Today I attended the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual gathering of conservative politicians, activists, and students.
This year, like last year, CPAC is being held at the Gaylord National Resort, which is located south of Washington, D.C. in National Harbor, Maryland.
In the morning Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) gave a speech in which he called for an audit of the Federal Reserve, the abolition of the IRS, and for "every single word of Obamacare" to be repealed. Cruz also made clear that he is not a fan of President Obama's foreign policy, saying that under Obama "the people of Ukraine have seen Russian tanks move into their sovereign land."
Other CPAC speakers also criticized the U.S. response to the situation in Ukraine. Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton said:
Today, can you just imagine Ronald Reagan dealing with Vladimir Putin? … [In Ukraine], Vladimir Putin has a strategy and Obama has nothing. Putin has a growing defense budget and ours is shrinking.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said:
In Europe, Vladimir Putin is trying to reconstitute the power and the influence of the former Soviet Union. I say this to you because of the number of young people that are here today. I want you to consider what this will look like in 10 years … if you inherit a world where Russia continues to hold its neighbors hostage, not just because of its military capabilities, but also because of dependency on Russian oil and gas.
One non-American conservative also criticized Obama's foreign policy. Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative who represents South East England in the European Parliament, was at CPAC in his capacity as secretary general of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists. Given Cruz's earlier brief comment on the Obama administration's position over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, I asked Hannan what he thought about the state America's perception around the world. Hannan said,
It's definitely the case that under this presidency U.S. prestige has waned, and in some parts of the world prestige is a hard commodity, it matters.
Hannan went on to say,
I do think that you could construct the argument that there has never been a worse time to be a traditional friend of the U.S.
Obama's relationship with the U.K. has been criticized before, with his removal of a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office soon after he took office and his position on the Falkland Islands being cited as indications that the so-called "special relationship" may not be faring well under the current administration.
CPAC attracts many of the usual conservative suspects. The Heritage Foundation, the National Rifle Association, as well as some conservative publications were all represented. Refreshingly, there were also groups represented in the CPAC Hub that are either explicitly libertarian or have libertarian sympathies such as Students For Liberty, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Young Americans For Liberty, and the Cato Institute.
What was particularly reassuring was an event on the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. Mary Katherine Ham, editor-at-large of HotAir.com (who had this exchange with Bill O'Reilly last month on drug policy) joined Chris Beach, executive producer of Bill Bennett's "Morning in America" show, for a discussion on marijuana legalization moderated by Colorado State Rep. Janak Joshi (R-Colorado Springs). Beach, who was arguing against legalization, argued that illegal drug use is going down thanks to the war on drugs and that while alcohol is harmful adding another new drug to a legal market would be a bad idea.
Thankfully, almost every single person in the audience who asked a question at the event was skeptical that current U.S. drug policy is working. One man said that his children have easy access to marijuana despite the vast amounts of money that has been spent on drug policy. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has criticized U.S. drug policy, will be speaking at CPAC tomorrow.