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

Outside the Delaware Ballroom, “Gorilla Debt” menaces the crowds.

(Continued from part one.)

After the pop culture presentation, the Marshall Ballroom next hosted a panel on homeschooling and school choice, so once again, I decided to stay put. (And let me tell you, it was certainly a boon to my arthritic ankles and knees that the programs I really wanted to see were, for the most part, in the same location.) After the moderator made his introductions, Lil Tuttle from the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute (woot!) stepped up as the first and, I feel, best speaker.

Tuttle’s angle of attack was quite interesting. She believes that the school choice issue should be framed not just as a social issue, but also as a fiscal issue. In her speech, she pointed out that many states are on the verge of going bankrupt in large part because of the public schools. “School choice is to the state governments what taxes are to the federal government,” she announced. “Many states are in the financial hole, and the public schools are some of the biggest piggies at the trough.” She praised Chris Christie, whom she called a “YouTube sensation,” for going after the teachers unions and their cadillac benefit plans, and urged other Republican-controlled states to follow the same model (and apparently, the governor of Wisconsin is getting right on it – more on that in a separate post). Tuttle then pointed out that public education and public schooling are not synonymous. Public education is an ideal; public schooling, a method. And we can and should look for other ways to deliver a public education to our children, as the old model is rapidly becoming unsustainable. Tuttle urged the audience to support a universal choice program for families at all income levels. If we send a kid to private school on a government voucher, she stated, we will use half the money we currently use to support our public schools. “We must make the case,” Tuttle concluded, “that school choice will promote fiscal responsibility.”

The other speakers on the panel echoed Tuttle’s complaints about the current expense of running the public schools (particularly the cost of propping up exorbitant teacher pensions) and amplified her call for universal choice (which, as I understand it, is the current practice in some European nations). I agreed with their sentiments. As we get closer and closer to the singularity, I believe it may in fact be time to look for alternatives to the traditional model of public schooling. Not only should we send kids to charter and private schools, but we should also allow technology to take up some of the slack. In my own school district, students already have the option to go to “virtual school” to pick up some of their core course requirements. Imagine how much we would save on transportation and physical plant maintanance if other school districts followed Prince William’s lead and created their own distance learning programs. Do I think physical schools will disappear completely? No — but if we give families the option to stay home, that may relieve some crowding issues and, oh yes, perhaps save some money.

But back to my report. After the school choice panel ended, I decided to visit the exhibit hall one more time to acquire a few books and t-shirts. Then I headed back upstairs to catch ISI’s break-out session featuring Rep. Thaddeus McCotter. The portion of the program I was able to see focused heavily on Egypt and the economy. On Egypt, McCotter seemed to echo the worries I expressed in my recent post here. The last thing Egypt needs right now is a revolution, McCotter argued. Revolutions foster instability, and instability opens the door for more radical elements (like the Muslim Brotherhood). If there is to be change in Egypt, it must be incremental — and no organization which has failed to renounce terrorism should be allowed a seat at the table. McCotter also had harsh things to say about the U.S. intelligence community’s failure to notice that an Egyptian uprising was on the horizon. On the economy, meanwhile, McCotter expressed a belief that we should get back to the business of making things. The current status quo – in which much of our manufacturing is handled by China – will not lead to economic health, McCotter stated. We need to remove the regulatory barriers that have pushed manufacturing out of the U.S. We also need to work on making our economy more consumer oriented. Highly centralized welfare states are unsustainable, McCotter declared. “Look at Greece. Look at California.”

A political orientation chart in the exhibit hall highlights the libertarian bent of this year’s audience. (My flag, by the way, is near Sarah Palin, which doesn’t surprise me at all.)

As I remarked at the start of part one, CPAC has really expanded over the years. At any one time, attendees at this year’s convention had to make a choice between five different programs. And so it was with yours truly. Eventually, I had to step out of McCotter’s lecture so I could reunite with my local friend and see a panel on the rise of the conservative female politician. And as I made my way to the Delaware Ballroom, I ran into a whole crowd of people who were lining up to see Ron Paul. Ron Paul was a freakin’ rock star at this year’s conference. He won the presidential straw poll for the second year running, as a matter of fact, which I attribute to the Paulites’ fanatical zeal. To be honest with you, that’s something I don’t understand at all, as Ron Paul is a complete nutbar. He refuses to renounce 9/11 Trutherism and believes we should all become radical isolationists (never mind that after a century of U.S. involvement in conflicts all over the world, isolationism would be utterly irresponsible and possibly suicidal). Indeed, when it comes to our foreign policy, Ron Paul pretty much makes common cause with the hard left. He is absolutely unelectable — but for the past few years, young libertarian ideologues have lionized him as a political demigod and have worked hard to hijack CPAC in his honor. Thus, as you may have heard, quite a few people were booed by the libertarian-leaning audience this year. Now, to a point, I agree with SABR Matt: robust debate keeps the conservative movement healthy. I think, though, that booing is a very tacky and classless thing to do.

