Energized by recent Republican victories and a jolt of tea-baggers, CPAC 2010 runs from Thursday to Saturday in DC, and has already generated headlines: Cheney surprised and snarled, and people cheered. Boehner whined. Lots of people talked about Obama's teleprompters, using teleprompters themselves, and people cheered. Oh, and people didn't tell the truth. No surprise there.
This year's all-star CPAC lineup includes Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich, Marco Rubio, Ann Coulter, Rep. Mike Pence, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Sen. Jim DeMint. The keynote speaker will be Glenn Beck. Booths offer Reagan calendars, "Stomp Out the Liberal Media" doormats and huge posters of Sarah Palin.
Could a liberal feel more out of place than at this biggest, most important annual conservative meeting of all, where the ultra-right wing John Birch Society is co-sponsor?
No way. So how did I wind up at CPAC, twenty years ago?
Well, I didn't plan to. I was invited on a press trip to visit a resort in the mountains of western Virginia. When our casually dressed group of New York travel writers got to the tiny chartered plane in DC, we noticed a couple of older women, dressed in business suits. One of them was a serious-faced Jeane Kirkpatrick, an ardent anti-communist and former UN ambassador. And talking to her was a woman I reviled: the ever-smiling, controlling, bun-topped, honey voiced, ultra-right wing Phyllis Schlafly.
Schlafly. The lawyer and activist who traveled the world telling women to stay home. The hypocritical know-it-all who was against everything I was for. I'm thinking Schlafly, in the insidious way that Seinfeld used to say "Neewmannnn."
The plane was so tight you had to bend down to get to your seat. I managed to settle into a cramped window seat. And next to me plopped Phyllis Schlafly.
The plane took off, and after awhile her tightly coiffed head was resting on my shoulder. She lightly snored. Her usually vituperative red mouth was slightly open. And she was drooling.
And I had bad thoughts.
(And I wasn't the only one. Schlafly's haughty demeanor seemed to fuel violent thoughts. According to Wikipedia:
On August 27, 1974, activist attorney Florynce Kennedy appeared on CBS radio in Miami to promote ratification of the stalled Equal Rights Amendment. During the conversation Kennedy denounced Schlafly as a "pigocrat ... I just don't see why some people don't hit Phyllis Schlafly in the mouth. Instead of so much argument, people should slap.")
Similarly, author Harlan Ellison, another ERA booster, said that if Schlafly walked into the headlights of his car, he would "knock her into the next time zone." Ellison proclaimed Schlafly a "mischievous woman who does terrible things."
I looked at the sleeping face of this entitled, close-minded woman. I actually would be able to fulfill my long-held fantasy and punch her in the nose. Think of Ann Coulter on your shoulder with her eyes closed and her mouth open. Tempting, isn't it?
But I controlled my actions of course, and when we landed at the historic southern resort there was a limo waiting for Jeane Kirkpatrick, and a van for the rest of us, including Schlafly. Phyllis looked at the badly dressed writers, she looked at Kirkpatrick, and then she asked if she could hitch a ride in the limo. The UN grande dame didn't look like she really wanted her company, but relented. Wonder what that was. They didn't seem too friendly.
The resort was teeming with conservatives. I didn't know what CPAC was, or who most of them were, but I did recognize Pat Robertson and Oliver North. North had been at the center of national attention during the Iran-Contra affair of the late 1980s. And Pat Robertson had bought the radio station in DC where I had a three-minute taped intervals called Travel Spot. He canceled many shows, including mine, because -- I was told -- I talked about wine.
Our little group of scruffy writers kept running into the well-dressed conservatives despite our efforts to avoid them and just take notes about the scenery and the spa. We felt like we were aliens dropped in from on another planet, in a sea of sweater sets and pearls, gray hair, plaid golf pants, blazers and rep ties and pink faces. We were banned from the meetings and could only see the attendees in the halls, and spy them in the meeting spaces. They looked so ... conservative.
Things have changed, some. This year's CPAC workshops and panels range from "Is It Time for a Catholic Tea Party?" to "Getting Started in Hollywood." Seminars instruct the folks to use Twitter and Facebook to grow coalitions. But the round-table discussions have the same paranoid theme: "Saving Freedom from the Enemies of Our Values," "They Want to Shut Us Up; Saving Our Freedom and the First Amendment," and "Nullification and State Resistance to Federal Tyranny."
And on Saturday at 10 am, the seminar: "Finding Your Place in the Conservative Movement," sponsored by Eagle Forum. The speaker? Phyllis Schlafly.
I'll say this for her, she has staying power. But Phyllis dear, I will always remember you, mouth open, sleeping on my shoulder. And drooling.