ultimately convinced me to bring my rolling suitcase on Friday.

Anyway, as I was making my circuit around the exhibit hall, I was also privately selecting the winners of my Exhibit Hall Awards. This year’s winners include (in no particular order):

  • Most Creative Display goes to the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a group that promotes common-sense, technocratic approaches to protecting the environment. On Thursday, they had a man-sized hamster wheel; by Friday, they were encouraging passers-by to throw eggs at pictures of Al Gore and Michael Mann (because they have “egg on their faces” thanks to Climategate). Granted, that’s not exactly encouraging civil discussion, but I have to admit I found it amusing (and messy). (Runner up: the NRA. They offered attendees the chance to test their aim with a point-and-shoot video game.)
  • Weirdest Freebie goes to the Newsmax Media booth, where volunteers were passing out free hand sanitizer emblazoned with the Newsmax logo. (Runner up: Hot Air/Townhall. They were passing out yo-yos.)
  • Best T-Shirt for Sale goes to Students for Life, whose t-shirt proclaims that “a woman has a right to her body, even if she’s still in the womb.” Oh snap! (Runner up: Hot Air/Townhall’s “Don’t blame me, I voted for McCain/Palin.” And they were actually giving that one away for free, so yay!)
  • Way to Kill My Back goes to the World Journalism Institute. They were passing out the free books advertised in the picture above.
  • Most Provocative, Eye-Catching Display goes to the David Horowitz Freedom Center and their “Palestinian Wall of Lies.”
  • And lastly, the overall Best Display goes to the Heartland Institute. They had an overwhelming amount of free literature on offer, and it looked remarkably polished.

As I said before, I also went to the exhibit hall to talk to people. For example, I met this gentleman:


I also got a chance to launch into a variation of my charity care rant at the Independent Woman’s Forum booth, which seemed to grab the volunteers’ attention. And I spoke to some media entity about Sarah Palin, although I don’t really know who it was exactly, as I didn’t get a look at her credential. I wish I could’ve stayed longer and networked further, but alas, I did in fact have to go to work. My students can’t tutor themselves.

Two volunteers representing the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which protects students’ academic freedom on our very leftwing campuses.

The Students for Life booth at CPAC 2011.

Young CPAC attendees threw a lot of eggs at pictures of Michael Mann and Al Gore at the C-FACT booth.

Gun enthusiasts, meanwhile, played a hunting game at the NRA’s booth.

The David Horowitz Freedom Center displays the Palestinian Wall of Lies.


Now, since Friday is a day off from work for me, I decided to sleep in a little bit on Friday morning so I’d have the energy to stick around for the Citizens United Reagan birthday bash. I ultimately rolled into CPAC just in time to hear Kristan Hawkins from Students for Life speak on the pro-life movement.

Hawkins’ speech was terrific, I thought. After declaring herself an “abortion abolitionist,” she stated that anyone who was born shortly after 1973 was part of the first generation that was deliberately targeted for abortion. I like that she framed it in those terms. It’s good to be reminded that many of my potential classmates were never born thanks to the legalization of abortion. That’s the sort of thing that should fire the blood for the pro-life cause. Hawkins then proceeded to the meat of her speech, which focused, correctly, on ending the demand for abortion. She emphasized that many women are being pressured by their family members, their boyfriends or their friends to abort because of the very real fear that these women will not be able to finish their education or survive financially if they go through with their unplanned pregnancies. Hawkins urged the audience to show these women what real justice looks like by surrounding them with a wall of love and charitable support. In other words, she encouraged the assembled to take the Catholic approach. (On a fairly regular basis, my home church holds diaper and bottle drives for our local crisis pregnancy center. We Catholics do put our money where our mouths are.)

At this point, we shifted to the audience questions. The most interesting question, I thought, came from a gentleman who remarked that caring for these women once they’re already pregnant seems rather like fixing the barn door after all the animals have escaped. I suspect he was trying to broach the topic of sex education, but the panelists (in addition to Hawkins, there were representatives from and Americans United for Life on the stage) didn’t seem to understand the question and consequently didn’t really answer it. My response? Well, as a Catholic, I obviously can’t advocate for the wide distribution of birth control – and at any rate, I don’t think that really works. Despite years of comprehensive sex education in the schools, kids still don’t know how to use contraceptives correctly and consistently. Moreover, passing out condoms like lollipops frequently serves as a substitute for genuine holistic education on the dangers of sex. To put it another way, all this focus on pregnancy, sores and seepage (and apologies for grossing you out there, but STI’s aren’t pretty) completely glosses over the emotional dimension of sex. Depression is itself an STI. Should we go for abstinence-only then? Well, to be honest with you, I think the problem with any school-based sex education program – whether it’s comprehensive or abstinence-oriented – is that it, by necessity, must be one-size-fits-all. Ideally, parents should be 100% in charge of educating their children on sex, as a parent knows his or her own child best and can tailor any program to that particular child’s needs. If only more parents would take up that mantle of responsibility.

