CPAC

At CPAC, the Culture War Matters More than Politics or Policy

Even for conservatives who believe in individualism, group identity trumps all.

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Nick Gillespie, Reason

It was good to run into the Albanian Americans selling the "Fake News" hats after a long day at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the country's largest annual gathering of people who identify as part of the right.

They were in their 20s (I guess, I forgot to ask) and two of them were brothers who were actually born in Albania and were able to come to America as asylees after the collapse of the communist regime in the 1990s. The other one was an aspiring screenwriter who had been an atheist liberal, a Bernie Bro, in fact, not so very long ago. Now he was a Roman Catholic. They all identified as conservative and were skeptical about libertarians. "It feels like a cop-out," said Kristian Nika, the only one comfortable enough to let me use his name. "That laissez-faire stuff, just letting people do whatever they want." He shrugged as he said it.

Still, they were amiable enough and the hats, which cost $10 a pop, weren't selling that briskly, so they had some down time and were happy to talk. Unlike most of what I encountered during the day, especially from the mainstage speakers, they weren't doctrinaire even if they had strongly held opinions. "I hate Trump," said Kristian, "I don't think he has a good moral character." He said the way the president let Kim Jong Un off the hook for the death of American student Otto Warmbier was screwed up (he used a more colorful term). But he didn't really disagree with him on policy so much, though he was surprisingly in favor of immigration for the most part. We don't need a wall, he said, maybe a fence, but probably not even that.

The former Bernie Bro was more emphatic that immigration was a problem, but even he wasn't that exercised by it all. He defined his conservatism mostly around a sense of family and that work or economic life shouldn't define the whole of one's existence. You want to be successful and ambitious, he said, but you need to keep things in perspective. They all lived in the Bronx and they disliked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who they called "that Queens lady" because she lived in that borough for a time. But the Bernie Bro had harsher words for Sen. Kristen Gillibrand because she was a "corporatist" who recently made a big stink about rejecting PAC money but nonetheless hauls in a lot of Wall Street contributions.

All three of the Albanian Americans agreed that politics has less and less to do with specific proposals to change this or that law and much more to do with identity and culture. They were selling Fake News hats, after all.

The second day of CPAC supported the idea that politics, at least at CPAC, is really about culture.

There was far less on the program about specific policy ideas and more about creating a shared cultural identity. Glenn Beck kicked the day off by invoking the resurgence of socialism among Democrats and emphasizing that capitalism is predicated upon equality under the law but inequality of outcomes that generate wealth so that the richer take care of the poorer. He didn't talk much at all about Donald Trump and later told me that what he worries most about is that conservatives are neither deeply enough wedded to free markets nor concerned enough about technological change that is going to forever change employment. Most people, he said, whether on the right or the left aren't thinking enough about the future. He said it's as if we're stuck in the 1950s, with no sense of how technology has made all sorts of new possibilities open up but also sorts of potential issues. He wasn't talking nuclear bombs or climate change, he was talking about what happens when people don't have to work for a living anymore. He admitted to me he had no clear answers.

Talking w @glennbeck abt technological disruption and the failure of conservatives to offer an alternative future that gives hope.

A post shared by Nick Gillespie (@gillespienick) on Mar 1, 2019 at 10:52am PST

Candace Owens, the communications director at Turning Point USA, didn't suffer from a lack of confidence, about the future or anything else. She echoed the dictum made famous by Andrew Breitbart (who died on this day in 2012) that politics is downstream from culture. "The right gave up on culture," she announced from the mainstage, thus allowing the left to win the black vote. "The left have invested, infected, infested culture at every level." She didn't give a presentation as much as run through a series of greatest-hits slogans. The left (a catch-all term all the speakers used to designate anyone who was not self-consciously a conservative Republican) wants to give blacks a hand-out and not a hand-up. Black people need to stop idolizing LeBron James and start idolizing "Condoleezza Rice and Dr. Ben Carson." If conservatives and Republicans got good enough on dunking on liberals, there would be a "Blexit" or black exit from the Democratic Party. "We have to fight the cultural war," she insisted.

