MoJo's Running Coverage of CPAC 2013
Mitt Romney's oddly warm welcome and other happenings at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference.
Read on for dispatches from the Mother Jones DC bureau at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC.
Possible Kentucky Senate candidate Ashley Judd has an "unnerving" "obsession" with rape, according to a conservative comedian who performed at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday. Fox News contributor Steven Crowder was winding up his monologue from CPAC's main stage when he decided to mock Judd's suggestion that people who use high-tech appliances (herself included) are indirectly contributing to human rights abuses:
By the way, in breaking news, Ashley Judd just tweeted that buying Apple products, again, is akin to rape. From her iPhone. Rape—now she knows how my brain felt after Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Oh, she said it. What is this obsession with Ashley Judd and rape? It's pretty unnerving.
Here's one reason why Ashley Judd talks about rape a lot: She is, in her own words, "a three-time survivor of rape." (I didn't have to look very hard for that; she talked about it at length in a nationally televised public appearance last month.) Talking about it is not just part of the recovery process—Judd feels it's her obligation: "I gave that shame back, and it's my job to break my isolation and talk with other girls and other women." That's also, not coincidentally, a large part of what she does internationally as a public health activist. There is literally a chapter in her memoir called "The Republic of Rape." It's about the Democratic of Republic of Congo, of which she has reported, "100 percent of the women I had interviewed had been gang-raped multiple times by armed militia."
On top of all of this, the original joke doesn't even make sense. Crowder's punch-line is that Judd is oblivious to the obvious hypocrisy of condemning Apple products while using them. What an idiot! But Judd's comments came in a long essay (not a tweet) about the angst she felt about using products that came from conflict zones.
Given the physical and emotional trauma experienced by countless women on a daily basis, it's not especially surprising that Judd is "obsessed" with rape; the better question is why Steven Crowder isn't.
Sarah Palin rocked a packed ballroom here at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday afternoon. The applause was roaring. The hollers many. The atmosphere crackling. In other words: Dog bites man.
Palin's speech, if you can call it that, was Palin at her most Palinesque: heavy on one-liners and folksy charm; light on, you know, anything resembling substance and solutions. Here, a sampling of Palin's many zingers:
"They talk about rebuilding the party. How about rebuilding the middle class?"
"They talk about rebuilding the GOP? How about restoring the trust of the people?"
"Let's be clear about one thing: We're not here to rebrand a party. We're here to rebuild a country."
"Barack Obama promised the most transparent administration ever. Barack Obama, you lie!"
"Mr. President, we admit it: You won! Now accept it and step away from the teleprompter and do your job."
"Remember no-drama Obama? Now it's all-drama Obama."
"More background checks? Dandy idea, Mr. President. Shoulda started with yours."
"[Obama] is considered a good politician—which is like saying Bernie Madoff was a good salesman."
"We're not here to put a fresh coat of rhetorical paint on our party."
"If you don't have a lobbyist in DC, you are not at the table, you are on the menu."
"Never before have our challenges been so big, and our leaders so small."
"My only advice to College Republicans is: You gotta be thinking Sam Adams, not drinking Sam Adams."
Imagine that for 30-plus minutes and you get the idea. I hesitate to call the above quotes "punchlines." Punchlines follow a wind-up of some kind, an anecdote or an argument. Palin's speech didn't have any of these. The one-liners were the speech.
The closest she came to making a point about the future direction of the fractured Republican Party was to say that "it's time to stop preaching to the choir," a piece of advice offered, as Jon Ward sagely tweeted, to the choir. The closest she came to tackling an issue of importance was to note that the median household income has declined by thousands of dollars since 2007 "even as we work longer and longer hours."
That's right! Also: Data! Economics! Here at Mother Jones, we, too, are concerned about this phenomenon of working longer while earning less. We call it "the Great Speedup." So go on, Sarah, tell us what we should do about the Great Speedup!
Instead, a few moments later, she told a joke having something to do with her "rack." Then she did this:
Yes, that's a Big Gulp. Palin was making a jab at New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's proposed ban on big sugary sodas, which was struck down in court this week. "Bloomberg's not around," Palin said. "Don't worry." And the crowd went wild.
Oh, Sarah. Don't ever change.
