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The Everymen of CPAC

I only went to one day of CPAC last week, both because I had to head north for my cousin’s wedding and because I found myself unexpectedly lacking in masochism. That meant I missed the backslide into lunacy that was Friday at the conference, though I was there on Thursday when the NRA’s Dana Loesch emerged to release her now-fully grown dragons on the audience. Partway through her vitriolic speech, Loesch made a comment about the media and the crowd erupted in boos, including one man who looked back at the press section, made eye contact with me, and gave the thumbs down. Deciding I couldn’t let this affront go unchallenged, I stared back, a tumbleweed rolled between us, and he quickly smiled and averted his gaze. Maybe he thought I looked like a nice guy. I certainly thought so of him.

That moment, seemingly trivial, has stuck with me ever since. The attendee, sporting a “Make America Great Again” hat, likely regarded “the media” as an abstract malefactor, having experienced journalists mostly through hostile news articles and preening cable news performance artists. Whereas to me he was a deplorable—I’ve interviewed many of them, but here in D.C. they’re still regarded with collective disdain. And don’t get me wrong: many journalists (especially in TV and radio) really are wretched people, just as I’m sure a narrow slice of Trump voters are bigots. But ultimately we are all more robust than our professions or voting patterns, and the effect of that stare-down was to humanize us both, to beckon out of the abstractions “media” and “Trump voters” two somatic faces, distinct yet relatable.

Such individualization runs counter to the purpose of CPAC, which is busy trying to rally thousands of activists into a united front against the equally faceless behemoths of liberalism and Islamism. Most of the attendees are happy to play along, wearing shirts with slogans that affirm capitalism and gun rights, furiously jeering anyone who dares meander off the ideological farm. It’s why, human moments with deplorables notwithstanding, the most interesting people at CPAC are always the ones who aren’t there for the convention, the hotel staff and attendees of concurrent conferences who suddenly find Conservative Lollapalooza blaring around them and are curious about it. Like the soft-spoken maintenance worker I joined for lunch a couple years ago who detested Hillary Clinton but was intrigued by both Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, a political alignment unfathomable in Washington and nowhere else. Or the teachers I met at the bar this year who voted for Trump but are skeptical of distributing guns to their entire profession.

Thomas Friedman takes a lot of guff for his (admittedly precious) habit of interviewing anonymous cab drivers, but sometimes that’s the best way to escape the clamor of Politics Inc. The average man, because he doesn’t follow around the partisan circus, isn’t particularly committed to one party or orthodoxy, which allows for a broader range of discussion than you’ll ever see on MSNBC. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, as anyone with a Sean Hannity-addled family member will attest. But outside the constipated little theater that is cable news, the real world is painted in grays, and people tend to acknowledge and reflect that. There are entire industries desperate to make this complexity more uniform. Ideologues shepherd man into pens of left and right; Twitter reduces him to narrow windows sliding by; wonks compress him into Cartesian points. In reality he is a person, and the only way to understand him is to chat him up as such. That isn’t to espouse relativism—just because there are myriad viewpoints doesn’t mean there are also myriad truths—but it does mean our politics must be compatible with the variety and reality of human nature, which can only be absorbed firsthand.

Such an appreciation of the full-bloomed person was once a central experience of conservatism, which prized neighborly warmth over frigid theories of humanity. Social contact was the best inoculant against loopy politics: it’s a bit difficult to set about hammering together your Marxist paradise when the workers are forever defying your two-dimensional conceptions of them. Likewise has the right historically feared the mob, with its power to erase our glorious differences and attune us to a single wavelength of fury. Early movement conservatism reflected this, emphasizing that a monolithic activist government wasn’t compatible with a diverse (that word used to mean so much more) populace. One model was William F. Buckley who debated and even befriended his intellectual opponents; another was Ronald Reagan who leaned rightward after talking with people during cross-country listening tours. The history of the left, meanwhile, is thick with the disappointment of social engineers whose blueprints were rejected by those they’d only bothered to understand as groups, from the early rural organizers who failed to win over farmers to the Weathermen who wrongly assumed the working class would sign on to their beanbag-chair notions of revolution.

