JIM LEHRER: David, what is your reading of the importance of this -- the Conservative Political Action Committee having its meeting the last couple of days, that more -- more people have come than ever before, 10,000, the biggest group? And they have had -- they have heard from anybody.
DAVID BROOKS: Right.
JIM LEHRER: What is going on?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, it's in some ways -- in some ways emblematic of what is happening.
On the one hand -- I have gone over the years. I didn't go this year. But they -- they were the fringe, to be honest. They were the fringe of the conservative movement. And when Reagan was in office, I remember when they asked Reagan if he would go, and there were internal debates in the Reagan administration. He didn't really want to go. There were a lot of...
JIM LEHRER: But he went over 20 times, yes.
DAVID BROOKS: He would go. He would go, but there was...
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
DAVID BROOKS: It wasn't the core of the Republican Party. And it wasn't the core of the conservative movement.
This was more -- much more conservative, more -- a lot of Chappaquiddick bumper stickers and things like that. And -- but now it has in some ways, judging by today's events, surpassed the old institutions which were the core of the conservative movement.
And it has forced everybody to mimic a lot of the rhetoric that has long been a staple of CPAC. And, so, on the one hand, it shows the tremendous vitality, as more people come in. On the other hand, it does show the movement moving away from some of these old institutions to a more, I don't know, flamboyant or pungent -- pungent movement.
JIM LEHRER: Interesting word.
DAVID BROOKS: The group got -- rose to its loudest applause, apparently, when Vice President -- former Vice President Cheney predicted that Barack Obama is going to be a one-term president.
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think the White House is losing a lot of sleep over Dick Cheney's credentials as a clairvoyant. This is a man who, in 2002, told us the American troops would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq, 2005, they were in the last throes of the insurgency.
So, his track record is somewhat flawed.
I think -- I agree with David on his description of CPAC. It used to be a trade show for every conspiracy theory in the world, I mean, including the Flat Earth Society and the John Birches.
And this turnout, Jim, I think, shows the energy. I think it also shows that the Republican Party has become a more homogeneous, conservative party. The fact -- it's almost like the first primary. It's before Iowa and New Hampshire. Presidential candidates who used to debate whether they would even show up there or have a representative now are clamoring to be seen there.
I am libertarian in most of my political beliefs. I think the federal government messes with the economy too much, spends too much, and tends from time to time to try to impose upon the rights of its citizens. Being libertarian is not really about being conservative or liberal. It is a funky hybrid of the two. I support the right to own hand guns, for example. I also support the right to abortion. That's a libertarian mindset. The idea of personal Liberty is held in high esteem.
The closest thing to a Libertarian Party member in the US government is Ron Paul. I told Jennifer several times in the early and middle portions of the 2008 presidential campaign that Ron Paul was the most interesting of all the politicians. I was more interested to hear from him than I was from Obama. Obama was a huge political phenomenon. Paul was a small one that interested me more because he had no chance but I believed in him. I now wish I had voted for him in the Georgia primary instead of McCain. But I had other priorities then. I wanted McCain to beat Romney in Georgia.
I admire Ron Paul a great deal. The man is bright, passionate, freedom loving, and fiscally minded. He has always opposed the war in Iraq. He recently worked through the House a bill to audit the Federal Reserve Bank, he wants to get rid of the Fed itself, which - as long time readers know - I am totally against America's use of fiat money controlled by this private agency. But, Paul is weighted down with some admittedly extreme ideas. He thinks we should not be a member of the United Nations. He believes we should eliminate the income tax. I'm not sure that one's realistic, but I like his audacity. Talk about change! Obama has never wanted real change the way Ron Paul does.
Still, a plurality of the the most conservative elements of the Republican Party (a.k.a. CPAC) just chose Paul for president in a straw poll. Paul received 31% of the vote. Paul is not particularly religious, I believe he is christain, but Paul never brings religion into his political message. I respect him for this but this also means that almost one-third of CPAC are probably more libertarian than conservative-christian. That is an important distinction. Republicanism without the religious right is pretty acceptable to me.
Dick Cheney sucks though.
You should check out Ron Paul's speech to CPAC on youtube. It is in three parts. Several things are noteworthy. First of all, the crowd attending the speech (which was not actually given before the convention itself but in some side room somewhere) is primarily young, college age people. After a spirited introduction, Paul took the podium to the sounds of Queen's We Will Rock You. Secondly, he states: "Personal liberty is the purpose of government. To protect liberty not to run your personal lives, not to run the economy, and not to pretend that we can tell the world how they ought to live." He correctly points that "we are now spending $1 trillion a year to manage our world empire." Later: "Our liberties come to us as individuals, they are not collective. Freedom does not come in groups. You don't have freedom because you are a hyphenated American. You have freedom because you are an individual and that should be protected."
Thirdly, "I do like different people coming together because freedom doesn't challenge people's personal values, they don't challenge their religious values, they only say come together on your terms as long as you don't mess around with me. There are two rules I have. One is I want change but I want non-violent change. I am resistance to the current system. But the other thing that I have to keep reminding myself is that in the process of pursuing our goals, that we should remain tolerant. People who disagree with you, or look different, or have different views, we have to allow freedom of expression. That will bring us together."
The speech itself is noteworthy for its old-fashioned idealism and civility, for its utter lack of hubris and polarizing, demonizing politics, that has become so prevalent today - as was featured in the speeches of Cheney and Romney at CPAC.
Still, this straw poll represented 69% that voted over a fragmented field for essentially religious right conservatives. Quoting:
As the results were displayed on twin large screens in the ballroom – and even before Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio could announce who won – a cascade of boos came down from a crowd that views Paul and his fervent supporters as an irritant. Paul’s backers responded with cheers, though, when their candidate was then proclaimed by Fabrizio as the winner.
CPAC organizers were plainly embarrassed by the results, which could reduce the perceived impact of a contest that was once thought to offer a window into which White House hopefuls were favored by movement conservatives.
So, this wasn't a victory for Ron Paul so much as it was an indication of how badly organized the religious right is. The vote was a disaster for a politician I can't stand, Mitt Romney. While I admire Ron Paul's politics, I'm not sure this necon gathering really has the heart of the libertarianism I support. Or perhaps the libertarian fringe of this country is growing at a healthy rate, embued like late-liberalism in the 1960's by the power of youth.
I should note I disagree with Ron Paul on the United Nations. Personally, I see little advantage in not having and participating in such a world body. But, I'm sure Paul would be OK with me having that view, he would respect me, as I do him.