This weekend, the stars of the GOP will be at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the notorious meet-up in Washington DC. DC bureau chief David Corn discusses the first day of CPAC, including Mitt Romney's oddly warm welcome from his fellow Republicans, with the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson and Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball:
As it does every year, the conservative movement has turned out en masse for the Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, an annual Washington confab. Everyone's here: activists, operatives, Rand Paulites, politicians, Mitt Romney, think tank wonks, big-wig donors, fundraisers courting the big-wig donors, and so on. But there's one big name glaringly absent from the CPAC schedule: FreedomWorks.
FreedomWorks, in case you slept through the summer of 2010, is the liberty-loving, ostensibly grassroots outfit that fueled the tea party movement and helped elect a class of uncompromising, hard-line conservative politicians such as Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). FreedomWorks has been a fixture at past CPACs: The group sponsored panel discussions and happy hours and film screenings, its staffers weighed in on "new media activism" and a constitutional amendment curbing government spending. In 2012, Kibbe spoke at CPAC's main stage.
Yet FreedomWorks is nowhere to be found at CPAC 2013, housed this year at the spacious Gaylord Convention Center at Maryland's National Harbor. No staffers are scheduled to speak. No events bear FreedomWorks' name as sponsor. FreedomWorks doesn't even have a booth in the vast exhibition hall here (nearly everyone else does, from the NRA and Citizens United to the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights and the author of the book WTF? How Karl Rove and the Establishment Lost…Again). FreedomWorks' lively Twitter account is silent on the matter of the conservative movement's biggest event.
CPAC 2013 comes at a rough moment for FreedomWorks. As Mother Jones has reported, FreedomWorks' board of directors is divided over the direction of the organization, a conflict that burst into public view after ex-chairman Dick Armey resigned from the group last year. Several board members support Kibbe and vice president Adam Brandon, while others were Armey loyalists who believe that Kibbe used FreedomWorks resources for his own personal gain. For months, private investigators have been interviewing FreedomWorks employees and digging through the group's financial records at the behest of board members C. Boyden Gray and James Burnley. That investigation is ongoing, creating a tense atmosphere in the FreedomWorks offices. And the group's headaches got worse when my colleague David Corn revealed that FreedomWorks staffers had made a video depicting an intern wearing a fake panda suit pretending to give oral sex to someone posing as Hillary Clinton.
That turmoil may explain the group's absence at CPAC. I sent an email to Jackie Bodnar, FreedomWorks' spokeswoman, asking why FreedomWorks was MIA. She has yet to write back.
People attending the storied Conservative Political Action Conference this year were treated to free wireless internet by one of the event's sponsors, the Tea Party News Network, which picked up the $75,000 tab at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland. "We're delighted that we could provide free internet for all CPAC 2013 attendees," Scottie Nell Hughes, the news director of the Tea Party News Network, said in a press release. "We wanted to ensure that at the largest annual gathering of conservatives the thousands of bloggers and grassroots conservative activists have the ability to share their thoughts and message with the world."
But as the saying goes, there is no free lunch, and CPAC attendees might be sorry they took advantage of TPNN's offer.
People at the conference have been required to submit their names and email addresses to access the free wireless. Thanks to its sponsorship deal, all of that contact information is going back to the Tea Party News Network, a group that other grassroots tea party organizations have criticized as nothing but a data-mining operation.
The Tea Party News Network is a project of TheTeaParty.net, which is itself a spin-off of a nonprofit group called Stop This Insanity!. I wrote about the group last month when it was raising money for and sponsoring the "Day of Resistance" gun rallies around the country. The outfit was founded by Todd Cefaratti, who runs a "lead generation" business in Mesa, Arizona. Lead generation, for the uninitiated, is the business of finding potential contacts ripe for a sales pitch of some sort. In Cefaratti's case, his business harvests leads for the reverse mortgage industry, which has been flagged by consumer advocates as rife with many of the same predatory lending issues as the subprime mortgage industry that helped crash the financial system in 2007.
Tea party activists have complained that after logging in to or making donations on TheTeaParty.net or related sites, they found themselves besieged with spam from precious metal dealers who'd been renting the group's email list through Newsmax. The group has repeatedly come under fire for raising lots of money from tea party groups but failing to spend much of it on politics, and has run afoul of the FEC. During the presidential campaign, it raised $1.2 million but spent only $52,000 on candidates. Much of its money gets spent on advertising, including many TV ads that run with a variety of different tea party names on gun and hunting shows. The Tea Party News Network sent out fundraising emails asking for donations to cover the $75,000 CPAC wireless bill.
