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Fear and Loathing at CPAC

CPAC 2010 was my first CPAC ever. For most of my life I have run in local conservative circles, but never really had any interest nor ambition to throw myself into the chaos of CPAC, but when I did, I was taken for quite a ride. The highlights of the event for me were watching your typical establishment, beltway conservatives try to hide their unease and even disdain for the energetic youth of Campaign for Liberty, Students For Liberty, and the Ladies of Liberty Alliance. These three, mostly youth based, organizations made their presence thoroughly felt at CPAC.

Campaign for Liberty dominated the libertarian and antiwar presence. Congressman Ron Paul spoke before a packed crowd, and the cheers reverberated throughout the building as he spoke. The energetic followers of Ron Paul went on to propel him to victory in the CPAC straw poll [1] with 31% of the vote – Mitt Romney came in second with 22%.

Students for Liberty, an international libertarian organization drew a diverse and colorful crowd to a CPAC that was dominated by older establishment activists. Between the hordes of pudgy Dick Cheney fans, you would occasionally run into a 20-something-year-old with long hair, sometimes bearded face, wearing a t-shirt and jeans. Yet while the Cheney crowd was only interested in getting Ann Coulter to sign a book, or finding the next free buffet, these youth were moving about the crowds handing out literature about the illegality of the wars, the government’s clampdown on civil liberties, and other issues dear to libertarians.

The Ladies of Liberty Alliance provided perhaps the most shocking clash, at least in fashion, with your typical CPAC’ers. Their members had variations of pink hair, tattoos, piercings, and other characteristics one would not normally think to find at CPAC. They even convinced me to buy a LOLA Calendar, featuring some of their members in suggestive and, in a few instances, down right risqué spreads, though each page contained a fun but serious message about the Constitution and freedom.

With the libertarian contingent out in full force – and despite the rather harmonious weekend at CPAC – there was bound to be a scuffle or two, but I do not think anyone thought it would go down in front of CSPAN cameras [2]. Proceeding Ron Paul’s fiery speech on Friday night, CPAC had a feature called “Two-Minute Activist: Saving Freedom Across the Nation”. Thirteen youth each were given two minutes to give a speech describing their different causes across America, expressing how they became student leaders, and where they saw the conservative movement in the years to come. Students for Liberty Executive Director Alexander McCobin took the stage and praised CPAC for reaching out to GOPride (A Gay Republican group), suggesting that freedom cannot come in pieces, but is a unified force. McCobin’s speech was met with cheers from the audience. Following McCobin was Ryan Sorba of California Young Americans for Freedom. Sorba angrily denounced CPAC, received boos from he audience, and shouted back at his hecklers, “The lesbians at Smith College protest better than you do!” Additionally, Sorba ended his vindictive rant by launching a confused attack against Young Americans For Liberty (a subsidiary of Campaign for Liberty) and their Executive Director Jeff Frazee. The only apparent reason for Sorba’s concluding comments was that he could not discern Young Americans for Liberty and Students for Liberty. Note: Sorba I was informed does not reflect YAF in general, many YAF members spent Saturday trying to mend any wounds Sorba may have caused.

Despite the one instance of real public discord, the Campaign for Liberty events went off without a hitch, including “Friend of Foe? Abraham Lincoln on Liberty” with Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo of the Mises Institute and “ You’ve Been Lied To: Why Real Conservatives are Against the War on Terror” [3] with TAC’s own literary editor Kelly Jane Torrance moderating and Philip Giraldi participating on the panel.

A few other observations from CPAC that I found interesting:

Despite chants of “Run Dick Run” on Thursday night, Ron Paul seemed to be extremely popular with most CPAC attendees.

Robert Stacy McCain was everywhere at CPAC and caught a photo of me at David Frum’s happy hour Saturday night [4] (I was there for the same reason Stacy was… free beer). All I can say is that Frum’s party was populated by many Ron Paul supporters but we held back rubbing in Paul’s straw poll victory out of respect for Frum giving out free beer. It felt good to be able to walk around a neocon party and be surrounded by libertarians not neocons.

On Friday afternoon, I actually met Congressman Paul as he entered CPAC along with our literary editor Kelly Jane Torrance. He was, unlike many speakers at CPAC, more than happy to stop for a photo, shake some hands, and sign books, pamphlets, shirts, or whatever material someone had handy for him to sign – and unlike the security many other speakers had, Paul entered with only one member of his staff at his side.

On Friday morning I had a quick chat with the very busy former Congressman and 2008 Libertarian Presidential Candidate Bob Barr. Barr seemed excited about CPAC but was off in blustering speed to a meeting with supporters.

Throughout the weekend I spoke with many congressional candidates, they were thoroughly uninteresting.

I stopped by the John Birch Society’s booth in the exhibit hall and had a nice chat with several of their representatives including Chris Bentley, JBS Operations Manager and Production Manager of Liberty News Network. JBS, though much older in membership than many of the other liberty oriented groups, still had a strong following with plenty of materials on the pitfalls of American empire and the cause of liberty.

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#1 Pingback By The American Spectator : AmSpecBlog : CPAC 2010 Gives Birth to a Powerful New Coalition On February 22, 2010 @ 6:30 pm

[…] The inaugural meeting of Conservatives and Libertarians United for Beer (CLUB) convened Saturday night at Murphy's Pub, as William Upton of The American Conservative reports: […]

#2 Comment By Paul Fdot On February 22, 2010 @ 7:00 pm

Cool. Thanks for the well written and insightful article. Wish I could of been there.

#3 Pingback By VIDEO: CPAC Panel on ‘Saving Freedom from Fascism’ : The Other McCain On February 22, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

[…] Goldberg, Amity Schlaes and Herb London:People who know me as the CPAC Schmooze King — as William Upton of The American Conservative observes, I have a knack for being everywhere at CPAC – often ask me, “Stacy, why have you […]

#4 Pingback By SFL & CPAC Media Roundup « Students For Liberty On February 24, 2010 @ 9:48 am

[…] CPAC.  Diverse media outlets such as The Daily Kos, ThinkProgress, Reason.com, The Daily Caller, The American Conservative, The Atlantic, and Hot Air came to generally the same conclusion: That this year’s CPAC was […]

#5 Comment By Michael On February 25, 2010 @ 2:35 am

interesting piece – i wish i could have been there.

however, i can’t follow some of these comments.

#6 Comment By James Vayne On February 28, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

“Long-haired, tattooed, body-pierced libertarian youth face off with pudgy, hypocritical, aging, Republican squares.”

I’m confused. Is this a bad 80’s movie? Is the slovenly self-presentation and public ugliness typical of young people supposed to recommend their ideas to me?