Because the Paulites were out in force, the more socially conservative speakers evidently felt under great pressure to defend their beliefs. Speakers from Michele Bachmann to Eric Mataxas to the ladies featured in the Citizens United break-out session I am about to discuss all took great pains to emphasize the importance of social issues like abortion and marriage. The consistency of their message was quite uncanny, actually; indeed, it prompted my local friend to ask me later whether, given my connection to the gay community, I took their comments on marriage personally. My answer? No. Even though I currently support civil unions for gays, I do believe marriage is a sacrament that should be reserved for heterosexual couples — and I also believe that social conservatives are absolutely right to be concerned about the break-down of the American family, as the weakening of the family unit leads directly to government dependency.

Mind you, I think the gay marriage debate is only one symptom of a larger problem, namely: American adults have lost sight of the true purpose of sex and marriage. Sex and marriage do not exist simply to satisfy your biological desire for pleasure, nor are they just means by which two consenting adults can express their love for each other. Sex and marriage serve both a unitive and a procreative function — and our culture’s excessive focus on the unitive aspect has led to a whole host of societal ills, including pre-marital sex, promiscuity, and out-of-wedlock childbirth. I agree with Ann Coulter here: The left is trying to use gay marriage to continue – not start – the grand crusade to destroy the family, and if we’re going to decry gay marriage, we should also decry no-fault divorce, pre-marital sex, and voluntary single-motherhood (among other things). But I’m babbling here. Suffice it to say that I believe social conservatives need to broaden their net beyond the gay marriage issue if they ever hope to overcome the “homophobe” stereotype.

But let us move on to the panel on the rise of the conservative woman, which featured Michele Bachmann, Phyllis Schlafly (of course), a woman from Oklahoma whose name I didn’t catch, and the inimitable S.E. Cupp. By far, Cupp was my favorite panelist. She started her speech by declaring that defining “women” as a separate group within the conservative movement is fundamentally problematic. “I get asked all the time what I think about a particular issue as a woman, and I always respond, ‘I don’t know. Let me ask my uterus.'” (LOL!) Cupp believes that conservativism should transcend identity politics because conservativism is the natural position. Most people, she observed, live their lives as conservatives, even if they declare themselves to be liberals. That’s why the left must always keep busy aggressively asserting its relevance. (Quite true.) “The right, on the other hand, doesn’t have to reinvent its message every few years.” It can change its method of delivery, but its ideas are time-tested and empirically sound. Cupp also remarked in response to an audience question that religious arguments shouldn’t be kicked out of the public debate. “I don’t have a problem with people saying we should do this because God said so,” she stated, which is a pretty interesting position for her to take given that she’s an atheist. (Personally, I think she’s ripe for a conversion, but that is of course her decision.)

All of the speakers on the above panel agreed that women shouldn’t forget to marry and have children — and they all attributed their interest in politics to their experiences at home. Michele Bachmann, for example, told the audience that she got into politics when she saw the crappy education her children and foster children were getting in the public schools. The woman from Oklahoma shared a similar story, then urged the young ladies in the audience not to try “having it all.” “Live your life in chapters, because I can guarantee you’re not going to want to leave your children in the care of a babysitter or nanny.” That seemed like eminently humane and realistic advice to me.

After the women in politics panel, I went out to dinner with my local friend and his wife out in Bethesda, where I had some very good pizza. (Next time you come to DC, definitely try Cafe Deluxe.) Then I returned to the hotel for the big Friday night finish: the Ronald Reagan birthday bash hosted by Citizens United.

I pose with one of the party’s three “Reagans.”

The Ronald Reagan birthday cake made by the “Cake Boss.”

We broke every fire code in existence with this party, and I think the main draw was the above birthday cake, which, by the way, tasted as good as it looked. Still, the movies were also great. Of the two, I thought the first, which introduced the youth in the audience to Reagan using Reagan’s own words, was the best. As a matter of fact, I could feel myself choking up sometimes as the movie hit some of Reagan’s greatest lines. SABR Matt is right: In my lifetime, no president has ever managed to top Reagan when it comes to communicating his ideas to the people, and I think that’s because Reagan’s speeches came from his heart, not his head. He genuinely believed America was a great nation; he wasn’t touting America’s greatness simply to appease the public (yes, Obama, I am looking at you).

Unfortunately, I had to work a full day on Saturday, so the Reagan party was the final event I attended at CPAC 2011. I did not get to see Allen West’s keynote address live, though I did watch it later on YouTube and thought it was excellent — and very presidential. As for my final thoughts? Though the tension between the libertarians and the social conservatives was so thick this year that you could cut it with a knife, I do plan to return in 2012. Indeed, I think I’ll try to get Saturday off so I can see some of the fun stuff the organizers reserve for the last day of the conference.

One thought on “Steph’s Adventures at CPAC: The Illustrated Report of DOOM! (Part II)

  1. A comment from personal experience…

    I declared myself a libertarian because I still wanted to be cool and have youthful fun. I don't want to make myself sound pathetic and shallow, but as a younger man, I was focused on what I wanted out of life, not what I needed…being a social conservative required me to disagree with everyone else my age practically, to commit to a lifestyle that seemed rather “unexciting,” and to spend most of my time in crowds of my friends defending my beliefs and losing potentially good friends as a result.

    Social conservatism is just “not cool”…as sad as that is. And social conservatism also demands a higher moral standard than most young people are willing to live by…it's the old line from my co-author's Patron Saint Augustine…”Lord help me to be pure…but not yet.”


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