Gloomy gathering for conservatives

The Baltimore Sun

This year's gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference was a largely depressing affair, where the effects of political marginalization - alienation and radicalization - could be observed among the assembled conservatives. All around me last weekend were sentiments best described as kookery. "Obama is a tyrant!" I heard more than once.

There was the sad sameness of dress and style (how I longed to see someone wearing a Led Zeppelin T-shirt); the deficit of African-American and Latino faces; and Mitt Romney buying himself another straw poll (as went a common lament).

Andrew Breitbart of and Big Hollywood fame led what at first seemed a promising panel on the dearth of conservatives in Hollywood and in the arts. But while the diagnosis is accurate - that conservatives have paid a steep political price for not engaging in the culture war as artists and entertainers - the prescriptions are both vague and ill founded. Mr. Breitbart and friends exhort conservatives to support movies and art made by other conservatives, seemingly regardless of quality. This condescends to conservative artists and in practice would lead to conservative "niche" films that preach to the choir.

Another troubling sign: Syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock gave a short but stunningly insightful address, substantively unique and strategically sound, filled with advice that Republicans desperately need to hear and heed about how to frame arguments to their advantage. The response from the CPAC crowd? Polite but listless applause. Meanwhile, Ann Coulter, who poisons our party while she fattens her purse, is feted and revered, and speaks to a rapturous and overflowing auditorium.

There were some unalloyed bright spots. Pajamas TV presented what was billed as a conservative version of The View, which I am happy to report was anything but: It was instead a thoughtful, civilized discussion featuring intelligent panelists and guests. Michelle Malkin was the highlight of this presentation - she radiated sagacity and wit and dominated the stage.

And then there was Rush Limbaugh. His speech was soaring and passionate. He exhibited a deep understanding of both the philosophical differences between the two parties and a farsighted grasp of the real-world implications of their electoral conflict (which he correctly sees must be won in the realm of ideology, not policy).

He shamed conservatives who seek to jettison or tinker with Reaganite principles in the prevailing (liberal) gale force winds: "Conservative intellectuals, the Declaration of Independence does not need to be redefined, and neither does conservatism. Conservatism is what it is, and it is forever." It is perhaps a sign of the ill health of the movement that something so fundamental need be said.

Mr. Limbaugh transcended the role of "entertainer," as he was dismissively described by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele. He was a more effective advocate for Republicanism than any of the party's elected leaders. At the end of an otherwise dreary conference, he gave the uplift that made me think that all may not be lost with my party - or my country.

Matt Patterson, a Montgomery County resident, is the author of "Union of Hearts: The Abraham Lincoln & Ann Rutledge Story." His e-mail is

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