Neither the Tea Party News Network nor TheTeaParty.net have responded to requests for information about what they intend to do with the emails they collect from CPAC.
Walter Cunningham—a former Apollo astronaut and Marine fighter pilot who now gives talks about climate change for the conservative Heartland Institute—can only find one piece of evidence to support the view, held by 97 percent of climate scientists, that the Earth is getting warmer. He moves to the next slide on his Powerpoint presentation at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and the audience of about three dozen or so activists bursts into laughter.
It's a chart tracking the shrinking size of undergarments, from last century's long johns, to the 21st century's thongs.
Climate scientists, Cunningham suggests, are simply conflating correlation and causation—something he helpfully illustrates by charting rising global temperatures and the number of pirates worldwide. (They track pretty closely!) But his fellow panelists at Friday's breakout session, "The Right Climate Stuff," don't even go that far; Thomas Wysmuller, whose credentials include a degree in meteorology and a five-year internship at NASA, talks up icy winter temperatures in Moscow and Siberia as evidence the Earth isn't warming at all. Harold Doiron, a former rocket scientist who by his own admission has "only been a serious student of global warming for maybe two years," suggests we're making a big fuss about nothing.
"If sea level's rising, it's not a global problem," Doiron says. "It's not happening in the Rocky Mountains." (Sorry, Tuvalu.) Besides, he says, even if carbon dioxide were a problem, it's simply not in the United States' best interests to take action unilaterally—not when China is refusing to get on board. The reports that China is actually moving ahead with a carbon tax haven't made it to National Harbor, Maryland. Maybe they use Google Reader.
That none of the panelists critiquing climate science have any professional training in climate science isn't lost on the group. But lack of qualifications is itself a qualification at CPAC. Recommending another book that purports to debunk climate science, Doiror talks up the author thusly: "John is not a climatologist...He works in the semi-conductor industry." Doiron's own conclusions on the shortcomings of climate science rely on, in his words, "proven data analysis processes used in astronaut safety-critical situations."
Afterwards, I caught up with Cunningham, who was autographing his 17-page pamphlet, "Facts vs. Faith." Why, I asked, did he think so few climate scientists were willing to come on board with his arguments? He rejected the premise. "I don't think there's few climate scientists," Cunningham said. "I think only a few climate scientists have bought into this nonsense."
But on one thing, everyone seems to agree. "This is a controversy that should not be resolved in the court of public opinion or the political arena," Cunningham told his audience. Instead, it should be resolved in the scientific community. Wise words—although perhaps there's a better messenger than a retired astronaut at a political confab.
Wayne LaPierre was a hit at CPAC. The National Rifle Association's executive vice president, who in the three months since the Sandy Hook massacre has fiercely opposed any form of gun control legislation, whipped the audience of conservative activists into a frenzy on Friday with a speech that took aim at Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester (or at least the prospect of releasing people from ICE detention centers).
But LaPierre saved the most firepower for President Obama's proposal to expand background checks to include all private gun sales. The push to close the so-called "gun show loophole," in LaPierre's view, is nothing more than a "placebo" that would do nothing to stop gun violence. (Never mind that placebos are actually quite effective.) He alleged that improved record-keeping would leave the United States vulnerable to foreign countries like China and Mexico (video above):
It's gonna be people like you and me. That's who they're tracking. That's who they're after. The names of good, decent people, all across this country, who happen to own a firearm, to go into a federal database with universal registration of every lawful gun-owner in America. That's their answer to criminal violence? Criminalize 100 million law-abiding gun owners in a private transfer? Build a list of all the good people? As if that would somehow make us safe from violent criminals and homicidal maniacs? That's their answer? Are they insane?
What's the point of registering lawful gun-owners anyway—so newspapers can print those names and addresses for gangs and criminals to access? You know that's happened before! So the list can be hacked by foreign enemies like the Chinese, who recently hacked Pentagon computers? So the list can be handed over to the Mexican government that, oh by the way, they've already requested that list from our government? In the end there are only two reasons for the government to create that list of registered gun owners: to tax them, or to take them.
