10 Crazy Things Heard at CPAC, the Giant Right-Wing Confab
At the Conservative Political Action Conference, the large annual gathering of right-wing activists and followers, people say a lot of crazy things -- too many, in fact, for me to cram into a single story. So I’ve picked a random 10 -- random insofar as they were among those I came across both in my own time at this enormous conference in Oxon Hill, Md., at the Gaylord National Harbor Convention Center just outside of Washington, D.C., and in reading the work of my fellow journalists and muckrakers. The conference took place March 14 - 16.
Presented, in no particular order, are 10 statements worthy, at least, of an eyeroll.
1. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana: Torture is funny. A featured speaker on CPAC's main stage, Jindal chose to make light this way of the barrage of political rhetoric CPAC attendees signed up to subject themselves to:
If the choice was to hear 70 political speeches or to go waterboarding, well, I’d have to think about that.
2. Charles Butler, conservative talk show host: Single-parent households the fault of women with an agenda "on the booty call." At a breakout session titled "Fatherless America: The Headwaters of Poverty, Crime & Social Dysfunction," Butler laid the problem of single-parent families squarely at the feet of women, who, he suggested, are essentially tricking men into have children they don't want (because apparently most men have never heard of condoms):
I’ve had two instances that were very close to me where this fatherless thing comes into play. Michael Jordan is a personal friend of mine -- Michael Jordan the basketball player, and a woman just filed a paternity suit against him for supposedly having this child out of wedlock. You have to understand that this woman that he had this child with, supposedly, was a sex instructor, so she clearly knew how babies got here. But she chose to have a baby because of money: Michael Jordan’s a multimillionaire. How many of you remember the slide on Sports Illustrated with a picture of a little baby and the caption, "Where’s my daddy?"
Well, these women chose to have babies on their own on the booty call. I just hate to break it down like that, but that’s exactly what happened. There was not two words mentioned: “love” or “marry.” Now, believe me, black men know how to ask someone to marry them...I’ve seen too many times when they’ve either been forced into marrying a woman they didn’t want to marry, or being an absentee father.
3. Pamela Geller, professional Islamophobe: I am the queen of substance -- unlike you birthers. Her claim to fame is the fearmongering she spearheaded over plans for an Islamic community center that was to have been built in a repurposed department store several blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, whose buildings were destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and more recently for hateful, anti-Palestinian ads she placed in bus shelters.
So when Geller was denied a speaking slot on the CPAC stage, she immediately claimed that Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, one of the conference sponsors, was in league with the Muslim Brotherhood, and her absence from the stage was evidence of the spread of Shariah law throughout America. And we haven't even gotten to the real crazy yet.
That happened when Orly 'Queen of the Birthers' Taitz turned up at the sideshow breakout panel to which Geller had been relegated, demanding to know why Geller's panel wasn't addressing the urgent issue of President Obama's birth certificate. Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald was in the room, and captured some of the excitement on video. From Salon's Jillian Rayfield:
“I think there’s enough substance on this panel, I mean how many topics can you handle?” Pamela Geller, the blogger for Atlas Shrugged, shot back. “Inappropriate, really.”
4. Sarah Palin, former vice presidential candidate, former Alaska governor, former Fox News analyst: Dog-whistling the birthers. So, OK, maybe Palin's remark, delivered during her big speech on CPAC's final day, is more nasty than crazy, but it's notable because of the clever way it shouts out to the Taitz crowd without really appearing to. In the context of her opposition to universal background checks for the purchase of a firearm, Palin had this to say:
"And background checks?" she asked. "Yeah, to learn more about a person's thinking, associations and intentions? Background checks? Dandy idea, Mr. President. We should've started with yours."
5. Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and CEO, Tea Party Patriots: Obamacare is just like The Hunger Games. Speaking Saturday from the main stage at CPAC, Martin described the Affordable Care Act this way:
Our country's equivalent to The Hunger Games' tribute will be the patients who die under this law.
6. Wayne LaPierre, CEO, National Rifle Association: The government wants to keep records of your guns so the Chinese can hack them. Or something. "And they call us crazy." There was so much crazy in what Slate's David Weigel dubbed the CRAZY WAYNE act that we cannot contain it all here. Although I was in the room at the time, I'll leave it to The Atlantic Wire's Elspeth Reeve to describe it:
Despite portraying the NRA as a beacon of sanity in crazy Washington, LaPierre veered into conspiracy theories. The Second Amendment isn't just an American right, he said, it's the right that protects all other rights: "If you aren't free to protect yourself when the government puts its thumb on that freedom, then you're not free at all." He was not speaking in hypotheticals. LaPierre railed against universal background checks on gun purchases, which just passed a key Senate committee vote. Universal background checks is a gateway to a universal list of gun owners, LaPierre said. "Why build a list of all the good people? As if that would somehow make us safer from violent criminals or homicidal maniacs! ... What's the point of registering lawful gun owners anyway?" He offered a few theories: So newspapers can print names of gun owners for gangs to access, so the list can be hacked by the Chinese, so the list can be handed over to the Mexican government — "Oh, by the way, they've already requested it!"
At least four times, LaPierre chanted: "And they call us crazy." (If you're a Twitter geek, check out the #theycalluscrazy hashtag.)
One of LaPierre's rants was over the government's ostensible refusal to prevent people with certain mental illnesses from getting guns. Weigel reveals that LaPierre was one of the people who made sure it would stay that way. (Perhaps he's afraid he'll make the list, with all those people calling him crazy.)
