Springtime for CPAC

The New York Times reports this morning that the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) contest starting tomorrow will begin the season of politics and bring forth those conservatives who desire to run for president in 2012. Undoubtedly it will be a watershed event; possibly a conservative love-fest like Woodstock. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain.

I say that in a disparaging way, as Woodstock sucked. The music was terrible and it was largely a shadow event for those who missed the Summer of Love in San Francisco the year before. It was the definitive moment in which art turned to ideology and the generational culture turned from pensive consideration of Aldous Huxley, Buckminster Fuller, Ina May Gaskin, Tolstoi (“The Gospel in Brief”) and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to MBA school. Virtually every individual at Woodstock then is either a journalist or a lawyer today. The greats recalled today did not attend. They had moved on. And what might be significant in the CPAC event are those who are not there this week.

“The three-day gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee [sic], which begins Thursday with more than 10,000 activists expected to convene in Washington, effectively rings the opening bell for the Republican presidential nominating contest,” reports the Times.

But Sarah Palin will not be speaking there, nor will New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Mike Huckabee, all top-shelf contenders in 2012. Not even Jeb Bush, who keeps saying he doesn’t want to be president but does and hopes to be drafted. Possibly these four will find their status lifted by not attending.

Some of the most original and committed candidates of the last two years, like Tim Bridgewater of Utah and Joe Miller of Alaska, did not get elected, so what got to Washington was a watered-down, accommodating form of Tea Partyism. And others, like Rand Paul, are as quirky as his two-fisted, forest brawler hero, Kentucky anti-slavery advocate Cassius M. Clay. And Ron Paul will never be president, although he is likely to run alongside a rising conservative sensibility into the next 10 years, much as his friend Ralph Nader did during the ’60s and ’70s.

CPAC will be a celebration of these things and will bring in the traditionalists to show their tolerance to new ideas. But they will accommodate and dominate those ideas. The convergence of Tea Partiers and traditionalists at CPAC will bring a celebration and an ending rather than a beginning, as Woodstock did. Look to people with their hands on the wheel like Bob McDonnell, governor of Virginia, and Del. Jim LeMunyon of Virginia to make the substantive difference over time. There is prelude to change as it has awakened in the past two years. But it will take longer and will demand that the states and their legal bodies and the governors take the initiative, not a president.

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