Around 11,000 conservatives gathered in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 10 for the 38th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Junior Karl Bair and freshman Alex Uzarowicz were among them.
“CPAC is a huge event,” Uzarowicz said. “Every powerful conservative leader goes to build their profile and push their agenda.”
A wide variety of conservative leaders spoke about strengthening the conservative movement, including Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty, who is a common fixture at Tea Party rallies, was one of the more contentious speakers, suggesting, among other things, that President Barack Obama was not born on this planet.
“I was appalled by the things Pawlenty said,” Uzarowicz said. “There wasn’t a lot of substance and he wasn’t intellectually interesting. I didn’t clap at all.”
Bair disagreed, expressing support for Pawlenty’s foreign policy strategy.
“What I got from Pawlenty was not that America is a bully, but that we need to stand up to bullies because the only thing bullies respect is force,” Bair said.
Contention was hardly limited to Pawlenty’s talk, Uzarowicz said.
“I thought the conference was going to be really formal, and it wasn’t. It was more like a soccer game,” he said. “It was a really divided conference.”
One of the most anticipated aspects of CPAC is the straw poll, in which attendees indicate whom they would like to see on the 2012 presidential ticket representing the Republican party. In order to promote themselves, conservative leaders pushed their agendas in their speeches, calling for a balanced budget, repeal of health care legislation and the need to restore America’s image abroad.
“[The conference] was just kind of about espousing values,” Bair said. “There were not, in many cases, ideas presented for how to actually accomplish things.”
Libertarian leader Ron Paul ended up winning the straw poll for the second consecutive year.
“Ron Paul was my favorite speaker,” Bair said. “He seems like an ideologue, but his ideas don’t seem that far out of reach, which is inspiring.”
Although support and enthusiasm for Paul was strong at CPAC, Bair doubts that this will be enough for conservatives to win the White House in 2012.
“Paul’s a great guy, but he’s not electable,” he said. “As painful as it is for me to say, [Donald] Trump may have the best shot [at the presidency].”
Trump, more often seen in a corporate office than at a political function, seemed a surprising choice for a speaker at CPAC. But for Bair, who hopes to run for president in the future, his speech was refreshing.
“He was so direct about everything,” Bair said. “Nothing was hidden behind idealism. I like when people talk straight.”
For Uzarowicz, the most enlightening part of the conference was the So You Want to Be a Columnist Symposium. Run by executive editor of The Weekly Standard Fred Barnes, the symposium focused on teaching students how to integrate reporting into their opinion columns. Uzarowicz, who writes a weekly column for The Knox Student, said he found the symposium very helpful.
Despite divisions apparent at the conference, both Bair and Uzarowicz returned to Knox hopeful for a conservative victory in 2012.
“You kind of saw how 2012 will be a clash between the old right and the new right,” Uzarowicz said. “We need to unify both.”
“The biggest thing I took away was that there’s still hope out there for our country to regain our lost image,” Bair said. “The light’s at the end of the tunnel.”
Thanks to a grant from the Intellectual Diversity Foundation (IDF), Bair and Uzarowicz were able to attend CPAC at almost no cost to themselves. According to its website, IDF exists to promote intellectual balance at Knox College.