Call it the Sarah Palin effect: Last year, the National Rifle Association’s annual convention held its main series of speakers — the Celebration of American Values — at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, home of the NBA Bobcats and site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, with a capacity of 19,000.
This year, with a selection of lower-profile speakers — Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, John Bolton, and Herman Cain among them — the Celebration of American Values was held in the Pittsburgh Convention Center’s ballroom — a large room, no doubt, but a significantly smaller venue. And even then, the room was half-full when the speakers began.
The politics started early; Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, began by saying he wanted to make sure the assembled crowd was “in the right place.” Showcasing the National Journal cover of Obama with the label “Hopefulness,” he said, “If you want five and half more years of this, you may want to leave.” Showing a picture of Attorney General Eric Holder, he said, “If this is your idea of law and order, you may want to head to the doors.” Then showing an unflattering photo of Bill and Hillary Clinton, he said, “If this is your definition of bliss . . . then I don’t know what to tell you.” He concluded with a photo of the United Nations flag, declaring, “If this is the flag that holds your loyalty, you’re not even in the right country.”
Larry Potterfield, CEO of Midway firearms manufacturer & NRA donor: “The election isn’t until next year, but I can’t wait.”
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, usually among the conference’s most strident speakers, actually avoided any mention of the 2012 elections. Instead, he obliquely addressed the widespread tsk-tsking about “extreme” and “inflammatory” rhetoric after the Tucson shooting.
“We know how to play their game. President Obama or Michael Bloomberg or some other official trots out on television to scold people to watch their words, that they might pose some threat of violence. And Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Diane Sawyer, they drive home the story on the networks. We know every word spoken today and throughout the weekend is going to be scrutinized by our opponents. We will choose our words carefully and appropriately,” he declared (with perhaps a wee bit too much confidence that Uncle Ted won’t go off message). “Let me make this perfectly clear: We will never back away from our resolve to defend the rights of all law-abiding gun owners in this country!”
So far three governors have issued video greetings to the convention, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett, Texas governor Rick Perry, and Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, who addressed this conference in person last year. By far the most eye-catching came from Perry, who began and closed his remarks by firing a rifle at the LaRue Tactical gun range.