This year's Conservative Political Action Conference was unique. The Tea Party movement burst forth in August 2009 and the tension that this leaderless juggernaut generates among establishment conservatives was palpable at the nation's largest annual gathering of grassroots conservatives and leaders. It wasn't until Glenn Beck made his powerful presentation to an overflow crowd of 3,500 people did some relief and vision wash over the crowd as well as the older conservative leadership (see video at the bottom of this post).
Although the conservative movement is surging, the Washington, D.C., network of conservative organizations is not managing the surge. The source of renewed energy is the highly decentralized Tea Party movement, and the Tea Party movement is not looking to Washington for help. Today, the conservative establishment has little influence over the nouveau conservative movement.
As evidence of this loss of influence and the underlying tension it is causing, CPAC gave its Ronald Reagan Award to the Tea Party movement. CPAC annually recognizes an unknown "foot soldier" of the grassroots conservative movement with a $10,000 prize named for the 40th president. This year, CPAC gave its highest award in recognition of all those present who attended a Tea Party event, and it allocated the $10,000 prize money to support the needs of the Tea Partiers. CPAC is trying to play big brother to a little brother that may not want or need its help. Don't get me wrong, CPAC and its sponsor organization, the American Conservative Union, are important and influential institutions, but it's apparent they are no longer at the center of the conservative movement.
I've attended CPAC for the past six years, and there has been latent concern among conservatives that their leadership, including CPAC organizers, has gotten too cozy with Beltway power and lost their way. Although many establishment conservatives such as Newt Gingrich acknowledged the problem during this year's CPAC, it wasn't until Glenn Beck made the keynote presentation did the problem and solution become clear.
Making notes on his famous chalkboard, the recovering alcoholic said that the Republican Party needs to do what every alcoholic must do to begin the road to recovery: Admit that it has a problem. Beck lifted the veil from the Republican Party and said that "cancerous" big spending progressives have a home in the GOP as well as the Democrat Party. Finally, someone with a powerful reach scolded the descendants of Teddy Roosevelt in a clear voice!
The crowd loved Beck because he had the courage to point out that the elephant in the room is sick. But what will the conservative establishment do with Beck's advice? For starters, American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene promised to transport Beck's chalkboard with notes intact to this Wednesday's weekly gathering of conservative power brokers. That's a good start.
America's conservative establishment is sick, Tea Partiers know it, and Glenn Beck has prescribed chemotherapy. Thanks to Beck's leadership, there's new hope for healing America.