For the first day and a half or so, the CPAC speeches were a real disappointment for those who like the crazy -- and who were spoiled by last year's version. CPAC always has its share of crazy (I'm talking about the main speeches; I've never been down in person to get the deeper picture), but the 2009 version was special. Obama had only been President for about six weeks, so everyone was essentially competing for most apocalyptic nightmare vision of the coming regime. There was a LOT of talk about the imminent return of the Fairness Doctrine, and confiscation of guns, and socialism, and so on.
A year out of power helps focus the mind -- or at least helps a concensus form among members of the resistance over the key issues for criticism. Based on the speeches at CPAC, movement conservatives have decided on the ballooning federal deficit and civilian trials for terrorists as the main horrors of our age -- a bit odd, perhaps, since both issues have been around for a few years now and never seemed to come up much before. But still, legitimate political issues. So are opposition to health care reform, and criticism of Obama's economic-recovery policies, which have come up a lot. They might be saying pretty vapid and shallow things on the topics, but it's not just made-up lunacy.
Also, the conference has an incredibly upbeat, optimistic tenor -- they seem genuinely convinced that conservative politics is back on the rise, that the GOP is going to retake Congress this year (Mike Pence reportedly said it's a 100% certainty), and that the American public has come around to agreeing with the right on things. It reminds me a lot of Howard Dean in the Fall and Winter of 2003/2004, constantly talking about the 'revolution at the ballot box' he had accomplished, even though nobody had actually cast any votes yet.
So, while there were plenty of individual crazy things said, the overall tone and themes of the conference were pretty sane and focussed, for this kind of event.
That started to change around midday Friday. Michelle Bachmann's speech about American greatness (which Obama and the Democrats are apparently against) was something of a turning point. She actually appeared to move herself to tears by her lengthy, apropos-of-nothing, retelling of the famous Four Chaplains story of World War II. From there it went downhill through bombastic Californians Chuck DeVore and Steve Poizner; to weirdo Jay Sekulow leading a discussion of how much torture we should be doing. By the time we got to Conspiracy Congressman Darrell Issa's speech we had plunged into the ACORN! ACORN! ACORN! portion of the program. We soon had a shout-out (met by enthusiastic applause) for creepy criminal James O'Keefe and his sidekick Hannah Giles coming from the "Saving Freedom from Vote Fraud" panel -- a segment that featured Wall Street Journal liar-in-residence John Fund giving an entire speech about Congressional Democrats' plans for mandatory universal voter registration -- an outright myth for which Barney Frank recently called Fund out on the floor of the US House of Representatives.
Then the big Ronald Reagan Award was given out last night. It seems that, unbelievably, two of the serious finalists under discussion were Hannah, whose sole accomplishment was helping produce a blatantly fraudulent propaganda film about a politically insignificant organization; and David Bossie, a leading reptile of the conservative marketplace whose Citizens United organization provided the impetus for the Supreme Court to change campaign-finance law. (O'Keefe, and crazed bloglord Andrew Breitbart, were also under consideration until O'Keefe's arrest.)
But apparently those weren't crazy enough choices, so they gave the award to "the Tea Party movement." I hope the movement has a nice display case for it.
This morning should bring more of the crazy: Breitbart himself at 9:00am, introduced by Giles herself (who got a Buckley Award, as consolation prize I suppose); followed by Bill Bennett, a panel with Jonah Goldberg and Amity Shlaes; John Bolton; Ann Coulter; underappreciated lunatic ranter Bob McEwen; a panel about the global warming hoax, and of course the closing keynote by Glenn Beck. I can't wait.