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In the last three issues, we have considered how John Rawls’ veil of ignorance theory and difference doctrine help us consider and create a more fair, moral social contract. This discussion has, I hope, been reasonable, measured, and candid.
In this last column, I would like to tell you the story of my experience at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. You may now forget about reasonable and measured. But hey, remember candid.
I was in Washington D.C. two weeks ago to visit Georgetown Law School. I rode the Metro into downtown D.C. pretty early in the morning, planning to spend the afternoon strolling around the Capitol and perhaps stopping in at a few Smithsonian museums. Then I called my buddy Ron Meyer.
Ron was in town for CPAC, an annual gathering of about ten thousand conservative activists in the huge Marriot Hotel in Adams Morgan in Northwest D.C. Last year Rush Limbaugh made headlines at CPAC when he said he was praying for President Obama to fail as president.
Ron picked up, and when I asked how CPAC was going, he said, “Hey, wanna come over for a bit?” He told me that Jordan Vivian, a Principia graduate from 2009, had a pass but wasn’t using it that Friday because he was at work. Why not join Ron at CPAC for the afternoon? So I did.
On the back of the pass was the conference schedule, and skimming over it I prepared myself for what was to come. Under the title of “Saving Freedom” were the various panel and speech topics. A few of my favorites included, “Saving Freedom from Tyranny” at 10:00, “Saving Freedom from The Hoax of Global Warming” at 11:30, “Saving Freedom from an Oppressive Justice Department” at noon, and “Saving Freedom from Fascism” at 2:30 (this is different from the tyranny one, I gather).
The first speaker I saw was Congressmen Mike Pence, a Republican House member from Indiana. As I walked into the room, he was gesticulating grandly and proclaiming, “We are His servants, and our work is the blessed work, the holy work, of saving freedom.” Vote Republican in 2010…
A little while later we went to lunch, which consisted of a fine salmon spread and a salad with too much dressing. Before we ate, someone gave a benediction and then we stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
We had to leave early, however, so that we could get back to one of the major ballrooms to hear Michele Bachmann speak. The Congresswoman from Minnesota has made herself quite famous – she is really a celebrity on the far right – by making absurd claims with no basis in fact, waiting for the press to point this out, and then pouncing on the press and calling them liberal, elitist, and even un-American.
Representative Bachmann spoke at length about how President Obama is actively and openly preparing America for failure. Her argument was, I gather, supposed to be a syllogism of this variety: Americans during the Revolutionary War were patriotic and heroic (insert poignant story one, story two); President Obama has stated to an international audience that under President Bush, American foreign policy was brash and misguided (insert out-of-context quote one, quote two); therefore President Obama is unpatriotic and un-American. Logical shortcomings aside, she gave an impassioned speech and the place went pretty crazy. Almost as crazy as when Rush Limbaugh appeared on a live feed on a huge screen. With Limbaugh, the place went insane.
After this I had to leave to get back to Georgetown. I regret that I could not stay to hear former Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft or Fox News’ Glenn Beck. I am sure I would have learned similar lessons about logical construction as well.
I am so grateful to Ron for shepherding me around CPAC. Ron knew everybody. He is going to be quite a politician someday.
I am, however, profoundly troubled by what I saw at CPAC. I witnessed, firsthand, complete hate-spewing. (I still have some ominous “Obama: Epic Fail” stickers if anybody wants one). I also saw two major Republicans in Congress claim divine authorization and support for their partisan political agenda. This makes it awfully hard for me or somebody else to disagree with their politics…
I think these behaviors are dangerous to our democracy. I am concerned that one of our two major political parties has lost all perspective and reason in a frenzied and shrill panic attack, fueled by a massive Murdoch-owned media cohort and reinforced by super-partisan members of Congress.
I would be equally concerned by such antics and socially destructive behavior at a liberal rally; however, I do not know of any such convention on the left, in recent times, that would be comparable to CPAC.
Anyway, we have to get past this silliness if we are going to solve 21st century problems and take advantage of 21st century opportunities. I have enormous respect for conservatives such as David Brooks, Colin Powell, and David Frum. Unfortunately, today they are on the outside looking in at an increasingly bellicose, belligerent conservative movement.
I have tried to use my Pilot columns these last three years to do what these great men do: to raise, not lower, the level of public discourse and debate. It is for this reason that I wrote the “Amicus America” series. I hope you have enjoyed it. I sure have.