I watched a lot of the Conservative Political Action Conference on C-Span from New York.
I think members of the media forget, or don’t notice, that CPAC is not a gathering of the Republican Party, it’s a gathering of independent conservative groups. Not inviting Chris Christie was strange—who’s been more successfully conservative in a blue state than Christie? But it didn’t strike me as a scandal—CPAC can invite who they want—and I wondered if someone there wasn’t trying to do Christie a favor. He’s running for re-election in deep-blue New Jersey. How does it hurt him to be snubbed by the right? It doesn’t. It makes Dems back home who like him like him even more. As for not inviting gay groups—politics, as Henry Hyde once said, is a game of addition, not subtraction. Conservatives should not only be pleased and happy there are gay groups that self-identify as Republican, they should be welcoming. “We fight for liberty, all are welcome as soldiers, disagreements are normal, come on in.” “We are not enemies but friends.”
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Of all the speeches I saw and read about, I was most impressed by Bobby Jindal’s. His remarks reflected something I suspect is coming in the GOP in a big way, and that is a shift away from debt and deficits as the primary focus, and toward growth and jobs. It is an argument about emphasis, but it’s also deeply substantive: it has to do with the choosing of a path. One of the reasons I think Jindal’s approach will rise is that Washington, obviously, is stuck. The president probably won’t give Republicans a grand bargain on spending and taxing because if he solves that problem in 2013 the subject will change in 2014 and 2016. And the White House wants the subject to stay the same: Those horrible Republican bean counters want to throw your entitlements off the cliff. What we’re seeing from the White House is strategic passive-aggression: talk, talk, talk, blame, phone, crisis, cliff, crisis, talk, blame, talk. It’s all stuck. The Republicans can’t run the government from the House, so they’re stuck too.
Jindal, by the way, was especially spirited about our incoherent pigsty of a federal tax code and how it retards growth. Let’s blow it up, he said. “Let’s get rid of those loopholes paid for by the lobbyists.” “Let’s get rid of those incentives Washington tries to use to coerce our behavior.” And “tax reform is not about taking more money from the hardworking people of America. . . . That is not tax reform.”
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Under the heading Extremely Shallow Points That Nonetheless Perhaps Should Be Made:
Rand Paul, for his striking speech, marched onto the stage in a suit jacket, tie and jeans. I wear jeans and you wear jeans and it’s not unusual for a man to wear jeans with a tie and jacket. They look like happy farmers, or cable TV anchors whose desks don’t show their legs. That being said, could we not wear grown-up suits when we are running for high office? Additionally, do we have to talk so much about Tupac and Biggie, and how the former’s melodic inventiveness is almost equaled by the latter’s lyrical depth? Could we please not pose pumping iron in our gym shorts while wearing baseball caps backward on our heads? Could we not pose shirtless to show our abs?
Let me tell you why I hate this, and it isn’t only because I like the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer and slobs like Babe Ruth. I hate political figures looking at America and seeing demographic slivers with which a subtle connection must be made. I hate when they go for the demo—young voters, college-educated pre-advanced-degree, affluent suburban voters, older blue-collar peripheral urban ethnic voters. Yes, I know it’s the future, but I hate it.
I like it when candidates are irredeemably themselves and appeal as themselves to the whole country. I just realized I don’t even like it when they go the suburbs of Washington to talk to each other at big confabs full of like-minded people. I like them going to America to talk to Americans. I said once, and I meant it, that Republicans should be going to Brooklyn, to the street fair in Bay Ridge. Everybody’s there, young, old, all colors and religions, all views and conditions. There are immigrants from what looks like every country in the world and they’re here working and getting used to America, and politically they seem to me generally unaffiliated and insufficiently appealed to. Go to Bay Ridge, not National Harbor, Md. They’d love to meet a Republican.
Everything’s up for grabs in modern America. If we’re all slivers, we’re slivers that make a whole. Appeal to the whole.
And by the way, Hillary Clinton? She dresses like a grownup.