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CPAC 2013 Day One Recap: Paul Victorious, Breitbart Bitter

The commentariat’srapidly-coalescing opinion seems to be that Rand Paul won. See the speech yourself above, for which the audience remained standing in an homage to his almost-13-hour filibuster. The senator plopped tapes from the whole #RandStand down on the podium before delivering his speech, and even his (not-entirely-accurate) line about the incarceration of pot smokers received modest applause.

The senator was preceded by Marco Rubio, whose speech didn’t mention immigration and could be summed up in the line that garnered the largest applause–the GOP doesn’t need new ideas, “there is an idea, the idea is America, and it still works.”

Paul’s speech was also bookended by twin neoconservative panels, one on Islamofascism and Iran, featuring Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Buck McKeon, and one–on the main stage, no less–on Benghazi.

The latter featured Breitbart’s Joel Pollak, apparently a foreign policy expert in the CPAC universe, who told the crowd “we can remove Iran as a threat if we commit to a policy of regime change, by peaceful transition if possible, and by military removal if necessary.”

Our ability to do so, he contended, was a matter of American resolve, which is apparently in question because of Senator Paul’s filibuster. “The filibuster was a brave and heroic gesture of opposition. It proved that at least one leader–a Tea Party leader–was prepared to stand up for the Constitution and for the principle that individual liberty precedes government power. But Senator Paul was wrong about one thing: it is not as easy to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants as he suggested.”

He continued: “A foreign terrorist on foreign soil does not stop being a terrorist simply because he or she is far from the battlefield. If we accept the hypothetical example that he used, that a terrorist at a cafe is never a legitimate target, then we cannot protect ourselves from terror. In our zeal to roll back government power we will have placed our liberty in danger. Similarly, in embracing the sequester, we cannot accept defense cuts that may prove more costly over time by putting our security at risk. We must replace those cuts with other cuts.”

Pollak later quoted Tocqueville’s warning that “no protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country.” There seems to be an odd tendency among those who argue in favor of protracting wars and starting new ones to quote the statements of founding fathers and political philosophers who were most skeptical of intervention, as Rep. Tom Cotton did earlier today quoting John Quincy Adams. They don’t even seem to get the irony. It’s a strange, Orwellian trick.

Rubio’s only statement on military intervention, as far as I can tell, was the following: “We also need to engage in the world. If we’re living in a global economy America must be wise in how it uses its global influence. We can’t solve every war. We can’t be involved in every armed conflict, but we also can’t be retreating from the world. And so that balance is critically important for us to strike, because we live in a global economy.”

In other words, he said nothing to indicate a framework by which he would make decisions whether or not to intervene, while blowing a pragmatic dog-whistle about not being able to wage war everywhereThat he even did that is progress, I suppose. Perhaps a recognition of Bush-era folly, if an opportunistic one. The Bush name, it seems, has been thoroughly expunged from CPAC–I don’t recall hearing it once from the main stage, and his brother isn’t on the straw poll ballot (apparently by his own request).

Compared to 2012, there’s a certain listlessness at this year’s right-wing confab. It’s not an election year for one thing, and the conference itself isn’t in DC, so that could explain it. But the malaise is deeper than that–it truly seems like the only wing of the GOP that was able to muster any sort of energy today was the Rand Paul faction, which turned out in stickers and t-shirts to Stand With Rand. It’s hard to dispute the senator’s implication that he’s the rolling stone in a moss-covered GOP.

about the author

Arthur Bloom is the former editor of The American Conservative online. He was previously deputy editor of the Daily Caller and a columnist for the Catholic Herald. He holds masters degrees in urban planning and American studies from the University of Kansas. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Spectator (UK), The Guardian, Quillette, The American Spectator, Modern Age, and Tiny Mix Tapes.

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