See CPAC Run . . .
You know the presidential campaign is underway when . . . the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC for short, is drawing the kind of attention afford debates a months before the Iowa caucuses.
Why the press interest in a gathering so far ahead of the primary schedule? You can argue that it’s the CPAC straw pollof 15 men and women with more than a passing interest in unseating President Obama. Perhaps. But the results will be about as meaningless as most any survey at this point in the game (keep in mind: Texas Rep. Ron Paul was last year’s winner).
A better answer would be that it’s good political theater — and, being held in the nation’s capital, subway ride for political reporters socked in by winter weather, or hamstrung by bosses too cheap to pay for airfare. and if you don’t think it’s theatric, then I suggest you check the conference masthead: images of Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck.
Unfortunately, this is also CPAC’s liability. Officeholders and would-be statesmen and world leaders become too theatrical, with the rhetoric getting out of hand. For my taste, there’s too much Obama-bashing, and too litle unconventional thinking. It’s a pet peeve of mine, as someone who’s dabbled in political speechwriting. You’re in front of a conservative audience, you’re trying to brandish your conservative credentials, so . . . you resort to the big book of conservative clichés.
I call this the “macro” school of political rhetoric — as in, you press F1-F12 on your computer and up pops a worn adage. For CPAC speakers looking to create presidential buzz, it goes something like this:
F1 — “rescue America from a President who, in unchecked, would lead us on a dangerous path of European-style socialism and ruin”
F2 — “keep the President out of my doctor’s office . . . and the First Lady out of my kitchen”
F3 — “you live within your means, the federal government should be no different”
F4 — “borrowing money from China so we can afford to buy their cheap products”
F6 — “proud to live in an America where Nancy Pelosi has to fly commercial”
F7 — “on this, President Reagan’s centennial, let us honor his legacy by renewing his call for . . .”
F8 — “a recession is when your neighbor loses his job, a depression is when you lose your job, and a recovery is when Barack Obama loses his job” (recycled from the 1980 Reagan campaign)
F9 — “taking economic advice from Barack Obama and Joe Biden is like taking career advice from Keith Olbermann”
F10 — “no more Madoff stimulus packages, no more Ponzi economic schemes”
F11 — “the leader of the Free World should stand up for the principles that made America great, instead of running around the world and apologizing”
F12 — “I’d come to CPAC even if it were held in Alaska — which is more than I can say about other people” (with Sarah Palin not attending the function, you can expect some cheap shots in her direction — and apparently it’s already begin, for former Sen. Rick Santorum reportedly taking an early swipe at the former Alaska governor, and Palin returning fire)
So what’s missing from that list? Simply this: stepping into Ronald Reagan’s shoes.
If a 2012 hopeful wants to update Reaganism for this decade — the triad of lower taxes, a muscular foreign policy, and skepticism of government outcomes — now’s the time to do. If he or she has an alternative vision to Reagan’s, then let it fly. The country’s looking for leadership, it’s also looking for leadership. Not another presidential cycle of twisting and contorting and pandering.
And one last note about Palin. I don’t think she’s attending CPAC . . . simply because she doesn’t have to. She already has conservative bona fides, a national network of acticists, and a media (for better or worse) following her every move. Speaking at this conference makes her but one more caribou in the herd, just as I’d be surprised if she showed up at the May 2 presidential debate at the Reagan Library. Unlike other hopefuls who need to make an early and loud splash, Palin can wait before entering the primary fray.
And not going to CPAC? Just more of the waiting game.