Editor’s Note: CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, took place last week, at a Greater D.C. resort. Jay Nordlinger’s journal concludes today. For the first three installments, go here, here, and here.
Wayne LaPierre has an extremely important job, as head of the NRA. He is de facto the No. 1 spokesman for gun rights in the country. And gun rights are widely misunderstood. They have to be defended, or explained. The Second Amendment has to be explained.
There are lots of people irreconcilably hostile to gun rights, that’s true. But plenty of people, believe me, are confused, or simply ignorant. They are reachable. Pro-gunners should not write them off.
Here at CPAC, when LaPierre speaks of gun rights, he is on very solid ground. He knows the subject, definitely. (He’d better!)
Let me single out a line I like: “Your First Amendment right is not a license to kill the Second Amendment with lies.” I believe these words are directed to the media, primarily.
I also like the name of an NRA program that LaPierre mentions: Refuse to Be a Victim. When I was in high school or college, someone explained to me that gun rights and feminism ought to be connected: A gun gives a small woman a fighting chance against a physically overpowering aggressor.
In the course of his remarks, LaPierre says something about what the Obama administration has done with the IRS. The administration, he says, has “weaponized the IRS.”
I wonder if he’s aware of the current radioactivity of the word “weaponize” in British politics. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, was caught saying that he and his party were going to “weaponize the NHS” in the coming political campaign.
The NHS is the National Health Service. What Miliband meant, of course, was that Labour was going to turn the service into a weapon against the Conservative party. The prime minister, Cameron, and his fellow Conservatives have made great hay out of this.
Where LaPierre goes wrong, in my opinion, is in a quasi-conspiratorial view of government. He paints the government as a kind of secret society, dedicated to screwing the Common Man. He is contributing to a paranoia, I sense.
“The media can’t be trusted,” he says. Well, some outlets can’t. Others can, by and large. A person needs to be an aware consumer of media, as of everything else. But true pictures emerge, from an aware reading of the media.
“Our leaders lie to us,” says LaPierre. Sometimes they do. But politicians are people like everyone else, and some of them are honest as the day is long, and some of them are shifty. Let me name three politicians off the top of my head (all Republicans!): Paul Ryan, Rob Portman, and George W. Bush. All three have made mistakes, being human. But dishonest? Hell no.
‐Jeb Bush takes the stage, with Sean Hannity. Bush will not give a speech. He will take questions from Sean.
Greeting Bush are some boos, as well as cheers. The cheers are much louder. But the boos stand out, because they are unusual. I don’t recall that anyone else was booed at this conference, so far.
Early in the Q&A, Bush talks about reaching out — reaching out to people who don’t know that they are Republican or conservative. “There are conservatives who haven’t been asked,” is the way Bush puts it. A lot of people — millions, surely — don’t know they’re conservative. When you point out that they are, they may gulp, or grin.
You know who is especially good at “reaching out”? Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico. She’d better be good at it: She’s a conservative Republican, and she works in a 3-to-1 Democratic state.
(At least New Mexico was that, when she first ran. I think the numbers may be better, for Republicans, now. More like 2-to-1.)
Jeb Bush has proven himself good at this reaching out, too.
Let me pause for a language note: When Bush says “Latino,” or “Latinos,” he says it in a Spanish way. I think he should adjust, when speaking English. Otherwise, he might wind up pronouncing “Nicaragua” like Peter Jennings.
(The late ABC anchorman had the habit of pronouncing “Nicaragua” with a Spanish inflection, when airing his reports denigrating the Contras.)
Bush has what many on the right consider a squishy position on immigration — but he talks about immigration in a conservative way. He says he wants certain illegals to have a “pathway to citizenship” (if I’ve heard him correctly). But, in exchange, they have to “work hard, learn English, get no government assistance, and make a contribution to America.”
Those are conservative values, regarded as racist, of course, by doofuses and jerks.
As I listen to Bush, it occurs to me that he’s consistent. He is talking exactly like he talked to me in a 2011 interview. (That interview is an hour long, on video, and found here.)
In the first few minutes of the Jeb-Sean confab, members of the audience keep shouting out “Common Core!” — as if Sean were going to forget to raise this issue, and Bush were not going to address it. That’s kind of funny.
