- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

The conservative movement in America took a snapshot of itself over the weekend and liked what it saw.
It saw youth swelling its ranks, a shift in emphasis away from social issues to personal freedom, and a Republican in the White House it can embrace big-time.
"Who would have thought there would be a day when a George Bush would have a 98 percent job approval and a 96 percent personal approval rating at this conference?" said Republican strategist Tony Fabrizio, who conducted a poll of nearly 1,000 of the record 3,800 registrants at the 29th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Arlington over the weekend.
"Ten years ago, [President Bushs] father barely beat Pat Buchanan in a straw poll of this same group," Mr. Fabrizio said. "The difference is the conservatives here this time embrace this George Bush. They see him as a conservative. They're comfortable with him and they trust his leadership."
What's more, the affection for the current President Bush is deep and intense. Among conservative activists giving President Bush a nod, more than 80 percent polled "strongly approve" of his overall job performance and of the war on terrorism, Mr. Fabrizio said.
The elder Mr. Bush had disappointed conservatives and especially devotees of supply-side economics by going back on his "no new taxes" campaign pledge.
By contrast, conservatives see the younger Mr. Bush as a champion of tax cuts.
"There is a supply-side mole in the administration, and his name is George W. Bush," economist Lawrence Kudlow said in a CPAC speech, drawing whoops of approval.
As for the conservative movement's priorities, the issue that drew the largest plurality in the poll was fighting terrorism, with 38 percent listing it as either the most important or second-most important task for Mr. Bush and Congress. Cutting taxes and reducing wasteful federal spending 30 percent each placed second, followed by rebuilding the military at 25 percent.
Only 13 percent listed prohibiting abortion, and 9 percent said addressing the decline in moral values were top priorites.
CPAC audiences gave loud applause to speakers like Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association and Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, who addressed concerns about governmental intrusions on individual freedom and privacy.
Speakers and attendees alike remarked on the high level of enthusiasm at this year's CPAC, where activists packed the hotel ballroom each day. Crowds turned out for every panel and speaker, not just for favorites like Lynn Cheney, the vice president's wife; National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice; and former Republican presidential nomination candidate Alan Keyes.
The conference showed a great deal of diversity among conservatives.
"Anybody who defines the conservative movement as a bunch of old white men hasn't been to this year's CPAC," said Christian Josi, executive director of the American Conservative Union. "You have all races, ages, backgrounds here, and people from foreign countries."
Even the old white men were struck by the large number of young faces at CPAC
"The thing that struck me here was the number of young college students," said longtime television host Art Linkletter, 89. "They re bright. They were asking questions and taking notes."
Conference organizers estimated that nearly half the participants this year were age 35 or younger.
The assembled activists did not abandon their traditional role as critics on the right. But their objections were aimed not at Mr. Bush but at his aides and Cabinet members, just as during the Reagan presidency, when conservatives pleaded with his aides to "let Reagan be Reagan."
Mr. Kudlow, for example, criticized Bush advisers for not counseling him to take a tougher stand against congressional Democrats who opposed his tax cuts.
Conservatism also appears to have grown more self-confident, and even the absence of a clear movement leader both the president and vice president declined to attend did not dim the optimism at CPAC.
"For some reason, we got the mentality along the way that conservatism was about leaders and it never was," Mr. Keyes said. "It was always about the grass roots, about people who had decided to move for themselves and then created the leaders who corresponded to their needs. We have vital grass-roots organizations around the country."


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