We’ve watched every speech at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and posted highlights of many of them here on the blog. But we don’t want to ignore the equally important stories that have been playing out behind the scenes of the American Conservative Union’s annual gathering.
Here are five stories you shouldn’t miss from this year’s CPAC:
5) So Much For Diversity
Despite everything we hear about how the GOP is really making an effort this time to attract non-white voters, very few CPAC members bothered to show up for the summit’s panel on minority-outreach.
Ironically, the panelists repeatedly said that the first step to solving the GOP’s demographic problem would be for Republican candidates to show up in communities of color. But it seems conservative activists don’t even seem all that interested in attending a panel at the National Harbor hotel.
4) Shaming Poor People
Rep. Paul Ryan showed off the latest version of “compassionate conservatism” when he attacked liberals for providing people “a full stomach and an empty soul.” He also suggested that parents who take advantage of programs offering free meals to hungry schoolchildren don’t really care about their kids.
“Once I heard someone say what was important to him as a boy was that he didn’t want school lunch, he wanted a brown bag because the brown bag that he brought with his lunch in it meant that his mom cared about him,” Ryan recalled.
It turns out Ryan’s entire story was lifted from a book whose author actually backs the very programs Ryan was criticizing and who also opposed the congressman’s budget proposals.
3) Corporate Takeover
It is no surprise that the American Conservative Union advances a pro-corporate agenda, or that the group is being rewarded handsomely for it. Slate’s Eli Clifton reports that the ACU takes huge donations “from some of America’s biggest and least popular industries: guns, big oil, and cigarettes.”
Perhaps more importantly, the ACU promotes the tobacco industry when new regulatory measures are proposed. The ACU publicly defended the interests of the tobacco industry when the FDA proposed imposing restrictions on menthol cigarettes. Responding to a July 2013 invitation for public input from the FDA, the ACU wrote to express its “strong opposition to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration of a tobacco product standard for menthol in cigarettes.” The ACU also used its influence to promote legislation benefiting the oil and gas industries. In addition to contributions from the Anschutz Foundation, funded by oil tycoon Philip Anschutz and the Koch brothers, Chevron contributed $20,000 to the ACU Foundation in 2010. The oil and drilling industry found no shortage of support from the ACU. In December 2011 the ACU wrote to Rep. Jim Jordan, then-chairman of the Republican Study Committee, urging Jordan and all members of the House to support the “Jobs Through Growth Act,” which would “reverse the absurd finding of EPA that carbon dioxide is a ‘pollutant.’ ” “The bill would also expedite the construction and operation of the Keystone XL Pipeline,” said the ACU letter. The bill gained 59 co-sponsors but died in committee.
Along with the many inevitable jokes about how climate change can’t exist because it is cold in the winter, CPAC also hosted industry-backed panels that labeled climate change science “modern witchcraft” and “human racism.”
2) Respectable Conservatism?
Is CPAC becoming more mainstream and less crazy?
While many of the Right Wing’s most fringe and conspiratorial activists appeared at the CPAC alternative “The Uninvited” — which viewed CPAC as too liberal and infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood — CPAC was nonetheless kicked off by Ted Cruz and featured key speeches from characters such as Donald Trump, Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin.
Discredited right-wing conspiracy theories about Benghazi and the IRS have become fully embraced by even “mainstream” GOP figures and were mentioned frequently throughout the convention. While there may be some extreme right-wing activists who are upset with CPAC, that in no way makes the event more “moderate.”
In fact, in what has become almost an annual tradition, while the event shut out groups representing gay and atheist conservatives, it welcomed the sponsorship of an anti-immigrant group led by a white supremacist.
1) Anti-Gay Activism Is Alive And Well
Despite reports that CPAC is becoming more welcoming to gay people and gay rights supporters, anti-gay politicians and rhetoric were still a major factor at the summit. CPAC barred the gay conservative group GOProud from sponsoring or having a booth at the event. The much-touted “compromise” merely allows GOProud members to attend as individuals, which the GOProud founder dubbed an “unconditional surrender.”
Staunchly anti-gay organizations such as CitizenLink (the political arm of Focus on the Family) and the Liberty Alliance, however, were top sponsors. Another sponsor, Tradition, Family, and Property, an ultraconservative Catholic youth group, distributed anti-gay fliers that depicted GOProud as a rainbow-colored beaver undermining the conservative movement.
Main stage speakers didn’t hold back either.
Oliver North urged the GOP to fight marriage equality with the same tenacity as the fight against slavery. He also suggested that by repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Obama administration is treating military service members like “laboratory rats in some radical social experiment.”
While conservative talk show host Michael Medved admitted that he supports the right of gay couples to adopt children, he said that conservatives must continue to oppose marriage equality and even denied that same-sex marriage has ever been banned. “There’s never been a state in this country that has ever banned gay marriage, that’s a liberal lie,” he said.
And Dr. Ben Carson, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, won raucous applause for his denunciation of gay “extra rights,” specifically the right to marry.