Next up on the Marshall Ballroom roster was Eric Metaxas, author of Amazing Grace (on the life of William Wilberforce, the British abolitionist) and, more recently, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, two books that are now on my must-read list. A local friend and I decided to stick around because we both wanted to see the following panel on engaging America through the pop-culture, so we both were privileged to hear Metaxas speak briefly on the ways in which Christianity inspired the key moral advancements of Western history (i.e., the abolition of slavery, the 20th century fight against totalitarianism, and the civil rights movement). Metaxas urged us not to divide our faith from our civic life, but at the same time, he also warned us not to make an idol of politics. “It’s not just about victory,” he stated. “It’s about doing the right thing.” We will get a well-deserved ass-kicking, he added, if we elect folks who will compromise their principles in order to hold onto their power. “Be true to truth,” he concluded. “Then you’ll really have something to sell.” I personally appreciated Metaxas’ message, as I don’t believe Christianity gets nearly enough credit for all the good it has done in the world. I also feel, as does Metaxas, that social issues do matter, even though fiscal issues rightfully seem more pressing at the moment.

After Metaxas left the stage, the true fun began. I say fun because pop-culture panels usually attract the wise-cracking comedians. Stephen Kruiser of Pajamas Media was the first speaker, and he started the panel by chastising conservatives for their avoidance of pop-culture. Because we’ve traditionally been averse to using the arts to advance our ideas, he stated, “liberals think we’re all 90-year-old white guys.” “We need to fight this image. Going to CPAC always reminds me that we are fun. In my room, the parties started at 1:30 in the morning last night and lasted until 5:30.” (I’m paraphrasing from my notes here, but that was the gist.) Kruiser ended his short speech by urging those in attendance to take back the culture from the left.

Kruiser was followed by Kevin McCullough of Xtreme Media. McCullough’s primary concern was reaching out to independents. He urged us to focus on advancing ideas – and while he didn’t name names, he criticized those conservative icons who have descended to personal attacks. I believed McCullough was basically correct, but I did have one question, which I asked during the Q&A: How do we respond when the left attacks us in that ad hominem manner? McCullough replied that we should let the left be the party of angry. I see his point, but that ultimately feels very unsatisfying to me. If all things were equal, it would make sense to take the blows without fighting back, but all things are definitely not equal. I honestly prefer civility, but sometimes the Big Lies have become so deeply rooted that they just will not be dislodged through mere “polite conversation” on the issues. Just my $.02.

Jason Mattera, author of Obama Zombies and a writer for Human Events, followed McCullough. Mattera declared that Obama, “the first American Idol president,” won the 2008 election mainly by becoming a pop-cultural figure, a thesis that I feel is absolutely correct. Mattera then encouraged conservatives to reach out to the Jon Stewart audience using Obama’s tricks of the trade. “Convert people using Apple, not George Washington,” he advised. “Point out that we would not have Facebook, Twitter, smart phones, or iPads without the free market.” Mattera also urged us to focus on the jobs issue. “If liberals start talking about gay marriage, say ‘no jobs.’ If liberals start talking about health care, say ‘no jobs.’ And if Charlie Sheen invites you to a party, ask, ‘How many hookers and how much cocaine should I bring?'” (LOL!)

During the Q&A, most of the questions (aside from my own) followed the same theme, namely: Where is the funding/support for more conservative cultural products? McCullough and Kruiser both counseled the audience to be patient. They assured us that conservatives are beginning to network in Hollywood and that more conservative projects are in development. All three panelists also told the more creatively inclined in the audience to focus on creating good art. Mattera pointed out that the left is so successful when it comes to getting their message out into the culture because leftwing artists have taken the time to really learn their craft. This is true. There’s no question, for example, that Avatar is a visually stunning production; that’s why Americans flocked to it in droves. In order for conservative film makers to break out of their ghetto, they must learn to become James Cameron. In other words, they must suck it up and work in Hollywood for a while so that they can learn how to make the kinds of movies that will attract large audiences.

(And at this point, I think I will close part one of my report. In part two, I will talk about the school choice panel, the women in politics panel, the Reagan bash, and the social-con/libertarian divide that seemed to permeate the whole conference.)

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