We shouldn't track firearms sales because if we do, Chinese hackers will find out where all the guns are, and then...what, exactly? Go door-to-door in Northern Idaho to confiscate them? LaPierre, as is his wont, didn't get into specifics. The paranoia speaks for itself.
Once a year, conservatives from across the country gather in some manner of subterranean hotel ballroom or windowless conference center to talk about what matters most to them and why. It's called the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, and it's usually a complete and utter zoo; Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz will be there, along with Rep. Paul Ryan and his former running-mate, Mitt Romney.
But CPAC isn't just a showcase for the party's brightest stars and biggest ideas; it also offers a close-up view of the underbelly of the conservative movement—the hacks and hucksters that helped lead Republicans astray in November in the first place. (Last year I found a booth dedicated to exposing the secret alliance between George Soros and Fox News.) Here are some of the panels and speeches at this year's conference that promise to entertain:
- "Dick Morris, author and political commentator": Morris lost his gig as a Fox News commentator, with cause, after predicting that Mitt Romney would win the presidential election in a landslide. He also projected that Republicans would pick up as many as 13 seats in the Senate, including races in New York and Oregon. (Quick, name last year's Republican Senate candidate in Oregon!) Dave Weigel wasn't the only person to dismiss Morris as a "con artist." Naturally, he was slated to speak on Thursday morning.
- "Benghazi and its aftermath: US Middle East and Southwest Asia policy," moderated by John Solomon: It's not entirely surprising that CPAC would devote an on-stage panel to what Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called "the worst tragedy since 9/11." But Solomon is most famous—or infamous—for his work as a journalist, ably chronicled here by Mariah Blake.
- Wayne Allyn Root as a featured speaker: Here, I'll just quote from a 2012 article by the former Libertarian Party presidential nominee:
I am President Obama's classmate at Columbia University, Class of '83. I am also one of the most accurate Las Vegas oddsmakers and prognosticators. Accurate enough that I was awarded my own star on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars. And I smell something rotten in Denmark. Obama has a big skeleton in his closet. It’s his college records. Call it "gut instinct" but my gut is almost always right. Obama has a secret hidden at Columbia—and it's a bad one that threatens to bring down his presidency. Gut instinct is how I've made my living for 29 years since graduating Columbia...
If anyone should have questions about Obama's record at Columbia University, it's me. We both graduated (according to Obama) Columbia University, Class of '83. We were both (according to Obama) Pre-Law and Political Science majors. And I thought I knew most everyone at Columbia. I certainly thought I'd heard of all of my fellow Political Science majors. But not Obama (or as he was known then- Barry Soetoro). I never met him. Never saw him. Never even heard of him. And none of the classmates that I knew at Columbia have ever met him, saw him, or heard of him...
I can only think of one answer that would explain this mystery.
Here's my gut belief: Obama got a leg up by being admitted to both Occidental and Columbia as a foreign exchange student. He was raised as a young boy in Indonesia. But did his mother ever change him back to a U.S. citizen? When he returned to live with his grandparents in Hawaii or as he neared college-age preparing to apply to schools, did he ever change his citizenship back? I'm betting not.
- "Should we shoot all the consultants now?," featuring Pat Caddell: Finally, a Democrat! Except it's Caddell, a former Jimmy Carter pollster who now plays the part of the Good Democrat on Fox News. In the run-up to the 2012 election, he repeatedly argued that President Obama should remove himself from the presidential race and be replaced by Hillary Clinton. We don't think Pat Caddell should be shot, but it'd be tough to find a consultant who offers worse advice.
- "Stop THIS: Threats, Harassment, Intimidation, Slander, and Bullying from the Obama Administration," with Ben Shapiro: In which the Breitbart.com reporter behind the "Friends of Hamas" smear accuses someone else of slander.
- Screening of Hillary the Movie: This 2008 film is something of a historic artifact, given its central role in the 2009 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. It's also totally nuts. Among other things, the movie alleges that the former First Lady murdered a cat.
- "The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution," featuring Bill Norton of the National Center for Constitutional Studies: Come find out how the Founding Fathers were descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel!
- Donald Trump, chairman and president of the Trump Organization: Trump, whose birther crusade made him a (short-lived) front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2011, was last seen all-but-endorsing liberal activist Ashley Judd for Senate in Kentucky. His entire political existence appears aimed at trolling us all:
- Mitt Romney: Congratulations!
