In years past, the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) has earned the nickname "Crazy People's Action Committee" with its right wing religious fanaticism. Speakers at CPAC conferences have used the opportunity to warn against the Homosexual Menace and the way "undermedicated" "psychotic" leftists were destroying the judiciary by only allowing "activist judges" to sit on the bench. It was about abortion, it was about evolution in schools, it was about how the only way to be a good person was to be a good Republican Christian.
A lot has been said about this year's CPAC conference -- which wrapped up this weekend -- but one thing that few have noted is the toned-down nature of the religious lunacy. It was still the Crazy People's Action Committee, but the craziness has shifted focus. Feverish warnings of God's judgment have been replaced with feverish warnings of creeping socialism -- which, in CPAC World is synonymous with communism, which in turn equals fascism. That fascism was an anti-communist movement is lost on these people since, let's face it, the audience they're speaking to are as ignorant as they are crazy. Where CPAC used to be a gathering of religious nutjobs, it's now become a gathering of people like Joe the Plumber.
So I guess the good news is that if you ever needed proof the conservative movement was abandoning the religious right in droves, I give you the 2009 CPAC conference. The bad news is that this doesn't mean they're any saner. Not that the movement conservatives have moved away from the religious right entirely -- you can still find groups claiming that homosexuality can be "cured" with prayer -- but it's clear that they're no longer front and center in that movement.
Still, as the lunacy shifts focus, it becomes no saner nor closer to the mainstream. Mitt Romney, for example, won the conference's straw poll -- making it two consecutive wins for Mittens. After winning last year's poll, Willard went on to fail to buy the Republican primary with masive infusions of his own money. Clearly, CPAC doesn't represent even the mainstream among Republican voters.
But the real news comes from a split in the movement. On one side, there's Newt Gingrich, who argues that conservatives need to offer better policies (while, in actuality, offering recycled ideas from the past).
Meanwhile, the Pasha of GOPerstan -- Rush Limbaugh -- disagrees. Conservatives don't need better ideas. In fact, that's crazy talk. Not surprisingly, the nation's leading reactionary advocates a reactionary strategy. "Well, the one thing, and there are many, but one thing that we can all do is stop assuming that the way to beat them is with better policy ideas right now," Rush said. "I don’t want to name any names. It’s not the point. But I talk to people about the Obama budget or the Obama Porkulous bill or whatever else TARP 2 whatever it’s going to be, and they start talking to me in the terms of process and policy. I say stop it."
Don't talk about policy, don't talk about governing. Who needs ideas? You just stand against everything that voters gave government a mandate to do in the last two elections, then watch a grateful populace sweep you back into power.
Like I said, the Crazy People's Action Committee.
This is where the Republican party finds itself these days. It doesn't actually stand for anything, it just stands against things. It's been developing for a long, long time, this self-definition by what they oppose. You could probably trace it back to the redbaiting from the '50s. That list of things they oppose has grown over the years; abortion, gays, immigrants, Muslims, environmentalists, the secular-minded, science, liberals, taxes, peaceniks, feminists, the poor, college professors, intellectuals, the United Nations, France, people who say "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas," etc. How do you know when you're right? When you disagree with someone from that long list. Follow your jerking knee.
In other words, Rush is advocating that the GOP become the backseat driver -- because everyone likes that so much. Criticize, oppose, but never, ever offer a legitimate alternative. Better ideas are for chumps.
Of course, Limbaugh's strategy offers no way forward. Successful obstructionism means no progress whatsoever. It means getting your truck stuck in a ditch. This is the base's version of success -- a sort of forced stasis.
I've always said that when a conservative talks about change, it means they want to change things back. In right wing world, things used to be perfect, until liberals came along and screwed with everything. Change has always been bad, so American society should be unchanging -- like a fly trapped in amber. No forward movement should ever be allowed.
If the Crazy People's Action Committee conference has showed us anything, it's that the conservative base has absolutely nothing in common with the average voter. They may have shifted away from the religious right, but they're still the same distance from the center as they've always been. The Republican party continues to court the fringe at the expense of the majority and that can't possibly work out well for them in the long run.