The two topics that virtually every speaker—including big names such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Vice President Mike Pence, CPAC organizer Matt Schlapp, and journalist Michelle Malkin—raised were abortion and immigration. These were not policy discussions but cultural ones. The CPAC speakers were against all abortions but they always invoke late-term abortions because they're making a rhetorical argument, not a policy one. Trump's beautiful immigration wall was invoked like a preacher might invoke a hallelujah during a call-and-response sermon.

To be against the wall was to be against borders and, well, you can't have a country without borders, can you? Such rhetoric ignores the basic fact that no one (to my knowledge at least) is saying that the United States should simply abandon all points of entry and stop processing people and goods as they enter the country. "If you don't have a border, you don't have a country," explained the vice president. "We've already started to build that wall…I'll make you a promise, before we're done, we're gonna build it all." The crowd broke out into a "build the wall" chant and gave him a standing ovation.

Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom

When Michelle Malkin spoke, she laid into the "grifters" who she says took over the Tea Party movement and then lobbied for immigration amnesty (this is a peculiar reading of the Tea Party, which started out as a movement against government spending before branching out to include anti-immigration groups in its mix). "Diversity is not our strength," the daughter of Philippine citizens averred. "My pronouns are U.S.A." She said that immigration was the country's biggest issue and that even CPAC had caved in to political correctness by disinviting people who were critical of racial diversity.

In such a setting, it was comforting to run into various people who enjoyed Reason or, like Howard "Cowboy" Wooldridge, were they to evangelize for explicitly libertarian causes.

@howardwooldridge is keeping it real at #cpac2019. "I expected every conversation to be, what sort of flaming asshole are you? But most are, Ok why does a cop want to legalize heroin? These kids are hungry. I'm happy to be proven wrong."

A post shared by Nick Gillespie (@gillespienick) on Mar 1, 2019 at 1:15pm PST

And it was good to talk to the Albanians, even if we didn't agree on all that much. "I really can't stand the idolatry of Trump, the former Bernie Bro told me on my way out the door. The three of them had gone to a party the night before thrown by Turning Point USA. At various points, he said, the entire crowd started chanting "Trump! Trump! Trump!" "Imagine if they did that for Obama," he said, shaking his head. But when all politics is culture, group chants are always going to be part of the program. In fact, they might be the biggest part.

Correction: I have fixed various minor typos since posting.

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85 responses to “At CPAC, the Culture War Matters More than Politics or Policy

  1. Who the eff is going to bother going to the polls because of policy?

    1. George Will and Jonah Goldberg.

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      3. Nah, they will go because they find Trump “gauche”

    2. People who are actually affected by the policy.

  2. This seems like an especially feeble attempt at Gonzo Journalism from The Jacket

    Fonzo Journalism

    1. Perhaps a Fonzi scheme?

    2. Did you see this part?:

      The two topics that virtually every speaker?including big names such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Vice President Mike Pence, CPAC organizer Matt Schlapp, and journalist Michelle Malkin?raised were abortion and immigration.

      It’s almost like OBL is a parody of himself.

    3. Pomo Journalism

      Decide on your Narrative, stroll about looking for anecdotes to support it, and write about your day.

      Dear Diary…

    4. This article is a rambling mess

      1. Yes but it’s hard being an left-wing elitist and a nominal libertarian.
        You just don’t understand how Nick suffers, Nardz.

        1. I sometimes think Gillespie is a left wing elitist posing as a libertarian in order to sabotage the philosophy. It’s always all about him and his witty intelligence. Guy suffers from some serious lack in self confidence. You notice he always wears black? Likely because he’s terrified of people judging him. Must have been the subject of some pretty dramatic high school bullying. But hey, I’m no doctor

  3. “That laissez-faire stuff, just letting people do whatever they want.”

    If you let everybody do whatever they want, you’ll find that most of them want to do whatever everybody else is doing. It’s called spontaneous order. There’s an efficiency in mass culture, a price to be paid for non-conformity and most people most of the time settle for being part of the herd. You don’t actually need a shepherd for the sheep, especially self-appointed shepherds too ignorant to understand that the sheep don’t need a shepherd. The idea that society simply couldn’t function without Top Men directing the course of society is a silly and simplistic and, ultimately, a demeaning and undignified view of humanity. It’s not just Hillary who thinks the great unwashed are deplorables too stupid to know what’s for their own good.