7. Scott Terry, white segregationist from North Carolina: Slaves should have been grateful for food and shelter. All right, so perhaps it's not entirely fair to hold CPAC accountable for every wacko who purchased a ticket, but there's a telling aspect to this outburst from an attendee, and that's that it took place during a breakout session on how Tea Partiers should handle charges of racism. At a session titled "Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You're Not One?", Scott Terry rocked the question-and-answer session this way, according to Scott Keyes and Zack Beauchamp of ThinkProgress:
The exchange occurred after an audience member from North Carolina, 30-year-old Scott Terry, asked whether Republicans could endorse races remaining separate but equal. After the presenter, K. Carl Smith of Frederick Douglass Republicans, answered by referencing a letter by Frederick Douglass forgiving his former master, the audience member said “For what? For feeding him and housing him?” Several people in the audience cheered and applauded Terry’s outburst.
After the exchange, Terry muttered under his breath, “Why can’t we just have segregation?”, noting the Constitution’s protections for freedom of association.
8. Dinesh D'Souza, outsted Christian college president, filmmaker and author: One problem with liberalism is the notion that slavery involved the theft of labor from African Americans. Again with the slavery. Sigh.
Riding high on right-wing acceptance of his theory that Barack Obama's worldview is shaped by Kenyan anticolonial sentiment against Great Britain, D'Souza is expanding his theory to include all of liberal America, which, according to him, imported the anticolonial worldview in the 1960s, and thus came to ostensibly regard all wealth as a form of theft. (This is apparently not to be confused with the good anticolonial worldview of the founding fathers, who decried, in the Declaration of Independence, how King George "plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.")
Given the success on the right-wing conference circuit of his book about Obama's purported Kenyan resentment, and his movie on the same subject, 2016: Obama's America, D'Souza showed a film clip from a forthcoming picture in which he promises to make "a moral case" for what he calls "the free enterprise system," one that is designed to counter all this theft nonsense. (Apparently, slavery was just an entrepreneurial exercise on the part of the slave-traders.) From D'Souza's remarks, delivered on the main stage at CPAC on Saturday:
It isn’t just some Kenyan thing, isn’t just some foreign thing. Anti-colonialism has come to American in the ‘60s. It’s part of American liberalism. And if you listen to the liberal story of America, it is a story of what? Theft. How did we get America? We stole it from the Indians. Slavery is, in a sense, seen as stealing the free labor of African-Americans. And so the whole story of America is a story of oppression. This is the liberal argument in its broad scale, and it needs to be answered. And in our film, we intend to answer it.
Now this is not just, I should say, about the makers and the takers....so the core idea is that free enterprise is a form of theft. We have to make the moral case for free enterprise and for America. A conservatism that did that would be a conservatism that is viable and powerful again.
Watch the C-SPAN video, and you'll also be treated to the metaphor of Barack Obama as a lion-tamer. In that vein, were D'Souza more enchanting, we might view him as a snake-charmer.
9. Angela Logosmasini, senior fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute: Cloth grocery bags can kill you. This champion of "free enterprise" has a message for you: plastics are under assault, and only you can save them. And if you don't, their replacements might just kill you. Like pod people.
During a panel discussion on the CPAC main stage titled "How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Plastic Water Bottles, Fracking, Genetically Modified Food & Big Gulp Sodas" (no, I didn't make that up), Logosmasini made the case that the use of plastic grocery bags saves lives, because if they become contaminated, no big whup, they're getting tossed, in all their contaminated goodness, into a landfill. Meanwhile, she said, people were dying because they weren't washing their cloth grocery bags enough, thereby catching E.coli and other food-borne illnesses from their grocery bags. She did not, alas, call for better regulation of food safety. In her remarks, Logosmasini mentioned a study that a cursory Google search found quoted widely by right-wing writers:
One of the biggest casualties of the nanny state is plastics...Those bags can gather disease, pick up E.coli and other things from your food, and you have to wash them. You’re supposed to be constantly washing these things -- well, people don’t do that. A University of Pennsylvania study just found that in San Francisco, after they banned the plastic bag, hospital admissions for E.coli and food-borne disease went up by a quarter, and so did the death rate.
10. Katie Kieffer, columnist, Townhall.com: Obamacare is sexist because you get free birth control. As part of an anti-feminism panel titled, "The Right View...and the REAL Issues" (apparently meant to be CPAC's answer to the Barbara Walters television show, The View), Kieffer offered a sort of affirmation Charles Butler's "booty call" comments (although Butler apparently believes the birth control he sees as the responsibility of booty-call-mama should be paid for by her). Brian Tashman blogged Kieffer's comments at Right Wing Watch:
Naturally, columnist Katie Kieffer later called Obamacare “sexist” because it expands access to birth control, which she believes lets men get women pregnant or give women STDs without feeling any responsibility. “Obamacare is sexist because it puts guys off the hook,” Kieffer explained, “all he has to do is say, oh, that’s not my fault; you should have been using Obama’s free birth control.”
So, there you have a mere sampling of CPAC crazy. I'm sure I missed a lot, having chronicled the right for far too long. Spend enough time in these rooms, and you've heard the same crazy things so many times that you cease to notice them anymore. And as the din grows ever louder, the very same phenomenon could numb the body politic. The danger lies not only in the crazy, but in its ceaseless repetition.