The Omni Shoreham hotel, Regency Ballroom, Washington, DC, Thursday morning. After a moment of panic early this morning on an empty stomach and a poisoned bloodstream, during which I decided that I’d be happier just staying in my hotel room and listening to old Lee Morgan records all weekend, I gutted up, donned my Wal-Mart vines, popped a few more opiates for the road, and slid down the banister towards the Ninth Circle. Here’s a description of Hell they never give you: a huge room full of all the people you hate most, and they’re all having a wonderful time.
Yes, it’s all smiles and sunshine here at CPAC: lively young ladies with skillfully applied layers of makeup are here to greet you at every turn and correct your every confusion. Hopelessly earnest collegiate nerds hand out Mitt Romney stickers and hope against hope that John McCain has some sort of campaign trail meltdown: perhaps it will occur to him that the last 30 years have all been a fever-dream brought on by bad fish paste, that he is still in some VC labor camp wearing a tin can around his head, and he will savagely turn on his campaign manager with a broken bottle while at a Kiwanis breakfast. High school kids with bad moustaches pal around in hopes that toadying up to the rich kids will be their ticket to an easy future. On the walls are banners for the dregs of conservative thinksmanship: Town Hall, the ACU, Human Events, the YAF. (The National Review is conspicuous in their absence; they probably think CPAC takes much-needed revenue away from their Cruise the Caribbean with Rich Lowry promotion.) And up front, where no one can touch them – their natural state, as the Market intended, are the big men. Up there, in the first few rows, are the bosses, the people for whom America is shitbox and change drawer, the living embodiments of The Man.
On the way in, bracing the driveway entries to the Omni but kept far from the entrance by irritated-looking cops, were the abortion protesters. Their color posters of mangled fetuses were held up proud and loud in fear that the throngs of right-wingers inside might be paying a little too much attention to lining their pockets and not enough to their pet topic, the atomic holocaust of tomorrow’s Christians. My cab driver, a scarred-up vet who confesses solidarity with the protesters on the abortion issue but is also a lifelong democrat, shrugs in an almost embarrassed way – as if his earlier self-identification as a pro-lifer places him humiliatingly in the company of these fanatics. Once I check in, the atmosphere of gregarious paranoia only increases: there are cops and security people everywhere you look, and long lines through metal detectors and pat-downs by mean young cops and ment with earpieces, who all seem to have only recently graduated from high school. I have another moment of panic as they paw through my briefcase, turning all my electronics on an off and opening all the containers: I do, after all, have a lot of pills in there. But God bless the lobbyists for the pharma industry: every goddamn one of them is at least putatively legal, and who’s to say I don’t actually have prescription? Other than me, of course, and I’m not talking. At least not after my next round loosens all the muscles in my tongue.
All your questions about America’s premier gathering of authoritarian ideologues answered: what does Bob Novak look like in person? Steak-fed, self-satisfied, near death. What is the range of hairstyles on display? Surprisingly diverse, yet boring (men only: the women almost all sport hair that seems flattened with an iron, chasing away any suggestions of ethnicity), including the classic combover and the perennial flat-top, but also ranging into the pony-tail, the fauxhawk, and the who knows what it is because they’re wearing a ten-gallon cowboy hat. How many flags are there at the speaker’s table? So many, they must know what’s best for the country. Do yarmulkes outnumber black people here in the Regency Ballroom? Yes, but an almost 3-1 ratio. Who do the official photographers take pictures of? All the young girls with their steam-ironed hair. What sort of music do conservative organizers pump over the PA while waiting for the speakers to come on? Characterless light jazz. Who is sitting near me as I type this? A gaggle of college frosh. A rail-thin brunette in the row in front of my tests my cover for the first time; my improv skills may be shaky because I’m light-headed and panicky, but I must do my best for site and country.
“Hi! Are these seats taken?”
“Only by these free CPAC Special issues of Townhall magazine. Help yourself.”
“Oh, thanks, sir!” Sir. So much for getting laid. “I’m Namela Redactednoff from the University of Small Midwestern State’s Conservative Student Alliance.”
“Leonard Pierce, American Milk Solids Council.”
“I’m sorry? What is that?”
“It’s an industry group for milk solids manufacturers. We lobby Washington lawmakers to lessen regulations on the export of milk solids. The problem is that the government blames us for the incompetence of African mothers.”
“That is so unfair.”
“Tell me about it.”
She goes back to chatting with a thick-necked linebacker about how Barack Obama is nothing but a smile and a haircut. But then, the lights dim and David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union, takes the stage. Bad news: the President will not be here at the scheduled time. (He has to go frown convincingly over the bodies of hapless tornado victims. Presumably Trent Lott’s house is safe this time around.) Good news: he’s coming anyway, at 7AM tomorrow (“magnetometers will open two hours before that, Keene says to great laughs; there aren’t nearly enough good magnetometer jokes out there for my taste). After a brief moment where he urges that we all be respectful to everyone at the conference, “even the liberals” (I look around nervously), he introduces the Cannons (father-son authors of the most recent hagiography of Ronald Wilson Reagan), Bob Novak, and Al Regnery for what will be an hour of relentless bukkake on the corpse of RWR.
Al Regnery is a stunted little man who acts as the bursar for a lot of the wingnut welfare recipients in attendance. Bob Novak, of course, is the devil. Just look at those unnaturally straight teeth! Surely that is the dentistry of Satan himself. I’m convinced that Novak is sharing a withered soul with Henry Kissinger and that’s the only reason he’s sitting up there chatting so amiably about nation-building. “Ronald Reagan is everyone’s favorite president,” says Bob to wild applause. I wonder who was consulted in that poll. The topic of the moment: would Reagan have invaded Iraq? Novak has all sorts of giggle sport with the Cannons about how bad Bush has muffed up the entire process, and just when it’s getting interesting – will God allow that dwarfish sack of shit to reach stratospheric new heights of human hypocrisy, or will he strike him down with bolts of righteous lightning? – Keene interrupts the panel to report that Vice-President Cheney has arrived early. I brace myself: I am about the be a few yards away from the worst man in America…