CPAC culminated with a dozen standing ovations for Sarah Palin. The queen of conservatism told the audience, “The President says small Americans, small-town Americans—we bitterly cling to our religion and our guns. You say, I say, we say—keep your change. We’ll keep our God. We’ll keep our guns.”
Throughout the three days of CPAC it didn’t really matter what a speaker said from the podium; if they hated on Obama or talked about guns, Washington insiders, the liberal media, God or Reagan, they were hailed by the audience.
Every major candidate did their best to bring all those factors into their speeches, but Palin, not a candidate and surprisingly still relevant, did it best.
On her 48th birthday, she extolled Washington’s wealthy and joked with Obama’s slogans to the amusement of her adoring audience. At one point a group of occupy protesters attempted to mic-check her mid-speech, but were drowned out by loud chants of USA! USA! then Sarah! Sarah!
Members of the crowd had to wait over two hours just to get into the speech. The line to enter the massive ballroom snaked all the way back to the security area where speakers enter the stage. Many were kept out, due to fire restrictions and had to watch the speech in other conference rooms where screens had been set up for overflow viewing.
I entered one of these rooms. One older gentleman was recording the television screen playing Palin’s speech. They cheered her “zingers” like fans watching a football game at a bar.
“Hope and change. Yeah, you gotta hope things change,” said Palin.
After three days at CPAC my senses had dulled to the attacks on Obama. But, my ears perked when Palin made a point that wasn’t divisive about crony capitalism. She said “crony capitalism” had infected Washington and that those who criticize Washington as a “cesspool” end up in the “hot tub.”
Palin made a similar point in Iowa on September 3, 2011, two weeks before protesters occupied Zuccotti Park. She said, “It’s not the capitalism of free men and free markets of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and risk. No this is the capitalism of connections and government bailouts and handouts… and influence peddling and corporate welfare,” according to an article about the speech in the Washington Post.
Back then, she was flirting with running for President and she also pitched an economic plan. She called for an end to tax loopholes, corporate welfare and bailouts.
Today, she didn’t delve into economic policies, instead choosing to stay focused on attacking Obama and hyping up the conservative base.
But just the brief mention of crony capitalism was important. Even her restraint to not criticize the protesters (she told the audience they won after the protesters left) meant she might understand her Tea Party and their Occupy share similar populist ideas. The roots of the real Tea Party lie in a backlash against the bailouts.
If there’s going to be dramatic change in the political system it’s going to take more than one side screaming at the other, clinging to their guns or to their tents. And while it’s easy for Democrats to belittle the Tea Party as an astroturfing movement and for the Republicans to belittle Occupy as stinky vandals, it’s far more difficult to build coalitions behind common causes.
I was happy to see protesters and conference attendees debating amicably on the sidewalk across from the hotel as I left CPAC. After three days of listening to unquestioned attacks on liberals from Republicans, it was nice to see legitimate conversations.