Unfortunately, today both sides have surrendered to this impersonality, as was demonstrated by Dana Loesch’s tear against a CPAC media section that was mostly sympathetic to her views. (Seriously how can she stay that angry? And over an issue where her side is winning? Crack open a beer, for God’s sake.) One obvious consequence of such thinking is political tribalism, but the problem has also swum upstream. Summed up it amounts to this: we have more freedom than anyone in the history of man, yet we’ve stopped using that freedom socially. Rather than exercising our sexual liberty to meet people and start families, we’ve succumbed to lonely pornography and the banality of “Netflix and chill.” Rather than another drink or cigarette to extend the evening with friends, we’ve sunk into the cold cushion of opioids. Rather than attending church and pondering the transcendent with others, we’ve sought meaning in endless impersonalizing technological distractions. Rather than participating in democratic forums, we’ve turned to the cheap facsimile of a public square that is the internet, where we can interact with everybody and really with nobody.

We’ve given in to a lethargy that keeps us apart from our fellow man and it’s making us miserable. A CBS News poll from 2016 [1] found that an astonishing 72 percent of Americans feel lonely and one third experience the feeling on a weekly basis. Adam Smith defined “fellow-feeling,” a building block for his philosophy, as a sort of sympathy that comes from “imaginatively changing places with [a] sufferer, thereby coming to conceive what he feels or even to feel what he feels.” Yet that essential and moderating experience is far tougher when a screen is acting as middleman, and harder still when our object is an abstraction. We need a return to a more local and familiar politics where we interact with working-class voters rather than the Working-Class Voters and identify the needs of young people not Young People. We might even talk in person with members of the media, though surely every argument has its limits.

Matt Purple is managing editor of The American Conservative.

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "The Everymen of CPAC"

#1 Comment By Centralist On March 1, 2018 @ 7:24 am

I agree with a lot said and the views on tech are why I, as a 26 year old man prefer board games to video games. Real contact over superficial

#2 Comment By tz On March 1, 2018 @ 8:12 am

This is where I think even this pundit is out of touch.

Did you not see the end of the CNN Town Hall (is it a few bad apples or do only they get to do the broadcasts?) where people were calling – seriously – to BURN Dana Loesch.

If you just had a mob of thousands calling for you to be burned to death, you’d be angry too.

You don’t get hate-e-mail and phone calls calling for violent acts against you.

Look at what happened to Milo in Berkeley. Or even Charles Murray, Ben Shapiro, or Dennis Prager. Or James Damore that just expressed science – he wasn’t met with discussion or better evidence or arguments, he was fired.

The left, SJWs, AntiFa, P*y Hats want to destroy the living and the lives of people on the right, particularly whites, Christians, and men.

Try going to a leftist protest and see what happens when you stare back at them. I hope you have a low deductible on your health insurance.

Don’t expect the right to keep retreating – that is what NR has always done on every issue. Now it has gotten physical.

#3 Comment By mtbr1975 On March 1, 2018 @ 10:07 am

@tz, Dana Loesch lied about the claims she made about the CNN town hall. No one said any such thing and CNN released video disproving her claims. The only places pushing her lies are the fake news sites.

#4 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 1, 2018 @ 11:00 am

“The left, SJWs, AntiFa, P*y Hats want to destroy the living and the lives of people on the right, particularly whites, Christians, and men”

Clearly, I am a conservative, but your comments reflect a rather peculiar but popular twist.

You do realize that white men have not lost any power because they are white – they haven’t lost power period. And one should dispense with the nonsense about white men under threat. The population making the most noise about safe spaces, triggers, etc are white women and I don’t think white women are about to destroy their white male counter-parts. In fact if history is any indicator white have been all to happy to accommodate white women’s fancies in destroying the lives, particularly the male lives of men whose color is not white.

As has been the case, it’s whites male and female that have set about destroying conservative ethos.

