- - Thursday, March 13, 2014

As a constitutional conservative, I couldn’t help but come away with a lot of food for thought from what I saw and heard at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference. CPAC is the largest annual gathering of conservatives in the country — the world, for that matter — and it’s a place where you can hear conservative ideas debated and defended in truly inspiring fashion. This year’s CPAC, held just outside Washington, D.C., was one of the best I ever attended, with a large and enthusiastic gathering of young people adding energy and new ideas to the mix.

I went to CPAC looking to understand what established conservative leaders and a rising generation of new conservative stars were all about, and what their thinking was on the need for a constitutional and spiritual revival in this country. What follows are a few impressions and stray thoughts on what impressed me (and what left me less than impressed) from the CPAC experience.

  • If there was one speech that stood out for constitutional conservatives, it has to be the one given by Rick Santorum (not that the mainstream media devoted much time to the former Pennsylvania senator’s remarks). Rick Santorum gave one of the most beautiful “vision speeches” I think I have ever heard, on the importance of the family, about addressing the needs of the working class, and about where we are headed as a country. It deserves a much wider hearing.
  • I was also inspired by my own governor, Rick Perry. The Texas governor is probably the most forthright politician in the nation standing up for the bedrock principles of liberty, the 10th Amendment and the need for the states to resist the encroachments of the federal government. Rick Perry is right: The federal government should be getting out of the business of educating our children. We ought to be abolishing the Department of Education. It was Gov. Perry who best defended the idea of enumerated powers for Washington, on how our federal government has gotten too big and too institutional, and how it’s time to reverse course.
  • I don’t agree with many of his foreign policy ideas, but I have to admit that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul gave one of the best speeches on the need to return to the principles of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence that I may have ever heard. Nobody did a better job at CPAC at laying out the need for we the people to defend our rights, and nobody did a better job of pointing out how our present administration is nothing but a socialist government intent on stripping us of the basic freedoms guaranteed in those documents. It was a great constitutional speech.
  • Without naming names, I admit I was concerned with some of the other speeches I heard from the dais at CPAC, especially from some of our elected Republican leaders in Washington. Few mentioned the importance of the Constitution in their talks, and some didn’t mention the Constitution at all. They would talk about how President Obama had done this or that bad thing, but they didn’t tie it to a larger vision or world view about the need for limited government and individual liberty. One small but telling moment: One speaker bashed the disaster that is Obamacare, which we can all agree with, but went on to talk about how the federal government could do a better job overseeing health care. No! The federal government has no business being in health care at all, and any talk of “making Washington work better” only distracts us from the basic constitutional issues at stake.

All in all, it was a gathering to gladden the heart of a true conservative, and one that provided a lot of food for thought. I’ve been asked who impressed me the most or seemed the best standard-bearer to lead our movement in 2016, and my response is that it’s still very early. Conservatives are lucky this time to have a large number of talented and principled governors and officeholders to pick from in this cycle, and one big point of campaigns is to really delve into who these potential candidates are and what they believe in their hearts.

There’s still lots of time to sort out the field, but this year’s CPAC gives this constitutional conservative renewed hope we are on the right track to turn this great country around.