If you've ever wanted to hang out with the next President of the United States, you'll have your chance this weekend at D.C.'s Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. The three top candidates for the Republican nomination -- former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum -- will speak Friday at the 39th Conservative Political Action Conference. Sarah Palin will give the final keynote speech on Saturday and, if that's not enough to excite your interest, the protesters from "Occupy DC" have promised to show up and keep things lively.
On their website, Occupy DC vows "non-violent resistance" at this year's CPAC, aiming to "make this a conference the attendees will never forget." And Occupy DC calls CPAC "a who's who of dastardly politicians... another gathering of bigots, media mouthpieces, corrupt politicians, and their 1 percent elite puppet masters," who will "attempt to perpetuate the radical right wing's imperialist ideologies... pursuing its racist, sexist, patriarchal and exploitative agenda."
Indeed, this is exactly what my friends and I have in mind when CPAC convenes Thursday. In between attending speeches, seminar panels and cocktail parties -- where our "elite puppet masters" will exhort us to perpetuate their "imperialist ideologies" -- we'll make occasional visits to the Marriott lobby, hoping to catch an entertaining glimpse of the clashes between police and smelly hippies from the Occupy DC encampments. What could be more fun than watching left-wing scum getting tased, pepper-sprayed and hauled away in handcuffs by the Metropolitan Police?
CPAC is, as I have called it, "Mardi Gras for the Right," a three-day annual festival celebrating everything conservatives hold dear, including free-market capitalism. And it is entirely fitting that this year's CPAC should be held at the posh Marriott Wardman Park, considering that two heirs to the Marriott fortune are among the billionaires who have donated money to Republican "super PACs." Alas, the Marriott brothers are supporting Romney, but we won't begrudge them that while we party with our friends in the VIP suites, gazing down from the balconies -- champagne glasses in hand -- at the Occupy DC protesters waving signs, chanting slogans and shivering in the cold on the sidewalks behind the police barricades.
The conference annually attracts thousands of conservative activists from all over the country. Officials are hesitant to predict this year's total attendance. CPAC spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said Tuesday that advance registrations are on track for a 20 percent increase over last year's conference, which was the biggest ever. The first-ever CPAC appearance by Palin is certain to be a favorite event for many attendees. "We're thrilled to host the governor," said Campbell, noting that "logistical issues" had prevented Palin's attendance in previous years. And the ongoing presidential campaign also adds a special element of excitement to this year's conference.
"I think, if you just look at where we are with the primary season… if you look at Friday, that's really going to be a day to highlight the conservative alternatives to Barack Obama," Campbell said of the three Republican candidates who will address CPAC. Campbell added that while a fourth candidate, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, was unable to attend because of a scheduling conflict, he will be represented by his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. The CPAC stage will also feature former presidential candidates Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Atlanta businessman Herman Cain.
In addition to the presidential candidates, conference attendees will also hear from a long list of Republican congressional luminaries, including South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, as well as the Republican governors of Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, and Wisconsin. There will also be speeches and seminar presentations by many leading conservative columnists, authors, talk-radio hosts and TV personalities including Ann Coulter, Andrew Breitbart, Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved, Craig Shirley, Oliver North, Jonah Goldberg, S.E. Cupp, Cal Thomas, Dana Loesch, Rich Lowry, Ed Morrissey, Matt Lewis, Roger Hedgecock, Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson and Dinesh D'Souza.
The American Spectator's own Jeffrey Lord will appear on a Thursday morning panel discussion of "The Future of the Conservative Movement," and indeed, the future of the movement will be in heavy attendance at CPAC. "Every year we hold a job fair for young conservatives… a lot of people come here hoping to break into politics," Campbell said, noting that student passes for the conference are only $35. "More than half of the attendees who come to CPAC every year are students. This is a great opportunity for students to come out and get involved."
Consider this ironic contrast: While conservative students who aspire to careers in politics will be inside CPAC attending job fairs and hearing paeans to the glories of free-market capitalism, outside the conference the left-wing protesters from "Occupy DC" will be complaining about economic woes they blame on what they call "another gathering of bigots." But what really annoys the Occupiers, I suspect, is their envious belief that the right-wingers at CPAC are having lots of fun. And in that belief, at least, they are absolutely correct.
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