On Tuesday, the Hill published a story noting that the organizers of the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the preeminent national confab for politicians and activists of the right, are responding to the last November's election by using the event to "showcase the movement's 'diversity.'" Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and Sarah Palin will be headlining, but 20 percent of the panelists this year will be African American, according to CPAC bean counters. And the CPACers proudly point to the prominent role of Latinos and women on various panels. Yet the CPAC organizers have neglected one important task as they attempt to appeal to minorities: staying away from white nationalists.
For the past week, the American Conservative Union, which founded and is the primary organizer of CPAC, has showcased on its website an article from its newsletter, the Conservative Battleline, headlined "Debating Liberal Tactics" and written by Robert Weissberg. The ACU identifies Weissberg as a professor from Cornell and the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign and the author of 11 books. What it doesn't mention is that Weissberg has long been affiliated with a pseudo-think tank called the New Century Foundation. This foundation publishes a magazine called American Renaissance and hosts conferences under the same name, promoting the theory of "scientific racism" and providing a forum in which Klan members, neo-Nazis, and David Duke followers can mix it up with the intellectuals of the white-nationalist movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the foundation's founder and American Renaissance editor, Jared Taylor, as a "courtly" white supremacist, who once wrote in American Renaissance, "Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization—any kind of civilization—disappears."
Weissberg has been writing for Taylor's magazine for years and has spoken at American Renaissance conferences. The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a nonprofit social-justice organization that tracks far-right groups, has been sounding the alarm about Weissberg this week and first called attention to his work on the ACU website. It has assembled a history of his racist work here. Among the highlights—or lowlights—is a speech Weissberg delivered at a 2012 American Renaissance conference on a "Politically Viable Alternative to White Nationalism," in which he argued that white racism needed an image update. He suggested that white people retreat into "Whitopias" that carry zoning codes and other subtle requirements that would keep out the "undesirables," according to IREHR.
IREHR dug up a video of Weissberg, who is Jewish, giving a speech in 2000 entitled "Jews and Blacks: Everything the Goyim Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask," in which he puzzled over Jewish support for civil rights—a problem he dubbed "an affliction"—and suggested that non-Jewish whites and Jews should team up to fight against the blacks and what he termed African Americans' hatred of education and learning. Here's that speech:
Following up on that theme, Weissberg recently published a book called Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, which blames black and Latino students for wrecking the American public school system with their genetically low IQs. (On Amazon, the book features a glowing review from fellow white nationalist John Derbyshire, and is "frequently bought" with a book on education by Bell Curve author Charles Murray.)
Such work, and Weissberg's affiliation with American Renaissance, got him booted from the pages of National Review last year after IREHR raised the issue. Editor Rich Lowry explained at the time:
Unbeknownst to us, occasional Phi Beta Cons contributor Robert Weissberg (whose book was published a few years ago by Transaction) participated in an American Renaissance conference where he delivered a noxious talk about the future of white nationalism. He will no longer be posting here. Thanks to those who brought it to our attention.
An ACU spokesman hasn't responded to a request for comment from Mother Jones.
Maybe it's progress that Weissberg is only on the ACU website and not speaking at CPAC. Last year, the ACU gave a microphone to several white nationalists who headlined a panel titled, "The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity Is Weakening the American Identity." Among the panelists was Derbyshire, who also has been kicked out of the National Review editorial lineup for his racist writings; Peter Brimelow, the founder of the nativist site VDARE, which publishes the work of many other anti-Semitic and white-supremacist writers; and Robert Vandervoot, who's also affiliated with American Renaissance and the nativist group Pro-English.
Two board members of Young America's Foundation, which cofounded and sponsors CPAC along with the ACU, run a political action committee that gave money to a white-nationalist group, as my colleague Nick Baumann documented earlier this year here. As Baumann noted, Ron Robinson, one of the YAF board members in question, is also on the ACU's board.
The conservative movement will continue to have a tough time appealing to minorities if it keeps cavorting with these folks, no matter how many African Americans appear on their panel discussions.
Front page image credits: CPAC logo, Prensa Internacional/ZUMAPRESS.com; Mitt Romney, Pete Marovich/ZUMAPRESS.com; Donald Trump: Pete Marovich/ZUMAPRESS.com, Wayne LaPierre: Prensa Internacional/ZUMAPRESS.com.