The Conservative Political Action Conference is the annual king-making and agenda-setting conference for the far right. It was started by the American Conservative Union in 1973, with Ronald Reagan as one of its first speakers. This year, it takes place at Gaylord Convention Center (heh) in Maryland. We sent Wilbert there to see what all the fuss was about.
My first few hours at CPAC felt a little like being at New York Fashion Week—white people everywhere were asking to take my picture. Even though I’m partial to Mars Blackmon’s explanation for everything, I don’t think it was my shoes. But it may have been the color of my skin.
When I told a tall Southerner wearing a pinstripe suit and a wide novelty tie who asked to take my picture this morning, that I wasn't at CPAC because I loved fracking, free markets, and Jesus, that I was there to report for a magazine, the gentleman looked a little disappointed. He stuck out his bottom lip, and then off he went, looking for the next one I guess, which is a pretty tough bid considering most of the blacks at Gaylord Convention Center this week are working as valet parkers. Despite the talk of creating a “bigger tent” for conservativism after Obama whooped the GOP's collective ass in the last presidential election, I haven’t seen many black folks actually running around the conference. But can you blame my brothers? Who wants to hear that their vote was bought by Obama due to their race-based laziness? Black dudes should, however, come to CPAC for the white women. It’s probably got something to do with the conservative red-meat diet ’cause these girls have way more junk in the trunk than your average kale-chomping liberal.
Despite the absence of blacks in the audience, I’ve already seen a ton of brothers on the main stage. Clearly, even though the movement is fairly monochromatic, conservatives want to highlight their diversity and reassure everyone (and maybe themselves) that they aren't racist—which is probably why everyone and his momma wants a photo op with me. In the first couple hours of the conference, they had a black dude say the Pledge of Allegiance, and Allen West was the first prominent politician to give a speech.
Watching West was sort of fun for me because I’ve been told I favor him. However, after hearing the former congressman from Florida—who has been dubbed “Uncle” Allen West in black barbershops across America—I can definitively say there is no relation between me and him. For what it’s worth, his speech was a superb piece of oration—he brought out historical allusions, emotional anecdotes, and his Ving Rhames-like baritone whipped the crowd into an emotional peak. But he also painted a completely delusional picture of our country and reinforced the same delusional messages that got his party into trouble during the last presidential election.
During the nearly 20-minute speech, West told an anecdote about a rich man and a poor man standing on a street corner together. The wealthy guy is decked out in lavish Burberry (for the record, I think Burberry is tacky unless it is Prorsum), and the poor guy has nothing but a few scraps of paper in his pocket. To West, this odd pairing represented freedom and opportunity. But, as he explained, it represented inequality to Democrats and liberals, which was a backward and freedom-stifling perspective. The only problem is that most of America agrees with the Democrats—six out of ten Americans think the guy in the tacky Burberry shit isn’t pulling his fair share and actually needs to pay more in taxes.
Later, he echoed Mitt Romney’s notorious "47 percent" and “gifts” comments, saying, ”When more Americans prefer freebies to freedom, these great United States will become a fertile ground for tyranny.” The truth is that Americans didn’t vote for Obama because they wanted freebies, they just want more of an opportunity to succeed on their own terms. And austerity measures in the time of a recession, which was caused largely by reckless wealthy people who remain wealthy, is going to stifle what little growth there is.
But perhaps the most puzzling statement made by West this morning was his one comment on race. He said, “There is nothing on this green earth that liberal progressives fear more than a black American who wants a better life and a smaller government.”
And while I agree that black conservatives in the cut are a scary sight, I don’t think Democrats have to worry about a million-man march of brothers who want to repeal the Voting Rights Act or take away Obamacare. Republicans need to learn that just putting a black face on the same old messages doesn’t actually change the message or attract new people. It just makes the people you are trying to reach think that you don't actually respect their intelligence. Until they understand that, CPAC is going to have to start grabbing folks out of the kitchens and janitor closets of Gaylord Convention Center to get the diverse faces they need for their photo ops.
Stay tuned to VICE for more CPAC updates from Wilbert. In the meantime, check these out: