The Binghamton Review team attended the Conservative Political Action Conference this year, an annual event which draws thousands of Republicans, conservative, and libertarians to a conference to…do whatever people do at conferences, I suppose. Here are our takes on the experience:
This was my second year in a row attending CPAC. I had a great start to my conference, as I had the privilege to meet Rand Paul in his U.S. Senate office, courtesy of some well-connected Jews. Around fifteen other people and myself, including my dear friend Ross Marchand, sat around a conference table, with Paul of course sitting at the head of it. First he did a quick lap around the table and shook all of our hands (I introduced myself by first and last name when I met him, as if he’d ever remember me.)
We had about 20 minutes with him, and we all got to ask him a question. I asked him what he thought of someone embarking on a medical career today. He answered that even when he was finishing up his medical training in the early 90s, people were already talking about how medicine was less financially profitable than it used to be, but that there is something very special in being able to heal someone, which is why he still performs eye surgeries for free (Senate rules prohibit him from keeping his day job as an ophthalmologist.) Ross asked him about how to get better at public speaking. Paul replied that he was initially awkward at public speaking, just like he was initially bad at drawing blood, but that over time and after enough practice, he got better at both things (exhilarating answer, I know. Only the best here at the Review.) The rest of the questions had to do with his views about the situation in Ukraine, and if you’re interested in his views on that, Google is your friend (I purposely took the opportunity to ask a question that Rand Paul wouldn’t be asked on CNN.) Afterwards, we all took a group picture (no individual pictures, to my disappointment).
After this visit, Ross and I conveniently took a free shuttle from Union Station in Washington D.C. to the convention center in National Harbor, Maryland. CPAC is located in the Gaylord National Resort, which is ironic, since CPAC banned GOProud, a gay Republican group, from being a sponsor for the second year in a row. The first speech I attended was Marco Rubio’s. I had to walk out of it in the middle. Here were some typical lines (paraphrased from memory): “America has its challenges, but I wouldn’t trade places with any other country in the world.” “I want the 21st century to be an American century, just like the last one.” “America is the greatest country on Earth.” “There is nothing more positively American than an American living in America.” Look, I’m a pretty patriotic guy. I have an American flag (opposite a Gadsden flag) hanging in my room. But this sort of unthinking, boring patriotism is quite grating to my ears, so I got up and sought refuge in the Exhibit Hall.
The Exhibit Wall was a much more interesting place than the main speaker hall. There were probably at least a hundred stands set up. I ran into the publisher of National Review, whose office I had visited over two years and a half years prior, before I even transferred to this school. I ran into a Rick Santorum (I know, I know, just the very thought is unpleasant) supporter who went to a Christian college up here in Johnson City I had never heard of called Davis College. He asked me which church I attended. I told him I wasn’t Christian. His face dropped. I visited the Young Americans for Liberty booth, and got a Stand with Rand shirt. To my life’s eternal dismay, I later lost it.
That was Day 1 (or at least the parts that didn’t involve alcohol). Day 2, more talks. Newt Gingrich gave a surprisingly interesting speech. There was a panel on the compatibility between libertarianism and social conservatism. Reason editor-in-chief Matt Welch performed well, whereas Students for Liberty president Alexander McCobin delivered canned answers which completely ignored the questions asked. Rick Santorum gave a cringe inducing speech wherein he whined about what a great tragedy it was that he never got elected President and how much we should appreciate him. I suffered through it though, because next up was Rand Paul, who gave the only speech of the event in which the hall was packed to standing room only. The speech was lively, energetic, and drew on examples from history, literature, and even Pink Floyd.
Fast forward. That midnight, me and Sam Bondy saw Sarah Palin in the lobby of the hotel. She saw my Stand with Rand sticker, and complimented me on it, saying how she liked that whole libertarian thing. Sam saw her the moose on her shirt, and complimented her on her moose shirt. She thanked him. I asked for a picture. She obliged. Winning!
Although 2013’s CPAC was highlighted by an undertone of recent political defeat and its accompanying grief and imbibery, 2014 was entirely different. The renewed spirit and confidence in the 2016 presidential candidates was truly refreshing, and less hangover-inducing.
I was disappointed that there weren’t as many academics this year (such as George Nash) speaking on historical conservative thought. Also, there was only one speech on economics during the whole conference… I’ve come to accept that CPAC is less about intellectual conversation, and more about instilling pride and nationalism amongst the deluge of republicans and libertarians alike, although the latter is integral.
The necessities of college academics prevented me from attending Chris Christie’s speech, which was unfortunate. Rand Paul rallied and energized the crowd, which was overflowing the Potomac Ballroom, the increasing number of libertarians at these conferences is frankly remarkable. Hopefully the divide between strict conservatism and libertarianism will be bridged, without too much fuss, when the time necessitates it.
And I will never again forget just how far, by foot, the Washington Monument is from the Lincoln Memorial.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect from CPAC. I just knew that it better be worth the horrendous prior approval and voucher process that I would have to go through as treasurer. That process was surprisingly painless. On Thursday afternoon, we got on the road. On the way there, we almost ran out of gas. We really almost ran out of gas. We got off the highway at an exit that had a Walmart Distribution Center, and no gas station, and had to turn around on the highway. We were within 3 miles of disaster by the time we arrived, and almost made a wrong turn. Our next stop was at Chick-Fil-A, because we’re from the Northeast and don’t have cool things like that around us, and also because it seemed like the most suitable fast food place for the occasion. Eventually, we got to the hotel: Gaylord National Resort Convention Center. I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that a bunch of super religious conservative activists would be speaking on the topic of traditional marriage at a place called Gaylord. The irony was beautiful. We missed the Thursday speakers unfortunately, but got to see a bunch of great speakers. Rick Perry showed us that glasses can actually make somebody look a lot smarter. He should continue to rock those. Rick Santorum managed to avoid homophobia for the most part, and came to a pretty legitimate conclusion as to why Republicans lost the 2012 election. He took shots at Mitt Romney, and was all family values in a more positive light than usual. Dr. Ben Carson really got the crowd going, and apparently a lot of the conservative base really wants him to run for President. His whole “nonpolitical” style gets people excited. Not as excited as Straw Poll winner Rand Paul though. Senator Paul gave exactly the type of speech one would expect from him, and it was beautiful. In person, it was extremely powerful. The crowd was standing up for him more than every other speaker of the day, probably. He does have “Stand With Rand” going for him, so that number might be a little inflated. Jim DeMint was quite disappointing. On Saturday night, we ran into Sarah Palin, and got to take pictures with her, and then she started her speech off by talking about us. It was awesome, although we had to listen to it on the radio unfortunately. CPAC was about much more than the speeches: it was an experience. I got to meet a bunch of awesome people, and a few pretty terrible people. I got a bunch of free stuff. Free stuff is cool. I arm wrestled a man whose bicep (named “National Debt”) was larger than my head for a t-shirt. We went to a party in the hotel that was run by the national Republican party or something like that. It got shut down by 7:30 pm. All in all, CPAC was great, and I am definitely looking for a return next year.