Monday, March 02, 2015


CPAC in Black (and Brown)

It's been a few years since I went down to DC to revel in the madness that is CPAC (or "Comic-Con for conservatives" as told one friend somewhat unfamiliar with the goings-on). The last time Newt was one of the speakers. He was greeted like the rock star he once was (he entered the hall to Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger.").

Anyway, I hadn't planned on attending this year, but my old Capitol Hill friend Ron Christie asked me to participate in a panel he was moderating called, "The Content of Your Character." Oh, my, what on earth might that be about? Yep, it's another "outreach" thing. Seriously? Haven't we done enough of those. Does anything really change in Republican/conservative environments on that topic? And, oh, yeah, they scheduled us for 3 PM on Saturday, near the end of the third full day. Many people would already be heading for the exits. Do I really need to put myself through this?

But, Ron asked me and, hey, the principles of improv urge you to say, "Yes." (Uh, Robert, remember that definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result!)  I chatted with Ron on Friday and told him, if I was going to do this, I'd do it on my terms and say what *I* wanted to say -- not just recite the same old pablum attendees at these gatherings always get.

Anyway, that's what I did. Besides Ron and myself, the panel included Mercedes ("Mercy") Schlapp, wife of CPAC's organizer Matt. Her parents fled Cuba when Castro took over; I met her mother. The memory and the anger is still there. Though I fall into that camp who believes U.S. policy toward Cuba must change, it's hardly a clear-cut case on either side.  Mercedes warned conservatives that, regardless of where they stood on the issue of immigration, the tone they adopted was as important as the policy itself. The fourth person was Patrice Lee, a smart attractive young woman from the organization Generation Opportunity -- a free-market Millenals-focused group. She looked at criminal justice issues as something that could open doors to some in the minority community. Patrice also revealed that she was from the Caribbean island of Monserat. Thankfully, she's Protestant, so I didn't have to lose my "Catholic West Indian black Republican" line!

While we each included biographical moments in our remarks, I tried to focus more on getting Republicans off of the old "Party of Lincoln" baloney candidates inevitably start presenting when they campaign in front of "communities of color." As I said, I'm glad that you support Lincoln's freeing of the slaves, but seriously, what do you have to say to black communities today?

This sentiment also extends to the even-more-prevalent "Party of Reagan" line. I asked how many attendees were born after 1989: About two-thirds of the audience hands went up. These young kids weren't even alive when Ronald Reagan was president. So, why is it "Reagan this, Reagan that" for GOP candidates. I didn't get a chance to make this point, but it's interesting to note that Democrats rarely refer to themselves as the "Party of Roosevelt" or "Kennedy" or "Carter" (uh, well, scratch that one). Next year, they may talk "Party of Clinton," but that's a special case. Democrats do celebrate their legislative legacies...Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights Act, etc. But not the personalities.

Perhaps Republicans might consider doing the same, if they're looking to capture the next generation of voters?

Our CPAC panel can be seen here:

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