    1. But you just called everyone sheep. Not simplistic or demeaning?

      1. You’re kidding right? He used an allegory and this upsets you?

        1. Jeez, it was actually that rara avis, an APT allegory/metaphor. Neither simplistic OR demeaning.

  4. Nick has got to be joking that he hasn’t heard anyone calling for no border enforcement. Hell, all he needs to do is read ChemJeff or OldMexicanBastard. And Harris and Beto seem almost there, with their platform. I doubt it will be more than a week or two before a democratic candidate fully embraces no border enforcement.

    1. “Let’s have border checkpoints, but it’s evil to ever actually enforce immigration law in them or anywhere else.”

      1. Bingo

    2. Yeah no kidding I noticed that too. Does he have his head in the sand or what? Didn’t AOC just recently call for ICE to be eliminated?

      1. While ICE bad because they enforce immigration laws in our borders or something. What his portal of entry argument misses is that undesirables will avoid these portals and sneak across other portions of the border for their nefarious reasons (I know ending drug prohibition will magically end any black market or other criminal activity don’tchaknow) and thus there will always be some need for internal enforcement. Or is he actually argued that no matter how you got into the country, and for whatever reason, that once your here you here and no means can exist to police or remove you?

      2. ICE, along with the Department of Homeland Security, are less then twenty years old. Their legitimate duties were done by other departments (with fewer rights violations) before 9/11, and we can go back to that.

  5. Libertarian is not at all letting people do what they want.

    What a shame.

    1. Huh??

      Within the NAP it is.

      1. But define NAP, especially what is aggression. I guarantee you definitions will differ. This is why a common set of rules is required. Take abortion for example. Some argue that banning abortion at any point is a violation of the NAP. Others argue, especially in the case of a potentially viable fetus, that abortion violates the infants NAP. The same with mandatory vaccinations, some argue mandating vaccines is a violation of NAP, but others can argue in good faith that those who refuse vaccines and help create an out real are violating the NAP. Both are right but how do we resolve this?

        1. Outbreak

  6. “The former Bernie Bro was more emphatic that immigration was a problem, but even he wasn’t that exorcised by it all.”

    Exorcised?

    Whatever ever possessed Gillespie to spell it that way?

    1. “Whatever ever.” I guess that’s Joez law.

      1. The devil’s in the details.

    2. He’s possessed.

  7. Malkin’s presence tells me all I need to know.

    1. sexy AF?

  8. When the conservatives’ talk of the need for borders, they mean more than ports of entry where anyone desiring entrance checks in before going on his way. Whether one agrees with them or not, that is obvious, and one wonders why the author seems to have missed it. One can also wonder about his generally snide treatment of the event. Conservatives have their faults, but they generally are less inclined than their leftist opponents toward robbing Americans and making them less free. The difference is real. It may be the difference between being punched in the nose and being knocked out with a shovel, but it is real.

    1. Re differences between liberals and conservatives: True. I have substantial differences with both, but I feel like I can get more ground from conservatives.

    2. He and most of the editors hate conservatives. I don’t know why Gillespie feels the need to highlight it so clearly with his cpac coverage. It’s funny that I’m more libertarian than conservative, but the Libertarian party and outlets like this are so opposed to conservative notions of responsibility that they push me away

      1. so opposed to conservative notions of responsibility

        How so? I don’t think anyone here argues that people ought to be free from the responsibility of their own choices.

        Many people here DO take offense at the idea that there is some collective responsibility based on appeals to patriotism, rather than based on what an individual freely agrees to.

        1. The NAP does require some collective responsibilities, i.e. there must be a collective understanding of what is harm and what is aggression worthy of response. The idea that there is no collective responsibilities is incongruent with civilization and can only exist is a fictional Utopia. All societies create taboos (using the scientific definition of the word) to help define what is and is not permissible. This is societies way of defining what is and is not considered harmful and how the society will deal with those who harm others. A pragmatic libertarian realizes society does have some legitimate need to create boundaries, however these boundaries should be limited to the bare minimum. The NAP is great but each person defines aggression differently and each person defines how to respond to perceived aggression differently. Agreeing to a common definition of aggression is necessary for a civilization to exist and grow (without growth civilizations quickly fall into ruin).

