Congratulations, if you’re reading this you survived another CPAC. For the unindoctrinated, CPAC is a rowdy convention, known as “Woodstock for conservatives,” that serves as a destination for young activists and the political candidates out to court them.
This year, nearly every Republican presidential hopeful spoke in hopes of generating buzz and building momentum amongst a crowd that will be critical to any run for the White House. Unsurprisingly, media coverage of the event broke down into easily digestible, headline-friendly tidbits. Take Alex Isenstadt’s coverage for POLITICO:
Rand Paul won the straw poll. Jeb Bush got booed. Hillary Clinton, and the media, were bashed to no end. . .
Bush showed he has a template for defending himself from attacks that he’s too moderate. Chris Christie’s slide continued. And Carly Fiorina positioned herself as Clinton’s main antagonist.
Scott Walker, meanwhile, is challenging Paul for conservative supremacy. Then there are two candidates who are about to make life difficult for their GOP rivals (Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal).
The media likes to focus on the presidential politics, doing their best to decipher which candidate “won” or “lost” the weekend, to figure out the meaning of the straw poll winner, or to create intrigue and drama amongst the crowd of contenders. But to those who attended or who watched the speeches, CPAC offered much more nuance, much more policy, than the headlines let on.
What I saw had less to do with jockeying for poll position in the race to the White House than it did with reminding conservatives why they espouse the ideology. In other words, CPAC was more about reigniting everyone’s passion for conservative policies and positions than it was about trying to get an attendee excited about one candidate or the other.
Stripped of its political moorings, I noticed that nearly every speaker focused on the idea of upward mobility, better known as the American Dream, and the core role it plays in conservative thought.
“I believe I owe a debt to America that I’ll never be able to repay,” Sen. Marco Rubio told the crowd. “And to me, for someone who has literally seen my family’s entire destiny altered by the fact that America happened to be 90 miles from Cuba, I have to pay that back. And not only do I have to pay it back, I have to make sure that people who are trying to do the same thing now have a chance to do it.”
Ultimately, that’s what CPAC was about – finding a way to jumpstart the American Dream in order to provide a spark for society’s downtrodden.
“I know that it is only in this country that a young woman can go from secretary to CEO,” Carly Fiorina said, speaking from experience. “And that is because our Founders knew what my mother taught me: That everyone has God-given gifts, everyone has potential, often far more than they realize.”
The problem is that liberals, even with the best of intentions, consign people into lives of dependence and then they promise to use the government to take care of them. But conservatives argue we should aspire for more than to simply give monthly checks to people ensnared in a web of dependence.
“We have a president who measures success in how many people are dependent on the government. We should measure success by just the opposite, by how many people are no longer dependent on the government,” Gov. Scott Walker told the crowd. “We understand that true freedom and prosperity doesn’t come from the mighty hand of the government, it comes from empowering people to live their own lives and their own destinies.”
There are lots of policies that must change in order to accomplish that goal. But they all spring from a singular understanding: That redistribution of the status quo is an inferior outcome to having everyone participate in growth.
“You either believe that the pie is static – that’s the Left’s point of view. Someone’s benefit is someone else’s detriment,” said former Gov. Jeb Bush. “I believe we should focus on growing the economic pie. It’s not a zero sum game. We believe we should pursue our dreams as we see fit and the more people doing it with the capacity to achieve success the better we will all be.”
Indeed, if any of these Republicans become our next president the better we will all be. For if nothing else, they respect the power of self-respect and the threat posed to it by government dependency.