19 February 2010

Do conservatives need CPAC?

Ambinder wonders, and I do too.

The list of featured speakers is stunning -- Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, George Will, and on and on. Last year, Newt Gingrich gave the keynote address. In 2008, Bush and Cheney appeared together. This is no fringe conference.

But what utility does it have?

Ambinder notes:

"No one ought to begrudge conservatives for having a good time, but a good time isn't what the movement needs: what it needs is an infrastructure that exists to promote the ideas of the millennial generation. CPAC does not provide that or even hint that such a thing exists. Note: do not confuse an amplification infrastructure -- the conservatives have a huge megaphone, ranging from talk radio to Pajamas Media to Fox News -- with a political infrastructure, which turns ideas into policies and modernizes the party."

The Obama administration's comedy of errors has allowed the conservative movement to survive and perhaps even make gains, while, in effect, hammering on the following ideas: taxes, abortion, guns and the personality of Barack Obama. These are not serious policy positions upon which the Republican Party can begin making meaningful gains, but go to a tea party rally or read any of the speeches of the CPAC luminaries, and these seem to be all they have.

(Of course conservatives are in favor of lower taxes, but two points here -- First, isn't it a bit silly to shriek and pound the table about Obama's penchant for raising taxes, when he hasn't raised taxes a single dime on a single American during the 14 months he's been in office? And second, we are facing record budget deficits. Have conservatives forgotten that it was the Bush tax cuts of 2001 that obliterated the budget surplus of the Clinton years and created this fiscal mess in the first place? Bush managed to double the national debt in eight years. Good Lord.)

Even Tim Pawlenty -- who is my early favorite for the 2012 Republican nomination -- got into the act, making these childish remarks in a feeble attempt to throw red meat to the great unwashed. Pawlenty, a reasonable, salt-of-the-earth fellow, should know better: This is not serious policy, and one who styles himself presidential timber should probably steer clear of such stupid rhetoric.

As I've noted here ad nauseum, I am not one of the conservatives who believes that the Republican Party must "moderate" itself, as Colin Powell has argued -- whatever that means. Rather, I want the GOP to become less reflexive, more serious and most importantly, much more policy-driven. There are beacons of hope in this regard: Newt Gingrich and especially, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

Conservatives must begin to think again. And in this regard, I'm not sure CPAC -- which has turned into a pep rally for the same type of brainless, hyperbolic platitudes that fueled Barack Obama's campaign in 2008 -- is the antidote.

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