          1. I thought we were just supposed to defer all that defining to the most sensitive and easily “damaged”?

        2. “chemjeff radical individualist|3.2.19 @ 5:45AM|#

          so opposed to conservative notions of responsibility

          How so? I don’t think anyone here argues that people ought to be free from the responsibility of their own choices.
          Many people here DO take offense at the idea that there is some collective responsibility based on appeals to patriotism, rather than based on what an individual freely agrees to.”

          This is inconsistent with your contention that child rape while awaiting hearing for an asylum claim does not necessarily disqualify an individual from deserving asylum based on that individual’s membership in an oppressed class.

          1. Oh good grief. It’s been two days and you still misrepresent my argument.

            deserving asylum based on that individual’s membership in an oppressed class.

            I never argued this position. That is wholly one of your inventions.

            1. You’re upset that you feel he is misrepresenting your argument when that seems to he your stock in trade? You will inevitably accuse those who support border enforcement as either anti-immigration or racist. Or both.

            2. “chemjeff radical individualist|2.28.19 @ 5:00PM|#

              I advocate that asylum matters more about what the OPPRESSOR does rather than what the OPPRESSED does.”

    3. Conservatives have their faults, but they generally are less inclined than their leftist opponents toward robbing Americans and making them less free.

      Government spending statistics tell a different story.

      1. The vast majority of government spending(and the fastest growing portion) is non-discretionary spending. For the most part this is stuff like social security and other welfare style programs. Any attempt the Republicans have made to rein in this spending has been met with ridicule. Yes, both sides tend to not meaningfully control discretionary spending, but until you’re willing to address non-discretionary spending focusing on discretionary spending is meaningless.

  9. Another “Dear Diary…” from Nick.

    Soon his articles will just be meal and cat pictures.

    1. Maybe he heard that CNN has an opening for a guy…

  10. High level philosophical thought and arguments of principles take place on an intra-tribal basis. Fights for power and resources take place on inter-tribal basis’s.

    Libertarian: Import human beings of differing tribes
    Normal people: we should slow down a little
    Libertarians: increase rate of importation, ensuring no dominant tribe
    Normal people: behave in tribal manner
    Libertarians: **surprised Pikachu face**

    1. This, context-free, explains a lot-

      “Libertarians: **surprised Pikachu face**”

  11. “The left (a catch-all term all the speakers used to designate anyone who was not self-consciously a conservative Republican)”

    The right (a catch-all term all the speakers used to designate anyone who was not self-consciously a liberal Democrat)

    1. There apparently is no right, there is only a far-right.

  12. At various points, he said, the entire crowd started chanting “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

    Not. A. Cult.

    1. So when a crowd is changing so rock groups/singers name or a pro athletes name they’re a cult too? The simplicity of you thought process is astounding.

      1. ^ass-hurt Republican^

        1. Gee, what a retort! I am so put in my place now. Since you couldn’t refute my point you relied on sophomoric insults. Your parents must really be proud of you, now why don’t you ask your mom to make you some pizza bagels.

      2. Does a rock singer hold power over your life?

        1. And that is sequitor how? Does chanting his name make it any more or less of a cult because he was elected? My point is that chanting someone who you likes name is not equivalent to cult behavior. It is actually fairly normal. And was considered by the very same who are accusing the GOP doing such cult-like, to be completely benign when Obama’s followers did the same. In fact I doubt you will find to many Presidents in history who also didn’t receive the same accolades from their supporters. I was reading about Theodore Roosevelt’s first Republican Convention he attended as a delegate in McCullough’s biography “Morning on Horseback”. And he described the exact same behavior occuring in the 1880s.

    2. All hail the God Emperor!

  13. To be against the wall was to be against borders and, well, you can’t have a country without borders, can you?

    Sure you can. What you can’t have, is *government control* over who comes and goes across a border.

    1. You can have a country without borders……

      ….but not for long.

