Amid the condom-forsaking bacchanal that is CPAC, the essence of contemporary conservatism is made manifest: its complete lack of introspection and self-criticism.
Back when words meant something, conservatism from Edmund Burke through Russell Kirk meant the conservation and nurture of such uniquely human gifts as intellectualism, honesty, and civility. All these have been jettisoned by a movement that has devolved in spectacular fashion from Robert Taft to George W. Bush to Sarah Palin. And beyond, as inconceivable as it might seem.
Herman Cain, for instance, stumbling through wingnut-land with a song in his heart and not a thought in his head. He doubtless chairs the Know-Nothing committee of this year’s CPAC lineup, though we feel he would have fit equally well on the convention’s much-discussed Dating Committee. The Know-Nothings include most of the better-known luminaries, with Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann sharing honors with Mr. Cain as Most Likely to Know Less than a 5th Grader. (Where have you gone, Rick Perry? A nation turns its scathing eye to you...)
Conservatism once prided itself on not just a nigh-worshipful relationship with the past, but some working knowledge of it. Very little pertinent history is present at CPAC, however – to wit, the crucial years of 2001-2008, the George W. Bush Era, the most recent attempt at "conservative" government. The Bush years proved those words inarguably false. "Conservatives," we now know, neither conserve, nor do they govern.
If they conserve anything, it is the wealth and ongoing privilege of the super-rich. The Bush years taught us everything we need know of contemporary conservatism. Its central tenets are massive redistribution of wealth to the wealthy, war for the hell-of-it, and the promise of theocracy to its Bible-banging base. As it fails at governance – inability to protect the homeland from terrorist attack; inability to assist after natural disaster – it pats itself on its privileged backside and smirks, "You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie."
The Bush years almost destroyed our nation’s economy, military, and soul. The children partied and trashed our home, and the grown-ups are now trying desperately to clean up the mess.
We hear nothing of George Bush or Dick Cheney at this year’s CPAC. Their failures are the failures of Republicanism in general, and even the faithful know that their presence would be toxic. Their party is not about governance. It is about the attainment of power. Bush and Cheney’s presence is not manifest, but their ideas continue, as the core values of contemporary "conservatism" are trumpeted ad nauseam: more tax cuts for the rich, more war, damn the poor. Now and forever, amen.