In which Dr. Ben Carson wows the crowd and the Tea Party gets its due: CPAC 2013 day 3

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.

Jenny Beth Martin
Jenny Beth Martin

“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.

Cong. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)
Cong. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)

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.”

Dr. Ben Carson
Dr. Ben Carson

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.

In which I get my bearings & fail at tech: CPAC day 1

National Harbor, MD

8:00 p.m.: I leave the evening banquet to others. I can see from my news feeds that Jim DeMint is getting plenty of coverage, as is Lee Greenwood’s rendition of “Proud to be an American.” Good for them.

CPAC just tweeted that Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina will be introducing Mitt Romney tomorrow. I’m glad she’s coming, even briefly. She’s one of several Republican women in office I’d like to hear more about.

One of today’s Twitter hashtags about CPAC is #RINOcon. I roll my eyes at that. RINOs here? Sure. Does that sink the whole enterprise? NO. Remember, incidentally, that CPAC is put on by a private group. No speaker, RINO or hardliner, is here without an invitation. And what a blend there is.

There was much chatter among political commentators in recent weeks about who was and wasn’t invited to CPAC. GOProud, a group of gay conservatives, was either uninvited or disinvited, I’m not sure which; but the other day their executive director’s name turned up on the schedule for a third-tier panel on inclusion within the GOP. [Note: I have since learned that GOProud participated at the invitation of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, not the American Conservative Union. That’s a distinction without a difference, as far as I’m concerned. GOProud was able to reach CPAC’s attendees no matter who had extended the invitation.] That panel was held this evening, and I missed it, but I have heard two reports of standing-room-only. Chris Christie wasn’t invited, and he said that was fine with him. Donald Trump was squeezed into the schedule at the last minute. Dr. Ben Carson, after his dynamite speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, accepted an invitation. The exhibit hall is filled with groups of libertarians, pro-lifers, tax-cutters, legal defense groups, publishers, PR firms, and even a jeweler (lovely silver jewelry from Israel), united by nothing but a broad definition of “conservative.”

Everyone here would like to see Barack Obama retired. Aside from that, it’s wide open. That matters to me. This is not a pro-life convention, but a political one. I understand that there’s no platform at the door for us to sign. Even so, this is a congenial place for a pro-lifer.

But still … “RINOcon.” Kinda catchy, don’t you think?

2:30 p.m.: Looks like the laptop can connect to the free wifi in the lobby, but not to the separate network in the convention area. Fair enough. I can post via phone in a pinch, albeit slowly. Posting photos will have to wait until this evening.

It did not surprise me that Marco Rubio and Rand Paul drew a big crowd. They were booked back-to-back in the Potomac Ballroom, which is the prime real estate. In addition to a water joke, which has become an obligatory Rubio reference ever since he picked up a bottle of Poland Spring in his response to the State of the Union address, Rubio covered all the bases. He talked about economics, the right to life, the importance of the family, and what he called “the next big bubble”: student loans. He knew his audience. As I wrote earlier, this place is full of young people. Most attendees look under age 30, and there are plenty who appear to be college-age.

Rubio’s speech ran pardonably long; what politician doesn’t want to keep talking to a supportive crowd? Paul was utterly unfazed when he finally got his turn. Huge ovation, of course; the post-filibuster glow is still on him. He carried two thick notebooks to the podium. “I was told I had ten lousy minutes. Just in case, I brought 13 hours’ worth of material.” Another ovation. Rubio has met his match as a crowd-pleaser.

Paul’s message is liberty and the Constitution. He stuck to that, never using the word “libertarian” while using “liberty” freely. He emphasized being Republican. No third-party talk from him.

Before Rubio and Rand, I came into the room in time to catch the end of a panel on the merits of a balanced budget amendment. One of the speakers was Grover Norquist, who spoke about tax policy with nearly alarming passion. I wonder if I’ll hear any speakers with comparable passion about the right to life. I’m all for controlling the amount of money I give to the government, but can we agree that life is more important?

Very serious stuff at my very first stop this morning: a screening of the 21-minute film 3801 Lancaster (see 3801lancaster.com for more information about the production). That’s the address of Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s now-closed abortion facility in Philadelphia. Gosnell is awaiting trial on eight murder charges, for the deaths of one woman and seven babies. The babies were born alive after Gosnell’s attempt to abort them, and he killed them. None of this would have come to light if investigators hadn’t entered the facility to look into suspected diversion of prescription drugs. Gosnell’s facility operated legally, as far as the state of Pennsylvania was concerned, despite having been uninspected for years, despite filthy conditions, and despite reports (which the state refused to investigate) of women being harmed. This is something to ponder when an abortion facility operator anywhere gets indignant about close scrutiny. This is an important movie that I’m afraid won’t be seen by the people who need its information most: anti-abortion-regulation lawmakers. I strongly recommend this film, although it’s tough to watch. More on this later. It rates its own post, actually.

1:20 p.m.: My morning posts are trapped in my now-disconnected laptop, victim of inadequate bandwidth. I am surrounded by happy connected bloggers who arranged for their own mifi. Smart.

Quick description of this Conservative Political Action Conference: the site is an elegant resort, lovely and large and well-staffed. It’s also horrendously expensive, which is why my sleeping quarters are in a hotel 8 miles away.
There are three tiers of programs going on simultaneously from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The heavy hitters get to speak in the main ballroom. I’m there now, in fact, awaiting speeches from Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. I’ll be spending most of my time in the quieter venues.

As with the March for Life, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the number of young people here.

Here comes Rubio, to the loudest ovation of the day so far.