    2. And just as I predicted above here comes Jeffy to argue for totally open borders.

      1. …which Nick swears nobody argues for…

        1. Nick lacks a certain level of intellectual honesty, not quite as much as Shikha but still quite a bit.

        2. I don’t blame Nick for not reading the comments section around here,

          Nobody with any level of power argues for open borders in the manner that I do.

          1. Harris and O’Rourke and AOC come damn close. And borders without internal enforcement or enforcement at the border (which all three seem to be increasingly on board with) are intellectually the same thing as no border.

            1. It’s like “I don’t want to stifle free speech. I just want to insure that it is not too mean.”

  14. “That laissez-faire stuff, just letting people do whatever they want.” He shrugged as he said it.

    When you own your own home or have an enforceable lease to a rental unit, you don’t have to worry about ending up homeless on account of a same-sex date … or on account of your reluctance to join a same-sex date, depending on the landlord.

  15. “…He said the way the president let Kim Jong Un off the hook for the death of American student Otto Warmbier was screwed up (he used a more colorful term).”

    Perhaps but didn’t this happen under Obama? If I recall correctly, the family had harsh words for Obama.

    “He admitted to me he had no clear answers.”

    Does anyone really?

    “Imagine if they did that for Obama,”

    They did. And then some. Remember those horrible songs by kids and celebrities shilling for him?

    The cult of the Obamas remains.

    1. Hope posters anyone?

      1. Hollywood’s video promising to serve him? Anybody remember THAT?

        1. But chanting Trump or USA is totally cult-like behavior like we have never seen before, trust us we’re your better and matriculated at the”best” universities while you went to a state school in flyover country. Thus you are only qualified, barely, to tie your own shoes without us telling you how to do it.

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  17. Funny (not funny) how you razz Michelle Malkin as ‘the daughter of Philippine immigrants’ when she talks about diversity not being our strength. I think you missed the point there, what makes us different (diverse) isn’t our strength, what we all have in common is, we are Americans. I sense an eye roll in your pointing out that her ancestry is Philippino. Unbecoming, Nick.

    1. The conservatives here love your version of collectivism.

      1. Please, if you’re able, can you point out his “collectivism”? Or is that a word your professor used this week that you are trying to use to sound more educated than you really are? Please understand what a word means before throwing it about. BTW pointing out a common characteristic is not collectivism.

    2. The majority of legal immigrants I’ve come across, and all the ones in my family, are staunchly against illegal immigration.

      Shocking I know…the people who obeyed the law despise the ones who don’t.

      1. This is what many don’t seem to grasp, that legal immigrants and those attempting to follow the law are the ones most impacted by illegal immigration. Not arguing rather it is right or not, but every time you read a story about a legal immigrants who is detained mistakingly, does it occur that if we had fewer illegals that this would act would happen much less frequently?

        1. Unless you are arguing for no enforcement of immigration laws (even with easy access portals, criminals will still sneak in because they know that they can’t legally enter, and some will bypass to avoid the inconvenience of going through an official checkpoint) some enforcement will always be required. Including some form of internal enforcement to deal with those who entered illegally for illegal purposes.

    3. what we all have in common is [our strength], we are Americans.

      So are you defining down “American” to exclude liberals and independents, or what here?

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  19. I think it’s time for Reason to let go of Gillespie

  20. “Such rhetoric ignores the basic fact that no one (to my knowledge at least) is saying that the United States should simply abandon all points of entry and stop processing people and goods as they enter the country.”

    You really should pay more attention to what democrats have been saying for the past two years. I’m pretty stunned by the ignorance of this sentence.

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  22. It seems everyone everywhere is crowing about CPAC just passed. Well, there were some nice speeches. I’ll admit that. But the problem with Republicans and Conservatives is that when it comes down to it they won’t gear up and fight. They disappear like a cheap tent in a tornado. That’s why, over the long term, Democrats will win. If the incompetent and corrupt Congress does not send the nation into national bankruptcy and cause a breakup of states first, the Democrats will impose their fascist type of socialist totalitarian rule and cause a breakup after twenty or twenty-five years. Before that happens, like all totalitarian socialist dictatorships, they will have exterminated millions of Americans.

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