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 1, 2018 @ 11:08 am

Laugh. I am enjoying a good deal of the Netflix fare. They have some documentaries as well as some programming from the early 60’s 60’s and seventies.

There’s plenty to reinforce clean Living

The Crown Windsors, etc. Plenty of pro-military programs and movies. Even faith and practice films and, children’s programming . . .

Nothing has made me less conservative.

#6 Comment By David Nash On March 1, 2018 @ 1:18 pm

This may be the most purely CONSERVATIVE thing I have read so far this year (fortunately, it’s not even the Ides of March).

One may rightfully argue that CPAC has gone downhill hard in recent years — what is there about winning the whole Federal government and most States that makes some people mean and stupid?

Regarding Ronald Reagan — he was notorious for being at meet-n-greet events, and chatting with the janitor, or bartender, instead of the rolodex crowd. As noted, it was his talking to blue collar workers during his hears as a speaker for General electric that he reformed from a New Dealer to a conservative. (But he was never so ‘ungenerous’ as to lose all human feeling for the man for whom he voted four times — FDR. But, then, especially compared to the current crop of screeching ranters, Reagan was a class act.)

#7 Comment By One Guy On March 1, 2018 @ 2:55 pm

I guess tz hasn’t heard that some of the Florida students are receiving death threats from “Right-Wingers”.

#8 Comment By Cato On March 1, 2018 @ 3:31 pm

The left never publicly mocks their own foot soldiers. They understand that not everyone operates on a detached grad-school level. Some actually want to see change happen, and they understand that democratic politics is a numbers game.

Meanwhile, the supposed intellectual leaders of conservatism sit back with their brandy snifters and sneer at the less sophisticated hoi polloi for daring to display passion. They’d rather watch Rome burn from their leather reading chair than lift a finger to put out the fire.

#9 Comment By cka2nd On March 1, 2018 @ 3:31 pm

“Rather than exercising our sexual liberty to meet people and start families, we’ve succumbed to lonely pornography and the banality of ‘Netflix and chill.’…Rather than participating in democratic forums, we’ve turned to the cheap facsimile of a public square that is the internet…We need a return to a more local and familiar politics where we interact with working-class voters rather than the Working-Class Voters and identify the needs of young people not Young People.”

This is where I start grinding my teeth.

Mr. Purple, you are aware that many people are working two, three or four part-time jobs and WAY more than 40 hours per week just to make ends meet, aren’t you? That young people are delaying marriage because if their inability to accumulate enough capital to start a family? That the working class people who used to be the backbones of your local little leagues and science fiction conventions and churches and political parties are dying out or retired and NOT been replaced because what’s left of the working class is over-worked and exhausted or has been forced to move, and move, and move again.

The Internet has replaced religion as the opium of the masses. To paraphrase Karl Marx’s deeply sympathetic phrase:

“[Religious] suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of REAL [emphasis mine] suffering and a protest against real suffering. The Internet is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

I doubt I am the only person commenting here on TAC that can attest to the truth of this statement from his or her own life.

#10 Comment By Bohemian On March 1, 2018 @ 6:04 pm

Many of the comments thus far are irrational and prove the point of this article. These folks are in their own echo chambers and only believe what people on their “side” say. Is it rational to believe that most liberals are like the small percent of liberals one sees protesting on a video? Plus ar least 1 of Dana’s videos contains footage of rioting that was by a fringe long ago. Dana lies. She is a propagandist. She’s disliked, but only an extremely small percentage of liberals would make such comments about Dana. Likewise, when liberals judge all conservatives by the acts of their fringe, the alt-right, liberals are buying into tribalism just as the liberal haters have.

#11 Comment By Bryan Hemming On March 2, 2018 @ 1:17 pm

As one of a left-wing persuasion, this is exactly why I read The American Conservative, to try to understand the views of others. The fact that there are many articles I agree with is an added bonus.

It becomes increasingly obvious the left and right must find ground they agree on to stop big machine politics crushing us all.

#12 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 5, 2018 @ 2:29 am

Did Bill Buckley really befriend Gore Vidal?