It’s over. The 50th Annual Conservative Political Action Conference has ended, and it was everything I’d hoped and feared it would be. Once again, it wasn’t far from being great. I just wish it were.
I look forward to it every year, and hate it while it’s happening. I’ve never thought much about why before, but this year, it hit me. It’s an opportunity that far too often is wasted.
I’m a cynical person, always have been. So while that may be a part of this, it only clouds my attitude, not my thoughts.
CPAC brings together thousands of conservatives from across the country and around the world, which is important. They’re all engaged or interested in politics to one degree or another, but they’re all underserved by CPAC, and they underserve each other.
We’re all there for our own reasons – the engaged attendees, the speakers, the elected officials, the pundits – and some of it has to do with egos. And this leads many of the biggest stars to insulate themselves from the general audience either by having staff run interference for them or by never entering areas where they could interact with actual attendees.
This is understandable to a certain extent – they’re busy people, especially the politicians. But CPAC doesn’t sneak up on anyone. If they truly wanted to take the time to speak with real activists and college kids who, at least for a weekend, view themselves as future leaders, they could do so in heartbeat. But they don’t.
Most members of Congress – be they ballroom speakers or just there to hit radio row – blow through CPAC, do their business and leave. They may do a book signing or a VIP meet-and-greet. But aside from some glad-handing as they walk the halls, they don’t often take the time to engage the real people who’ve traveled long distances and spent a lot of money to be there. For most attendees a quick selfie with someone they admire is enough, especially in this social media-obsessed culture where it didn’t happen if you didn’t tweet a picture of it. But it doesn’t move the ball.
It’s getting harder and harder to go to CPAC and be inspired. There are stirring speeches and red meat flung from the stage to a hungry crowd. But it makes little difference anymore. Maybe it’s because I’ve heard it all before, sometimes from the same people. But it just didn’t resonate.
There was no call to arms, no call to action, just fiery speeches that were a mile-wide and an inch deep. To those of us who work in politics, it was boring; to those who don’t, it was empty calories.