Take Back America, the yearly liberal confab sponsored by the Campaign for America's Future is happening up the road from reason world headquarters; I stopped by earlier and will stop by later, but don't expect the madcap antics of the Conservative Political Action Conference. For starters, it's smaller. That fact is amplified by the location, the very same D.C. hotel that conservatives gathered in last month. At CPAC, a mostly youthful crowd of college students and grubby politicos took over the whole cavernous hotel, lining up for speeches 20 or more minutes after they began, showing off the "I'd Rather Be Waterboarded Than Vote for McCain" shirts and replica Ronald Reagan inaugural tickets they'd just grabbed at the merch tables. The TBA crowd is older, and notably less excitable. Mitt Romney isn't buying blocks of tickets for these people, and daddy's credit card went back into his wallet a long time ago.
That doesn't explain why this crowd is less excitable, though. Chalk that up to the lack of presidential candidates (most of them showed last year) and the bitter struggle for the nomination raging whenever the attendees flip open their Powerbooks. (Nothing will flare up your Mac Envy like a liberal convention.) This year's conference is less about politicians than than 2006 or 2007. The speakers are mostly authors and organizers, either wine-track bloggers or beer-track union types.
The first panel I attended was billed "The Crackup of Conservatism," and up on the podium were liberal pundit Cliff Schechter (very popular on the web for his flame-throwing style on mid-day cable news hits) and author Rick Perlstein, who's about to publish his sequel to the brilliant Barry Goldwater/conservatism history Before the Storm. I settled in for some Bush administration gravedancing, and then Perlstein gave a powerpoint presentation about "toxic trade" and handed the mic to Mike Zielinski of the United Steelworkers, who blistered free trade deals and corporate influence in politics. "We could make a T-shirt," he said. "My job went to China and all I got was a baby-bib-laced-with-lead."
Mark Hemingway caught the latter part of the panel, which shifted back toward partisan politics:
Schecter began his speech by announcing "John McCain is a jackass," and closed his remarks by announcing "Conservativism today is theocracy, oligarchy and permanent war," so you know you can look forward to reviewing his other salient and scholarly opinions in his forthcoming book on McCain.
Still, Schecter expressed great concern over the damage done by the infighting between Barack and Hillary's infighting given McCain's relative strength, adding "If it were Mitt Romney we were running against we could all sit back and eat barbecue for six months and still kick his butt."
This is true: There was a 1 in 100 chance the Democrats would draw an electable opponent in this Year of Republican Doom, and they did.