So Rand Paul won the CPAC straw poll, squeaking out a victory over Marco Rubio, with no other contender coming close. Good to see two pro-life politicians scoring big. I’d feel even better if I thought their pro-life stands accounted for the 1-2 finish.
On this last day of CPAC, I left early so I could do some sightseeing. I was sorry to miss Sarah Palin, but while I was there, some powerful pro-life speakers graced the main stage. Here was one speaker after another asserting the importance of the life issues. Here were top-tier speakers criticizing the HHS mandate and calling out the current Administration for its attacks on religious freedom. Here were people who get it.
Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots opened the program, with the room half-full, but that half was wildly enthusiastic. Just when I thought she was going to give ten dreary minutes on the debt and the evils of financial profligacy, she segued into the “Affordable” Care Act and skewered it.
“The Affordable Care Act is a con, callous and cruel. People will die under this law.” She exhorted her listeners to fight for life and liberty. She made no reference to the GOP. I’d sum her up this way: fight for liberty, and let the GOP figure out where it stands on that.
Michele Bachmann was returned to Congress last November by her Minnesota district. She hasn’t lost her edge. By the time she took the stage, the hall was nearly full, and she knew how to work that crowd.
Rare among speakers, she attacked President Obama by name (not just saying “the Administration” or “the Democrats”) for one bad policy after another. With the notable exception of Marco Rubio, she was the only top-tier speaker I heard to cover many bases in her allotted fifteen minutes rather than stick to one topic. She was nearly drowned out by applause several times. She definitely understands the threat to religious freedom posed by Obamacare, and she knows how to sound an alarm.
By 10:00, the room was packed and the media pen was busy. Everyone wanted to hear from Dr. Ben Carson, who so memorably used the National Prayer Breakfast to take the President to task when the President was only two seats away.
Carson took the stage along with author Eric Metaxas, and Metaxas got to go first. He launched straight into the current attacks on religious freedom. “We are not talking about freedom of worship, which is radically different from freedom of religion.” He encouraged listeners to read and sign the Manhattan Declaration (read it here), which was drafted and signed by numerous American religious leaders of a variety of faiths who were troubled about the increasing pressure to render to Caesar those things which are properly God’s, beginning with individual conscience. Regarding the HHS mandate, Metaxas asserted “it has everything to do with religious freedom.” He said that even though he is not Catholic, he must defend the religious principles of Catholics who are fighting the mandate.
He went on to recognize that legal redefinitions of marriage are also attacks on religious freedom. He asked aloud today a question that has concerned me for quite awhile: “what is the government going to do to churches that dissent from the redefinition of marriage?” He noted that the GOP inexplicably failed to make the case for religious freedom in the last election. “We’ve been so blessed with religious freedom that we hardly recognize what it is anymore.”
Dr. Carson then took the microphone and quipped, “Eric made it unnecessary for me to talk about political correctness.” His style is far less fiery than that of Bachmann or Martin, but he had the crowd in the palm of his hand on the strength of his Prayer Breakfast speech. If you heard that speech, then you already know the substance of his talk today. It was interesting to hear him describe the wide range of responses he got to that speech. There was a lot of support, of course, “but I also got nasty-grams calling me the n-word for challenging the President.”
By way of advice, he said conservatives need to be proactive rather than reactive. He offered as an example the scholarship fund he and his wife set up 17 years ago for kids who do well academically and who also do humanitarian work. No whining, he seemed to be saying; get out there and work. “Americans have always been generous. We take care of our own. It is not the government’s responsibility, it is our responsibility.” He further advised, “We have to resist this war on God.”
Carson is retiring from medical practice in June, and Metaxas asked him about his plans. Carson was coy. That tells me he’s planning to test the presidential waters, as if the Prayer Breakfast speech hadn’t already established that.
Thus ends my three-day report from the field. Tomorrow I’ll be back home, ready to tell our home crew of legislators what to do. It’s been interesting, though, to hear from the people who will be coming to New Hampshire before 2016 in search of volunteers and money and votes. I hope we’ll welcome them, listen politely to their pitches, and then insist on a firm stand on the right to life.