Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)
since Ronald Reagan became president (though quite a number here were still babies then).
What should have been, logically, a desultory meeting—coming just days after the president proposed a wholesale dismantling of Reagan's small-government, anti-regulatory, tax-cutting, free-market policies—was actually quite a rousing experience.
Here were 8,500 people or so—many of them young men in high-waisted pleated chinos—in an almost blissed-out state. Such rapture had to do with Rush
, a holly trinity of conservative charisma and inspiration, but I think it also had to do with a sense of martyrdom and true belief. That sense of virtue has been increased rather than dimmed by a stunning electoral defeat, the comet-like ascendancy of a revivified liberalism, and, most of all, the arguable (certainly they spent the weekend arguing it at CPAC—without opposition) end of free market capitalism. These are the people who are left behind. The last real soldiers of the revolution. If every other so-called conservative is trying to make a sort of peace with the Obama nation, to escape from the lonely island of doctrinaire policy, these guys are having none of it.
Indeed, while Obama and liberal—or, as they would have it, socialist—government came under the usual opprobrium, the real ire was reserved for the free-spending Bush administration and for that illegitimate (or at least vastly misguided) party nominee John McCain.
Newt was open
in his derision of the Bushies (“Big spending under Bush and now we’ve got big spending under Obama…a Bush-Obama continuity”); Ann couldn’t joke enough about John McCain’s age (“if Obama couldn’t get more than 53% running against John McCain…”), and Rush, in the ultimate speaking spot, delivered
the point of the whole affair: Any deviation from the Reagan grail was apostasy. There was no reform conservatism, there was only hardcore, orthodox, god-fearing Ronald Reagan conservatism.
But make no mistake, none of this was pronounced with bitterness. These people were having a very good time. They were the righteous and the knowing and the sure (all the laugh lines were met by great and raucous good cheer—in many ways, the entire conference was conservative stand-up).
During the Great Depression and the age of Roosevelt, conservatives became an odd, retro, proud, clubby, insular, pants-pulled-way-up-past-their-bellies band of diehards.
Sometime after the 1964 Goldwater defeat, the conservatives set out on a long march back to viability and plausibility. Now, they have begun a long march back to purity and insularity and, I suspect, happiness. These are natural outsiders.
It’s good camping in the wilderness.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at email@example.com
I spent the weekend with the conservatives—the real conservatives. So conservative, only 4% of them, in an on-site straw poll, said they approved of the job Barack Obama’s doing—that’s in a country where, after the president’s speech last week, more than 80% said they approved. These are Limbaugh-Coulter-Gingrich conservatives, some who have gathered every year at the