Conservatives, Republicans and Self-Inflicted Wounds
Circular firing squads are about as helpful as they sound, yet they are something at which some Republicans excel. I do my best to avoid engaging in them. To paraphrase President Reagan, my 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy. But sometimes my 80 percent friends do something 100 percent stupid, and pretending they didn’t could cause more damage than calling them out on it.
Consider Sen. John McCain. Few have honed their circular firing squad skills to the level of the senior Senator from Arizona. McCain fancies himself a lot of things — a conservative, a leader, a “maverick.” But mostly he’s an insecure egomaniac more interested in Sunday show bookings and favorable media coverage than adhering to principles.
On Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., engaged in an epic 12-plus-hour filibuster to demand an answer on domestic drone use against American citizens while a dozen Republicans, including McCain, dined and played footsie with President Obama. When the filibuster ended, Sen. Paul got from the administration something few Republicans or even journalists have been able to — an answer.
Through his actions, Paul not only got the Obama administration to commit something to paper they were reluctant — if not unwilling — to admit, he also reinvigorated the grassroots and engaged people in a way the party hasn’t been able to do with hundreds of millions of dollars spent on campaigns. He got disinterested young people to pay attention, to question a president that largely hasn’t, if even for half a day.
For this, Sen. Paul was rightly praised by people across the political spectrum.
But this wasn’t good enough for Sen. McCain, who is not known to enjoy sharing the spotlight.
The next day, with the political world still abuzz from Paul’s actions, McCain couldn’t help but criticize him.
McCain, a man who could be counted on to routinely attack the Bush administration as guilty of torture for pouring water up the nose of three, count them — THREE, of the world’s most despicable terrorists, thought Paul “ill-informed” to think any president ever would use armed drones against Americans on U.S. soil. To think the worst of a president in one case and assume the best of another, and all future others, in another case is intellectually inconsistent, to put it mildly.
But McCain was not alone in his hypocrisy, as he rarely is. His “mini-me,” presidential dining partner and devout clone in all things critical of his own party, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was right there with him. The next two days saw Sens. Mutt and Jeff avail themselves of every possible opportunity to try to devalue what Sen. Paul accomplished.
They failed, and lowered their stature in all eyes but that of the media, which was their target audience in the first place. So while they attempt to undo smart gains made by a man working from principle, these two will warm themselves in the glow of camera lights. If it’s good for McCain and Graham, it’s bad for conservatism. But at least we have a fresh reminder of their self-interest-driven personalities and a stark contrast and an actual leader in Sen. Paul. All in all, it’s a fair trade.
The Conservative Political Action Conference gets under way again this week in Washington. But why?
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich wondered this week what purpose CPAC serves anymore, and I can help but join him.
CPAC was once a must-attend event for conservatives, a venue where new ideas and leaders emerged. Today it’s a showcase of irrelevancy.
Yes, emerging party leaders are slated to speak, but the panels promise to be lame rehashes. Aside from marquee speakers, many of whom have spoken in the past, there’s very little to excite the grassroots or attract new, young participants, and even less to include them. I’ve been attending CPAC for 10 years, and if they simply replayed speeches and events from my first one this year, I’d be hard-pressed to notice the difference.
This “sameness” ignores the reality of the dynamic nature of the conservative movement.
I’m no policy fan of much of what Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., has done, but to deny his success is, quite simply, stupid. What he can teach activist and politicians alike is his plain-spoken communication skills, something our side lacks like the moon lacks oxygen. Think what you will of Christie, but he knows how to handle the media, something conservatives desperately need. But the CPAC board would have none of it.
They’d also have none of GOProud, the fiscally conservative gay group. Jimmy LaSalvia, co-founder and executive director of the group (and a good guy and friend) is participating on a panel put on by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, but GOProud isn’t allowed to sponsor or have a booth. Why? Because it supports gay marriage. I don’t because: I don’t support the redefinition of words based on political correctness, but I support GOProud’s right to and welcome its support. Votes, by the way, we need if we are to stand any chance of righting our fiscal ship before we hit the coming Greece-berg we’re speeding towards.
But the CPAC board doesn’t want those votes or that money. I, for one, didn’t realize we were flush with both to the point we could cast off some without concern, but then I’m just going by the 2012 election results.
That a group of people who agree with the CPAC board 99 percent of the time would be excluded over an issue the federal government should have no role in is absurd. Inclusion of GOProud, which has happened in the past, is not an embrace of the areas where there are disagreements; it’s an embrace of the areas where there is agreement. If people aren’t interested in the support and votes of a group because they are bothered by what they do with their genitals, they have too much time on their hands and need a hobby.
They also need a brain.
The only time CPAC has made the news this year is through the stupidity of its actions. Headlines about refusing to invite Gov. Christie and excluding GOProud, but inviting progressive MSNBC host Chris Hayes (who garnered more headlines by rejecting it over GOProud’s exclusion) and Donald Trump (a great businessman but more of a self-promoter than noted conservative) exposes the CPAC board as an organization in need of some new blood.
I’m happy to wage the battle between the various factions within the conservative movement, but not until we vanquish liberalism. We, and the cause of liberty, would be much better served showcasing that which unites us than that which divides us. Continually reloading our opponent’s quiver with arrows is folly. Unfortunately it’s also something at which we excel.
Derek Hunter is Washington, DC based writer, radio host and political strategist.: You can also stalk his thoughts 140 characters at a time on Twitter.