The CPAC conference was held this weekend in Washington. Here are a few notes taken at the proceedings and in the hallways:
Numbers: How much energy is in the conservative movement? Here is one small but telling detail.
The conference has been held annually for decades. Under the leadership of David Keene, who retired at the end of this year’s event, it has grown to 11,000 registrants and more than a million watching at least parts of the time on television or online. Some had thought the numbers would drop from last year, when frustration with the Obama Administration was driving turnout at all conservative events. Instead, the numbers in the hall easily topped any previous gathering.
To accommodate, CPAC left its traditional hotel, the Omni Shoreham, and moved to the much larger Marriott across the street. The Marriott surely has the biggest ballroom in Washington. But even this space wasn’t large enough to hold the crowd, and an overflow room was set up.
If CPAC is any indication, conservatism’s force as a political movement is not at all stalled, as some in the media have been saying, now that a GOP win of the House means conservatives much “face the responsibilities of governing.” As a force in American politics, it is building.
Passion: Passion was running high. Hot topics that drew big cheers and rousing speeches? Repeal of healthcare was at the top. The threat of China was another. Both were part of a larger theme that ran through the conference, that the gargantuan spending and borrowing under the Obama Administration imperil the nation. Obama spending undermines both current and future economic growth. Moreover, it compromises our economic and military power and threatens our security.
Here is an intellectual fault line between Right and Left today. The Left buys the Keynesian notion of a liquidity trap and sees it as central to our current crisis. The Right rejects that idea.
The nub of the concept is that sometimes economic activity simply stops, and government must spend in order to force up consumption. The Keynesian paradigm was, of course, a response to the Great Depression. But Keynes failed to grasp how profoundly monetary policies of the United States and France were sopping up global liquidity. The trap he sought was not in private activity, as he supposed, but in the halls of central banks and national finance ministries.
Understanding this, the American Right has looked to the rapid cuts in national spending that followed the ends of the First and Second World Wars and to the vigorous expansions of the decades that followed as models for today. Cut spending. Cut taxes. Free resources for more productive activity than government can muster.
In other words, as the Right sees it, the Obama Administration’s cascading trillions in expenditures and debt have turned a government-created financial panic that could have been short lived into a longer, deeper crisis for the entire economy.
Speakers: Among the fieriest segments of the weekend was a panel on health care reform. It included health care expert Betsy McCaughey, Illinois freshman congressman Joe Walsh, and Pacific Research Institute president Sally Pipes. How strongly did emotions run on this topic? “The individual mandate is repulsive to our constitutional values,” said one. It is “an issue that united all of us.”
But some of the biggest responses came to presentations on global threats.
California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher drew cheers in his attack on U.S. policy towards China. “I am for free trade,” he said. “Free trade between free peoples, and the Chinese people are not free.”
Applause interrupted Florida Congressman Connie Mack more times than I could count as he detailed the despotism of Venezuelan “thugocrat” Hugh Chavez, Chavez’ challenges to the U.S. security, and the administration’s cluelessness towards him.
Ambassador John Bolton got one of the biggest receptions of the weekend, speaking to an overflow crowd. Any regular viewer of the Fox New Channel knows his assessment of the administration.
For me, the biggest surprise of the weekend was that, by and large, it wasn’t senators, governors, and candidates for president who got the biggest responses, but the second tier. It was members of the House, potential candidates for senator and governor, and a former ambassador who might one day be named secretary of state.
When I left the White House after the Reagan Administration, among my major concerns was the lack of depth in our bench. Our next tier struck me as not all that promising. This year’s CPAC left me thinking exactly the opposite.
Today, the conservative bench is deep, and it is strong.