Today the annual gathering of prominent conservatives at CPAC, in Washington, DC, will come to a close, and as usual, the media has been “discovering” all sorts of controversy in the event. I did not attend CPAC this year due to scheduling conflicts, but I have been monitoring the activities by nearly continually moderating a live, online chat from the event, receiving nearly continuous tweets, IM’s, text messages and phone calls from the floor, all while watching the main dias presentations via CSPAN. So, before things wind up entirely, this morning is a good time to clear up some of the mysteries surrounding the alleged controversies taking place.
First, and perhaps the oddest item on our agenda, was the decision to accept the John Birch Society as a sponsor of the event. This was picked up on by a number of people, including our own Michael Stickings. Let me be the first to say that many of the participants had their own misgivings about the JBS being involved, and some even chose not to attend based, at least in part, on that fact. Their reputation has picked up more than its fair share of tarnish over the years and questions about this were justified. But it seems that the entire event went off without much of a hitch in that regard. Also, it was in keeping with the organizers’ efforts to provide something of a “bigger tent” these days. Usually that phrase is intoned regarding the inclusion of moderates and fiscal conservatives who are social libertarians into the fold, but a truly open tent will include voices from both sides, including the JBS.
Then there were the ever-present accusations of racism, which always flow freely from liberals any time conservatives gather in large numbers. Perhaps the strangest of these was the reaction to Jason Mattera’s comments. I not only watched the delivery live, but listened to an interview he did with Ed Morrissey after the “controversy” errupted, and this has to be one of the silliest accusations I’ve heard in ages. Here’s the text of some of the remarks in question where he compared CPAC to Woodstock.
“Except that unlike the last gathering, our women are beautiful, we speak in complete sentences and our notion of freedom doesn’t consist of snorting cocaine,” he said, “which is certainly one thing that separates us from Barack Obama.”
After the laughing died down, he added, “Actually, on the cocaine front, I do believe many people in America viewed Barack as they do drugs: it was a substance to experiment with.”
He was definitely making fun of “hippies” in his remarks, (are there even any hippies left today?) but the only aspect of “racism” seems to be the conclusion of the New York Times reporter who said he employed a “Chris Rock voice” when talking about being a “feminist new black man.” I had to agree with the question Jason asked during his interview. A Chris Rock voice? What does that even mean? You may not find his comments as funny as he did, but the “racism” here was clearly in the mind of the reporter.
Another odd moment, which Joe already wrote about, came during an interview with Stephen Baldwin, shown here along with his radio partner, Kevin McCullough. (By the way, that may be the single worst picture I’ve ever seen of Kevin.) Baldwin is the star of such entertainment ventures as the World’s Dumbest Criminals series on Tru-TV in addition to his political opinion work on the radio. In a rather classic, “open mouth, insert foot” moment, he referred to the President by saying, “Homey made this bed, now he has got to lay in it.”
I get to hear these guys fairly regularly, including near weekly appearances by McCullough as guest co-host on The Ed Morrissey Show, and I can tell you that the comment is nothing unusual. I understand where confusion might arise, but they frequently use that type of vernacular when referring to white people and pretty much anyone else as well. Personally, I’ve never found it flattering when paunchy, middle aged white men try to intone the street slang of urban youths to look cool and trendy, but let’s not read too much into this. Particularly given certain aspects of Kevin’s personal life (which are really none of our business to discuss in detail here) I can assure you that the man is no racist, nor would he enter into a business relationship with anyone who is. (And this is coming from somebody who isn’t exactly one of his adoring fans.) I may frequently find him to be several french fries short of a happy meal, but there isn’t a racist bone in either Kevin or Stephen’s bodies.
There were also accusations of gay bashing at CPAC, surrounding the brief appearance by Ryan Sorba on the dias, where he tried to condemn CPAC for inviting the gay Republican group GOProud. If you wish to accuse Sorba, that’s fine. But don’t pretend that the attending members supported him. If you have any doubts, turn your speakers up nice and loud and watch the following, very brief video of his attempt at speaking.
Sorba got exactly one dozen words out of his mouth before the crowd began booing and shouting at him, causing him to swat back at them in a churlish fashion and then go back to his seat. Nobody there wanted any part of his homophobic attitude and he was hounded from the stage. There is obviously a heated debate in the Republican and conservative ranks over the issue of gay marriage, but nobody wanted to shut out those who may be in favor of it. The audience deserves a round of applause for not tolerating his nonsense.
If you really want to find an example of bad behavior at CPAC, you should look into the fact that Bob Barr got booed during his remarks for the perceived sin of speaking out against torture. While it is fine and proper to shout down anyone who might engage in hate speech against any group, it’s another thing entirely to disrupt someone over a legitimate disagreement on policy points. This is not a new position for Barr, so it should come as no surprise that he might say that, and if people didn’t want to hear it they probably shouldn’t have invited Bob to speak. In all fairness, though, Barr should have known that this particular position would not be seen favorably by much of the CPAC crowd and might have done better to restrict his remarks to matters of fiscal conservatism where he has bona fides beyond question.
Disagree with the policy positions of conservatives if you like, but most of these hyperbolic accusations of evil deeds at CPAC are nothing but political posturing. Yes, any large gathering will unfortunately attract a couple of nuts, but it is patently unfair to use a few disturbed individuals to paint the entire event with one brush. Let’s back off from the torch waving and focus on the pressing policy issues of the day.