A note on appearance — physical appearance. Jeb Bush is thin as hell. Obviously, he is running for president.
Nixon used to say, “You know Teddy is gearing up to run, when he’s slimming down.” I know a veteran political consultant who says, “When I meet a politician for lunch and he orders the salmon, I figure he’s running. If he orders the steak, he’s not.”
With his new trim physique and a certain style of glasses, Jeb looks rather like Tom Brokaw, the onetime NBC anchorman.
Here is another language note on Bush: He begins many sentences with “Here’s the deal.” We all have our linguistic habits. (Lord knows I do.) Bush should limit those “Here’s the deal”s, if he can.
Sean brings up the issue of immigrants and jobs: With so many Americans out of work, why should we have immigrants, legal and illegal, taking jobs? I will give Bush’s answer, in paraphrase:
“It’s the Left’s view that the economy is a pie — finite. That’s not our view. They think that the economy is a pie, so that if someone has a slice, someone else is deprived of a slice. The government divvies up this pie, handing out certain crumbs. That’s not our view. We know that the economy is not a pie but a dynamic thing, which can grow or shrink depending on the wisdom of our policies.”
Obviously, Sean brings up Common Core, and obviously, Bush has answers. He’s informed to the gills. He has vast experience.
I offer a tip to the anti-Bush Right: If you want to trip him up, if you want to embarrass him, don’t bring up education policy. He knows about 50 times more than the rest of us. Education is his specialty. He has devoted much of his life to it. He knows as much as a think-tanker who spends full time on the subject. If you want to trip up Jeb, pick something else.
A final note on the candidate, a physical note: He gestures with his arms like W. They are indeed related.
‐I see Rick Santorum in a corridor, followed by a gaggle of media. Good for him. Apparently, he is running for president again. I think of something that Reagan once said — he said it to Lou Cannon, the famed journalist and biographer, who relayed it to me: “You don’t want to be a Stassen.” You don’t want to run for president, unsuccessfully, over and over. You don’t want to be a perennial candidate.
But if I personally had even a ghost of a chance, it would be hard to keep me off the campaign trail, let me tell you. I understand. Plus, I’d like the mere activity — the campaigning.
(Jeane Kirkpatrick once explained why she hesitated to run for president: “It’s not the schlepping, it’s the asking.” She wouldn’t have minded the traveling around. It would have been hard to ask for money. I understand that entirely. I’d rather slit my throat than ask for money.)
‐Here at CPAC, Jim Geraghty, Charlie Cooke, and I have done podcast interviews with a slew of figures. We have done them both for National Review and for Ricochet. I will throw the links at you — in order of their posting, on Ricochet. I’ll just name the names, and have links under the names.
Here is a little threesome, pardon the expression, that Jim, Charlie, and I did.
Herb London, the educator, writer, and activist. Bill Flores, a congressman from Texas. John Bolton, the onetime U.N. ambassador. Grover Norquist, the tax reformer and all-around analyst/activist. Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas.
Kellyanne Conway, the pollster (and delight). Carly Fiorina, the CEO-turned-politician. Brent Bozell, the media expert, and NR family member. Dan Bongino, the politician and former Secret Service agent. Joe Scarborough, the TV host and ex-congressman.
The Benham Brothers (entrepreneurs, speakers). Allen West, the officer, gentleman, and politician. Sam Brownback, the governor of Kansas. Bob Ehrlich, the former governor of Maryland. Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute. Jason Redman and Jason Beardsley, hombres, entrepreneurs, and inspirations. Kevin Sorbo, the actor.
Incidentally, Jason Beardsley wears a pin saying “De oppresso liber.” It’s the motto of the Special Forces. It means “to free from oppression.” Doesn’t that strike you as dangerously neocon? Do the Pauls know about this?
‐Among the attendees at CPAC is a George Washington impersonator. He looks pretty good. In fact, George Washington impersonators tend to look good, in my experience. The impersonators are kind of self-selecting. The Elvis impersonators — not as good, as a class.
Thanks so much for joining me, dear readers. Check you later.