It is a good gauge of the mainstream media’s cluelessness that so many of its commentators were surprised when Fox News star Glenn Beck slammed the Republican Party in his Saturday CPAC keynote address – and the CPAC audience cheered.
The annual conservative meeting’s attendance numbered something like ten thousand, a record. But as of this morning the counter on the conference’s website showed over 436,000 views of live and replayed speeches. That does not include C-SPAN coverage (also replayable on line). It is a fair bet that CPAC’s audience for major speeches topped one million.
The Left likes to caricature the Right as full of irrational rage. Beck made this point, pausing in his speech to tease photographers whose flashes popped whenever he offered a stern face and gesture. Perhaps the Left is simply projecting its own default emotion on its critics, but the truth is exactly the opposite. From Beck to George Will to Ann Coulter to any of a number of others, CPAC put on full display that the American Right is rational and very, very funny.
Of course, the absurdity of Obama Administration policies has proven a gift to conservative humorists. It is easy to get a laugh about an administration that, as George Will remarked in his speech, finds unacceptable a world that has internal combustion engines and that does not have Chrysler.
But as anyone with eyes could see for more than five years now, the Right’s laughter – and disgust – is not directed at Leftists of the Democratic Party alone. The GOP is a target, too – and not just among the students and activists who attend the annual CPAC gatherings.
For at least half a decade the swing vote in American politics has been driven by alarm at the growth of Federal spending. More likely to cast ballots for Republicans, these voters abandoned the GOP in 2006 and 2008 out of revulsion at the run-ups in spending and deficits during the Bush years.
They expected the Obama Administration to be liberal. They didn’t care. They wanted to teach the GOP a lesson. And they would probably have stuck with a Democratic president that was more or less like Clinton after the 2004 elections – still liberal but with restraint and (in combination with the GOP Congress of the time) delivering budget surpluses.
In less than a year, the Obama White House’s piling on of trillion dollar bank and auto bailouts, a trillion dollar health-care overhaul, a trillion dollar stimulus bill, and the nation’s first trillion dollar deficit exhausted their good will. In Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, this vote swung back hard to the GOP. But that doesn’t mean that they have forgotten how the party acted when it controlled Congress. They may not like the don’t-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste full throttle Leftism of the current administration. But they do not fully trust the Republicans, either. In deriding the Congressional GOP, Beck spoke for this pivotal group.
A less flamboyant but equally telling CPAC presentation came from conservative writer Amity Shlaes. Author of the celebrated history of the New Deal, The Forgotten Man, Shlaes cautioned that slogans of opposition are not enough. Conservatives need to develop their policies. How would a conservative administration cut federal spending? How would it deal with the economic crisis? How would it eliminate the government’s unfunded liabilities? How would it deal with inflation in the health sector?
This week the Congressional GOP leadership has an opportunity to start turning around the swing vote’s view of it. It is hard to see why the public relations department of the Obama White House favors domestic summits for getting themselves out of bad fixes. The beer summit is still a joke. The jobs summit underlined the fecklessness of the Administration’s economic policies. Still, maybe this health care summit will work better for them. But it has the potential to transform the public’s view of the GOP’s Congressional leadership, if that leadership stands firm and keeps Amity Shlaes advice in mind
For example, the White House plans to use last week’s thirty-nine percent premium increase from Anthem Blue Cross in California to call for health insurance price controls. The GOP should respond that the issue is not private v. public but California v. Idaho. If Californians could buy the same health insurance that residents of Idaho can buy, they would pay a fraction of the price they do now — without price controls, without mandates, without new regulations.
Politics offers few transformative moments. As I say, for the GOP the health summit may prove one. If so, it will be only a start. This weekend Glenn Beck, George Will, Amity Shlaes and numerous others offered good clues as to what the GOP needs to do. The mainstream media may not have got it. The Congressional GOP should not make the MSM’s mistake.